State Rep. Donna Lichtenegger wants to change term limits in Missouri government to allow lawmakers to serve longer in the House and Senate.
Lichtenegger has introduced legislation that seeks to amend the Missouri Constitution to allow a maximum of three four-year terms for state representatives and two six-year terms for senators.
House members currently can serve a maximum of four two-year terms. Senators can serve a maximum of two four-year terms.
Lichtenegger’s proposal would increase the maximum number of years lawmakers could serve in each Legislative body from eight years to 12 years.
Legislative approval would be the first step in changing the Missouri Constitution. Voter approval would be needed to implement it, Lichtenegger, R-Jackson, said.
Even then, Lichtenegger said any change under her measure would not take effect until 2020.
“Basically, it would bring back institutional history,” she said of changing term limits.
Missouri voters approved term limits in 1992. Voters in 2002 approved an amendment that allows candidates elected in special elections to complete the partial terms and then, if subsequently elected, serve the maximum number of full terms.
Lichtenegger said the current term limits have resulted in lawmakers having less knowledge about state government, particularly the budget.
The major job of lawmakers annually is to approve a budget, said Lichtenegger, who is term-limited in 2018.
State budgets are complicated, she said. It can take years for lawmakers to know the ins and outs of the state budget, the lawmaker said.
Having more experienced lawmakers would benefit the budget process, she said.
As a result of current term limits, knowledge about government operations increasingly is in the hands of lobbyists and state government departments, Lichtenegger said.
“People don’t want lobbyists and departments in charge. This would help that,” she said.
Lichtenegger said longer terms also would eliminate the need for lawmakers to constantly campaign and raise money for their campaigns.
“You actually would have time to work (as a lawmaker),” she said.
“A lot of my constituents think this is wonderful idea,” she said of changing term limits. “We need to really look at this.”
Other local lawmakers share Lichtenegger’s desire for more institutional knowledge on the part of lawmakers but are not sold on the proposal.
State Rep. Kathy Swan, R-Cape Girardeau, said as far as changing term limits “I don’t see it as a priority.”
Swan said she is more concerned with lawmakers having “content knowledge” on issues.
She doesn’t believe state legislators should be “career politicians.”
Swan said, “There is considerable merit in getting new blood, new ideas. That is refreshing and energizing.”
State Rep. Holly Rehder, R-Sikeston, said she believes the current term limits need to be amended.
Rehder suggested a better solution might be to allow legislators to serve a maximum of 16 years, either solely in the House or Senate or any combination of the two.
She said such a change could encourage more lawmakers to serve longer in the House or the Senate.
Rehder said current term limits hamper lawmakers in the budget process.
“I do think we hurt ourselves as far as having knowledge on the budget,” she said.
Unlike other local lawmakers who have had multiple terms in office, state Rep. Rick Francis, R-Perryville, is a freshman legislator who will be starting his second legislative session next month.
Francis supports term limits.
But Francis said he discovered this year his colleagues typically had little long-term knowledge on legislative issues. Such information resides largely with the lobbyists, he said.
Francis said two-year terms for House members means representatives constantly are running for re-election.
“It seems like you are never out of campaign mode,” he said.
Longer terms could address that problem, he said.
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