JEFFERSON CITY - State lawmakers would be able to serve as long as 16 years in either the House or the Senate under a measure that cleared the Missouri House Thursday.
The proposed amendment, sponsored by Rep. Myron Neth, passed the House Thursday on a vote of 121 to 30.
The Missouri Constitution currently allows a lawmaker to serve up to eight years in the House and up to eight years in the Senate for a total of no more than 16 years.
The amendment would allow legislators to serve their entire 16 years in the chamber of their choosing. Legislators would also still have the option of serving in both houses as long as their time didn't exceed 16 years. A legislator would be prohibited from running for office if the the term limits of that office would cause them to exceed the 16 year limit.
"I really emphasize that we're not extending term limits," said Neth, R-Liberty. He said his amendment would just "tweak" the current system to make it better.
If the amendment is also passed by the Senate then it will go before Missouri voters in 2014. As the legislation stands now, it would apply to current General Assembly members.
Philip Blumel is president of the group U.S. Term Limits, an organization that campaigns in states to enact term limits for their legislators. In a statement, he said there is no reason for Missouri to change its term limits.
"[The measure] is just another of a long series of attempts by some politicians to cling to office by increasing their tenure in the state capitol and should be rejected overwhelmingly by the state Senate,” Blumel said.
Rep. Ed Schieffer, D-Troy, said Thursday he supported the proposed constitutional change and it should be up to Missouri voters to decide how long they want their legislator to stay in one particular house of the General Assembly.
"There's people that the voters should have a right to keep here more than eight years if they want them here." Schieffer said.
Schieffer also said that when the previous term limits were passed, the intent of voters was to keep legislators from serving at the General Assembly for 30 or 40 years. He said he thinks voters would be fine with having a legislator in the same house for 16 years.
Missouri enacted its current term limits after a measure won backing from 75 percents of the state's voters. The term limits didn't impact legislators until 10 years later when those over the limit were barred from running in re-election after 2002. Missouri is one of 15 states nationwide that have term limits for their legislators. Six other states enacted term limits but these limits were overturned in recent years by state supreme courts or legislatures.
Peverill Squire, the chairman of the University of Missouri political science department, said he thinks term limits cause the state to lose experienced legislators and have to train new lawmakers.
"They generally limit the choice given to voters," Squire said.
But he said if Missouri does have to have term limits, he thinks it would be better to allow lawmakers to serve more than eight years in one chamber.
Rep. Stephen Webber, D-Columbia, also said he supports the change to term limits but that the legislation shouldn't apply to current General Assembly members.
"This isn't about us," Webber said. He also said that if the amendment didn't apply to current legislators then they would be able to argue this to voters.