State Legislative Term Limits


In many cases, the movement to institute term limits was initiated by voters and passed through citizen initiatives, which allow citizens to place a proposed law or constitutional amendment on the ballot for a popular vote.National Conference of State Legislatures. 20 September 2012. “Initiative, Referendum and Recall,” Proponents of term limits felt new blood was needed in state legislatures to bring fresh ideas and perspectives to lawmaking. In addition, they hoped term limits would compel turnover among members by shortening the time anyone could serve and by reducing the tendency for elected officials to make legislative service their career. In conjunction with this thinking, some supporters hoped term limits would increase the motivation to make good public policy. If members were less focused on reelection and knew they could not serve more than a certain number of years, perhaps they would get right down to the business of making laws and produce innovative policy within a narrow window of time.John Carey, Richard Niemi, and Lynda Powell. 2000. Term Limits in State Legislatures. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.

For other proponents, the hope was that term limits would increase diversity within the chamber by encouraging more women, members of racial and ethnic minority groups, members of the minority party, and people with unconventional occupations to run for office because seats would be open more frequently. In addition, supporters speculated that increased turnover might prompt higher rates of electoral competition and voter interest. Finally, they believed the loss of long-term legislators due to term limits would allow new members and younger legislators to assume leadership positions within the chamber and committees, creating another way to bring fresh approaches to the lawmaking process. See note 70.

Working to Expand Term Limits

One pro–term limits advocacy group, U.S. Term Limits, is dedicated to the expansion of term limits across the United States. Its members work to prevent states from repealing limits that are already in place. They also support efforts by citizens to institute term limits in states where they are not currently in place, and in Congress, where the Supreme Court declared them unconstitutional.“The U.S. Term Limits Pledge,” (March 14, 2016).

If you support their cause, you can follow the link below to learn more about these efforts or to participate directly. Write a letter to the editor encouraging the adoption of term limits in a given state, or encourage your member of Congress to sign a pledge agreeing to cosponsor and vote for an amendment to the Constitution to adopt term limits. You can also sign an online petition to support the adoption of term limits at the federal level or make a donation to a term-limit advocacy group.

What is your state’s policy on term limits? If limits are in place, how have they changed your representation in the state capitol? If they are not in place, what effect would adopting them have on your representation? There is no comparable national movement against term limits, why do you think that is the case? Based on your answers, do you favor term limits or not, and why?

Link to learning graphic

For more information about supporting term limits, visit U.S. Terms, an advocacy group for term limits.