State Legislative Term Limits

THE BASICS OF TERM LIMITS

Under consecutive term limits, a member can serve for only a specified period of time in either the state house or the state senate, most commonly eight years. To try to regain a seat in the legislature once the limit has been met, the member will have to wait to run for office again. If the member succeeds, the clock will reset and the legislator may once again serve up to the limit set by the state. In states with a lifetime ban, such as Oklahoma, members can serve only one time for the number of years allotted, and they are not permitted to run for office again (Figure).See note 65.

A graph titled “Term Limits by State”. The x-axis is labeled “State” and the y-axis is labeled “Years”. The graph has a legend with four categories marked “House”, “Senate,” “Total,” and “Lifetime Ban”. From left to right on the x-axis: “MI” has a ban of 6 years lifetime in the house, and 8 years total lifetime in the senate; “NE” has a ban of 8 years total; “AZ” has a ban of 8 years in the house, and 8 years in the senate; “CO” has a ban of 8 years in the house, and 8 years in the senate; “FL” has a ban of 8 years in the house, and 8 years in the senate; “ME” has a ban of 8 years in the house, and 8 years in the senate; “MT” has a ban of 8 years in the house, and 8 years in the senate; “OH” has a ban of 8 years in the house, and 8 years in the senate; “SD” has a ban of 8 years in the house, and 8 years in the senate; “MO” has a ban of 8 years in the house, and 8 years total lifetime in the senate; “CA” has a ban of 12 years lifetime; “OK” has a ban of 12 years lifetime; “LA” has a ban of 12 years in the house, and 12 years in the senate; “NV” has a ban of 12 years in the house, and 12 years total lifetime in the senate; “AR” has a ban of 16 years total lifetime.
Fifteen states currently have some form of term limits. This chart depicts which states have consecutive term limits or lifetime bans and how long a member can serve under each scenario.

The first term limits were enacted in 1990 in California, Colorado, and Oklahoma. In 1992, eight more states followed suit in one large wave. The last state to enact term limits on legislative members was Nebraska in 2000.See note 65. However, term limits did not stay in effect in all these states; many state supreme courts repealed them and declared them unconstitutional for a variety of reasons (Figure). For instance, in Massachusetts and Washington, term limits were deemed unconstitutional because they affected candidate qualifications to compete for a given office. The courts ruled that changes to those qualifications could be made only by amending the state constitution, not by voters changing the state law.National Conference of State Legislatures. “Term Limits and the Courts,” http://www.ncsl.org/research/about-state-legislatures/summaries-of-term-limits-cases.aspx (March 14, 2016).

A timeline chart titled “Term Limit Repeals”. A horizontal line stretches across the chart and is marked with seven points. The first point is labeled “Enacted (1992), WY, OR, WA”. An arrow points from “WA” to the fourth point on the timeline, labeled “Repealed by State Supreme Court (1998)”. An arrow points from “OR” to the fifth point on the timeline, labeled “Repealed by State Supreme Court (2002)”. An arrow points from “WA” to the seventh point on the timeline, labeled “Repealed by State Supreme Court (2004)”. The second point is labeled “Enacted (1994), MA, ID, UT”. An arrow points from “MA” to the third point on the timeline, labeled ““Repealed by State Supreme Court (1997)”. An arrow points from “ID” to the fifth point on the timeline, labeled “Repealed by Legislature (2002)”. An arrow points from “UT” to the sixth point on the timeline, labeled “Repealed by Legislature (2003)”.
A number of states have tried to enact term limits on members of the legislature only to see the laws later repealed by the state legislature or ruled unconstitutional by the state supreme court.