JEFFERSON CITY — The Missouri House gave first-round approval Tuesday to proposed changes to legislative term limits that would allow lawmakers more flexibility without lengthening how long they can work at the Capitol.
Right now, lawmakers generally are limited to serving eight years in the state House and eight years in the state Senate. A proposed constitutional amendment would let lawmakers serve the same 16 years in the legislature but split the time however they like between the House and Senate.
It would bar them from running for an office if they could not complete the term without exceeding the 16 years. For example, a legislator who already has served 14 years could not seek the four-year Senate term.
Rep. Chris Kelly returned to the House in 2009 after serving six terms beginning in 1982 when there were no term limits. He said restricting how long people serve in Jefferson City has encouraged freshness and new perspectives but has reduced institutional knowledge.
Kelly, D-Columbia, said the current generation of lawmakers is "just as bright as we were in the bad old days" but now there "isn't that reservoir of knowledge in the room."
Voters approved term limits in 1992, and the clock started ticking with the 1994 elections. Most veteran House members and some senators were barred from seeking re-election in 2002, and the deadline hit in 2004 for the remaining senators.
House Speaker Tim Jones, R-Eureka, said having separate limits for the House and Senate creates a situation in which House members feel compelled to run for the Senate when many otherwise could choose to serve a decade in the House and then retire. For those serving in leadership positions, Jones said, the current term limit policies can make it difficult to tackle major issues that take a couple years to develop.
He said changes "would make the General Assembly be more efficient, (with) less personality conflicts."
"You'd have more institutional memory in the bodies," Jones said.
House members gave initial approval to the proposed constitutional amendment by voice vote Tuesday. It needs another vote in the House before moving to the Senate.
Ultimately, the proposal would appear before voters. The ballot summary would state: "Shall the Missouri Constitution be amended to allow a member of the General Assembly to serve the sixteen year maximum in any proportion in either chamber as long as he or she serves no more than sixteen years total?"