Under the Dome

Term limits sought for NC legislature

The state seal, seen in this Jan. 23, 2013, file photo, is at the entrance to the Legislative Building in Raleigh.
The state seal, seen in this Jan. 23, 2013, file photo, is at the entrance to the Legislative Building in Raleigh. cseward@newsobserver.com

Voters already have the ability to limit the terms of elected officials by not re-electing them, Rep. Harry Warren said this week.

But it never hurts to make sure, the Rowan County Republican said.

Warren, a fourth-term representative, has filed two bills that look to implement term limits for lawmakers and for state House leadership.

House Bill 193 would put a three-term limit on both House and Senate members in North Carolina and extend the length of terms from two years to four years. Warren said the bill would ensure a turnover in representation. The bill, if passed, would go to voters as a referendum to amend the state Constitution in November 2018.

House Bill 182 would impose term limits for both the speaker of the House and speaker pro tempore. Warren said the bill is similar to one filed during the 2013-14 session by former House Speaker Thom Tillis and Guilford County Rep. John Blust, both Republicans. That bill made it out of the House but didn’t fare well in the Senate.

Based on that effort, Warren said he believes there should be support for the bill dealing with House leadership. If passed it would also be placed on the November 2018 ballot as a constitutional change. But Warren said he’s sure there will be some pushback on both of his proposals, as with “just about any bill,” he said.

Four-year term lengths would make lawmakers more productive, he said.

“People are getting elected and then right at the end of their first long session they’re already in the process of raising money and getting ready to run again,” Warren said. “I think by having a four-year term it will lead to more productivity (and) lessen the volatility between the parties so we get more bipartisan cooperation, and by limiting (terms) it gives us an opportunity to not entrench people.”

If North Carolina approves term limits for lawmakers, it would become the 16th state to do so. Term limits range from six to 12 years in those states. In 2014, the National Conference of State Legislatures found 225 state lawmakers had to leave office because they’d reached their term limit.

A 12-year study conducted by Wayne State University in Detroit found term limits had a negative impact in the state.

The study, published in 2010, found that lawmakers spent less time monitoring state agencies in Michigan after the term limits were implemented in 1992. After conducting more than 400 interviews with lawmakers the study found that term limits influenced policy-making decisions and led to more influence from lobbyists.

Turnover due to term limits means new lawmakers look to lobbyists for expertise in specific areas to make decisions, according to the study. Legislative staff also become key players in keeping institutional memory in the legislature.

Lauren Horsch: 919-836-2801, @LaurenHorsch