A new report from the University of Missouri charges that term limits in the Missouri legislature are actually doing more to damage the legislative process in the state than help it. The report, The Impact and Implication of Term Limits in Missouri, covers a variety of legislative process areas that have been impacted by term limits including job training, subject matter expertise and lobbying. CivSource spoke with Dr. David C. Valentine, the author of the report about how it came about and what it means for Missouri.
Before becoming an assistant professor at the University of Missouri, Dr. Valentine worked in the state legislature for 20 years. Term limits were voted in during his time there and he notes that even then he noticed changes in the legislative process. According to Valentine, term limits were voted in with the goal of decreasing the impact of lobbyists in the legislative process.
However, Dr. Valentine claims, data shows that term limits may actually increase the power lobbyists have on the legislative process. “When you have term limits, it assumes people can become qualified legislators very quickly. That’s not always the case, term limits have an impact on that job training, they effectively erase senior leadership and expertise on the issue. Lobbyists then step in to fill that gap.”
Dr. Valentine notes that it takes time to learn how legislation is crafted, and how the process works overall. Depending on the person, this can take as long as one to two years. The report shows that the bills themselves are often written at a post-college reading level and contain a legal structure most new lawmakers aren’t familiar with when they enter the chamber. Lawmakers also have to learn the history of how a piece of legislation come into being, and what the other related issues are.
In a state like Missouri, where the legislature meets on a part-time basis, this can be difficult. According to the report, lawmakers often have professional careers in the private sector that they maintain even after being elected because of the part-time legislative schedule. This creates legislators that get elected but consider the role as auxiliary to their professional ambitions, thus removing some of that individual’s focus away from doing the public’s business.
Term limits also remove any sense of senior leadership that usually arises after more than two terms in a seat, meaning that newly elected lawmakers have few opportunities for mentorship to get up to speed more quickly.
Valentine notes, “previously, you had individual legislators have one or two issues that were really important to them. Over time other members on both sides of the isle would come to see them as an expert on that issue. With term limits you don’t really have time for that to mature. Now, lobbyists who are experts on a given issue fill that gap.”
According to the report, all of these factors conspire to create a significantly weakened legislature, operating on a more limited issue horizon and increasingly impacted by lobbyists. “It’s a tough issue,” Valentine says. “You end up with these consequences, but it’s not politically expedient to roll back term limits because of what people think they do. It’s difficult to explain to the public that being a legislator is much more involved than it may appear.”
Read the full report here.