BISMARCK – A bill to study the effects of term limits started a discussion in the North Dakota State Senate Thursday.
Citizens of North Dakota collected enough signatures to put term limits on last November’s ballot, where it passed by a wide margin. The measure limits a person to eight years, or two terms, in the House, Senate, and Governorship, separately.
Senate Bill 2192, which passed the Senate unanimously, would have legislative management study the effects of term limits, including looking into the possibility of having more staff and educational opportunities for new members.
Senator Dick Dever, R-Dis. 32, Bismarck, in the Senate since 2001, said he believes many people who voted for term limits were led to believe there are 36 states with term limits on their legislature, when most of those states only have term limits on their governors. He said prior to the election there were 15 states with term limits on state legislatures, and 10 of those only limited consecutive terms, so a legislator could move back and forth between chambers for the rest of his or her life.
“Depending on how this provision is interpreted, half the legislators currently in both chambers will be gone six years from now,” said Dever. “Two years later the other half will. We’ve got a lot of really good fresh ideas, young people coming into the process. The real tragedy of this is not that I will be termed out at what would likely be the end of my service anyway, but that we’ve got really good young people coming into this process, who just as they’re gaining they’re full effectiveness will be termed out.”
Dever added that the other five states with lifetime term limits on the legislature are either full time or almost full time, and believes North Dakota should now consider providing its legislators with full time staff, offices, and policy advisors.
“The North Dakota legislature functions best with a combination of experience and fresh ideas,” Dever said. “We have an interest in the future success of future legislators. I think part of this study is how do we set them up for success.”
The legislature may need to consider annual sessions, said Dever, to give legislators more experience during the eight years they are in office.
“I don’t think anyone wants legislators who depend strictly on lobbyists and bureaucrats to get their information,” said Dever. “Right now they get it through more experienced legislators. I think the most offensive thing to me, the most egregious thing, is that they included a provision in the measure that says that the legislature cannot propose a resolution to change it.”
Dever believes the measure is a constitutional conflict, saying it is not allowing representatives to do what they are elected to do.
“As the voice of the people, I think you and I have an obligation going forward to address that conflict,” said Dever. “One way is to challenge it in court. Another way would be to put a resolution on the ballot. But I think we have that obligation as representatives of the people to not allow their voices to be silenced. All that needs to be considered in this study going forward. I love my country as much as anybody else does, and I see this as a challenge to the Republic, and I think we need to stand up for it.”
“I can’t possibly improve on what the previous speaker said,” said Judy Lee, R-Dis. 13, West Fargo, who has been in the Senate since 1995. “One more statistic that may be interesting, there are only four states that have biennial sessions. North Dakota is one of those.”
Lee added that with term limits, each legislator will have 320 legislative days total in each chamber.
“That’s not even one calendar year of days that somebody will be in office before they are term limited out,” said Lee. “I think that adds one tiny little sprinkle on top of the wonderful pastry that the previous speaker said.”
The bill to study term limits will head to the House chambers for consideration after the crossover date, which is February 24.