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State term-limit law should be changed, says public policy group

California’s strict term-limit law has failed to force most state lawmakers from public office and back to private-sector jobs in their districts, as many voters hoped it would, according to a study released Tuesday by a Los Angeles policy group that promotes effective government.

The majority of legislators remain in government, engaging in "political musical chairs" and hopping to another government office, often at the federal or state level, according to the report by the Center for Governmental Studies.

"The public likes term limits but term limits have not accomplished what the public wanted, which is return of the legislators to their districts and their old jobs," said Bob Stern, president of the nonpartisan center. "Legislators stay in government. They don’t return to their previous job as an attorney or pharmacist."

In 2008, 60% of termed-out Assembly members and 40% of termed-out state senators continued to work in either elected or appointed positions in the public sector when they left the Legislature, the report found.  The numbers are not significantly different from the period before term limits were approved.

Stern said proponents of the term-limit law approved by California voters in 1990 argued that it would give average citizens more opportunity to serve in the Legislature after which they would return to their districts and allow other citizen lawmakers to take their place. But the study found the vast majority of new legislators are political professionals from local government.

The law limiting service in the Assembly to six years in the Assembly and eight years in the Senate has also reduced the expertise of those writing laws, moving it to other government offices, the report said. The center believes the state would be better served by changes that include allowing legislators to serve longer in one house, up to 12 years, and to return to the Legislature after four years out of office.

That "would give legislators the time to acquire the policy expertise needed to govern more effectively," Stern said.

-- Patrick McGreevy

 
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