Fixing State Government Requires Fixing Term Limits

As part
of our on-going look at the reasons for California’s dysfunctional government,
we have asked a number of current and former legislators for their views on just
what is causing the problem.

Long-time SOCa supporter and State Senator,
Loni Hancock has written recently about her take on what are the structural
problems in our system of governance and what reforms we need to undertake to
return our system to its former visionary glory.
She has submitted the following observations
based upon her service on the newly created Joint Select Committee on Improving
State Government which was formed by the legislature to consider how to reform
and fix this terribly and unquestionably broken system. — HBJ
Here are her latest thoughts:
Senator Hancock.jpg
From the desk of Senator Loni Hancock:

cry for reform of California’s governance system continues to grow. As
of November 5, there were no less than twenty-two initiatives either
already in circulation or awaiting a title and summary from the
Attorney General that deal solely with California’s governance

The proposals range from lowering the vote threshold
to pass the state budget to the establishment of a constitutional
convention to changing the way local government is funded to a
part-time legislature.  The ideas are from all across the political
spectrum – conservative to liberal. 

One thing is clear, Californians want reform. The challenge will be finding consensus on which reforms should be advanced.

Two weeks ago, the Legislature began its own effort to look at reforms.  The Joint Select Committee on Improving State Government
held its first of five scheduled hearings.  The witnesses ranged from
Bill Hauck, the former Chairman of the California Constitutional
Revision Commission to former Republican Assembly Leader Robert Naylor
to the current Democratic State Treasurer Bill Lockyer.  Surprisingly,
there was agreement in all the testimony – the deterioration of
professionalism in the state legislature has had a dramatic impact on
its ability to solve California’s problems. 

According to research provided to my committee earlier this year, the Senate Elections, Reapportionment and Constitutional Amendments Committee,
the National Conference on State Legislatures concluded that California
is one of three states with the nation’s strictest term-limits law –
limiting Senators to two four-year terms (up to a total of 8 years) and
Assemblymembers to three two-year terms (up to a total of 6 years). 
Since California’s term-limits remain relatively popular with voters,
completely eliminating term-limits is not politically feasible. 
However, amending the law to allow legislators to serve all their time
in one house would allow them to develop policy expertise without
eroding the intent of the law.

Last year’s effort to amend the
law to allow legislators to serve a total of 12 years in either house,
Proposition 93, did just that.  However, it included a provision that
would have allowed sitting legislators to remain in office. This
provision sank the initiative; the public voted it down 53.5% to

After listening to the testimony at the Senate
Committee hearing, I am convinced more than ever that we must make
another attempt at “softening” the term limits law.  To that end, I
have authored SCA 24, which would, like Proposition 93, change the
total number of years an individual can serve in the Legislature from
14 years to 12 years.  The measure will allow an individual first
elected to office in November 2010 to serve three four-year terms in
the Senate or six two-year terms in the Assembly or a combination of
the two. 

However, unlike Proposition 93, individuals who have
served or are currently serving in either house will not be able to
extend their terms – they will be bound by the existing law.
24 will allow Legislators to develop policy expertise, reduce the
number of legislators looking for “the next office to run for” and
reinstill confidence in the legislative process.  I believe that this
change to term-limits can find consensus and is an important piece in
our effort to reforming California.