Issue Summary

Term limits were passed by popular initiative in California in 1990. Current law stipulates that members of the State Assembly are subject to a three-term lifetime limit, and members of the State Senate a two-term lifetime limit, resulting in a total legislative limit of 14 years for legislators who serve in both houses. It should be noted that Prop 140 passed with a narrow margin. However, in 1992 voters overwhelmingly passed a subsequent initiative to impose term limits on members of Congress (which was rejected by the courts) and a third initiative in 2002 to allow term-limited incumbents to serve for four more years was rejected by voters 58% to 42%. (The Field Poll, Oct. 2004).

Learn more about term limits and their implications in today's political landscape.

Term limits have created opportunities for political participation by groups that historically have not had access to the political process, and have reduced the influence of career politicians. On the other hand, many experts argue that representatives are succumbing faster than ever to special interest pressure and don’t have time to develop much-needed policy expertise. Because effective budget oversight can take years to learn, budgeting problems are often partially attributed to term limits as well. Nonetheless, for as frustrated as many policy makers are with term limits, the same Field Poll cited above showed 75% of the public supported term limits as of October 2004.

Current Status

There was a flurry of activity in the last month of the '06-'07 legislative session by some members of the state legislature to link an extension of term limits to redistricting reform, also under consideration by the legislature at the time. Redistricting reform supporters were adamantly opposed to linking term limits reform, which had low voter support and had not been subject to public hearings or a legislative review process, to a redistricting reform proposal, which -- in contrast -- was strongly supported by voters and had been the subject of public legislative hearings and an extended public review process. In the end no formal term limits extension proposal was ever offered, but legislative leaders stated publicly that they hope to pursue the issue further in the next session.

Supporters of term limit reform typically seek to increase the flexibility of legislative terms to enable members to build necessary policy and process expertise, and slow the current whirlwind rotation by elected representatives from one elected office to another, which is perceived to compromise public policy.

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