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Term limits shift balance of power, expert says

September 14, 1999
By: Clayton Bellamy
State Capital Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY - An expert on term limits warned a panel of state lawmakers Tuesday that the limits will create a shift in the balance of power toward the governor's office.

Richard Jones, director of legislative programs for the National Conference of State Legislatures, made the warning to a joint committee set to forge recommendations on how the General Assembly should handle the effects of term limits.

"Term limits, whether you love them or hate them, are going to have a huge imapct on state government," said Rep. Ted Farnen, D-Mexico. Farnen, an opponent of term limits, chairs the committee.

"Both chambers are going to lose a lot of institutional knowledge," he said. "Because of that loss, the role of the legislative branch vs. the executive will be affected."

Jones said in other states where term limits have taken effect, inexperienced legislators are more likely to follow the governor's lead rather than legislative leaders. Thus, the governor's bills gain prominence, he said.

Missourians overwhelmingly voted term limits onto the constitution in 1992. Eight House members will be ousted in 2000, then 106 in 2002, along with 15 senators.

One panel member, Republican Sen. Larry Rohrbach of California, said term limits will make legislators more susceptible to the kinds of gubernatorial quid-pro-quos that have been recently rumored.

"Term limits will be staring people in the face," Rohrbach said. "They know they'll have to find another job."

Tales have been widespread that Gov. Mel Carnahan has offered some lawmakers state jobs in return for votes to sustain his veto of the partial-birth abortion ban.

The governor's office consistently has denied any such offers have made. State law actually makes it a crime to offer a public offical anything of financial value to affect performance in office.

Rohrbach said he hasn't heard anything to substantiate the rampant rumors, but he has known of such instances in the past.

"Most of us know it happens," he said. "But it rarely gets written down. It's hard to prove."

Sen. Franc Flotron, R-Chesterfield, in a letter to his colleagues, said he would introduce a resolution during the veto session calling for the joint committee to investigate any "illegal or unethical voting arrangements, and refer them to the appropriate authorities."

Jones shed doubt on the traditional concern with term limits: lobbyists will gain power.

The belief is that inexperienced legislators will rely on lobbyists' expertise on the legislative process, allowing the lobbyist even greater sway over the lawmaker.

While that may be the case, Jones said, lobbyists would also have to constantly build new relationships, compromising a major source of their influence.

In past sessions, some lawmakers have busied themselves trying to repeal term limits, but Farnen said that is not the intent of this panel.

"I don't think repealing term limits is in the general interest of this committee," he said. "I feel it's encumbant on us to make term limits work."