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Constitutional Modernization Commission Tackles Topic Of Term Limits

For months the Constitutional Modernization Commission, an appointed panel of lawmakers, former public officials and well-connected experts, has been meeting to talk about what should be changed in the state's founding document. One of the issues under consideration is term limits. Ohio Public Radio's Andy Chow reports. 

Of all the major issues on the commission’s agenda, it appears the first big move will come in the form of term limit expansion.

Currently—House and Senate members can serve a maximum of 8 years in office. After that—they’re not allowed to run again for the same office for at least one term. Some take jobs in the private sector, and some move to state agencies or local government positions. Others run for office in the opposite chamber. So a House member could run for Senate and vice-versa.

Ohio first implemented term limits in 1992 after voters approved a ballot measure. Since then more and more policymakers have opposed them—claiming it forces knowledgeable veterans out of office and cycles-in less-experienced leaders.

“You want individuals to have expertise. To develop the skills and talents—to develop the relationships to get things done.”

That’s Democratic Senator Charleta Tavares from Columbus. She sits on the committee that’s working on the issue. Tavares adds that voters should have the power to decide on Election Day if and when a leader should leave office.

“We need people to pay attention to what each legislator is doing hold us accountable and each election make the decision: should this person be reelected or not?”

But it’s not that simple, according to Nick Tomboulides, executive director of U.S. Term Limits. He counters that term limits give voters more power, especially for those who are living in districts that overwhelmingly vote for one party or have strong special interest ties -which he says make incumbents “electorally invincible”. And Tomboulides adds that bringing new faces to the Statehouse can be an advantage.

“I would say that political experience is not the only type of valid experience and in fact legislators who have been in office for 30, 40 years often lose sight of that indispensable real life experience.”

Leaders from both parties have called for an expansion to term limits. Republican House Speaker Bill Batchelder has said changing the limits was at the top of his agenda before he leaves office at the end of the year. Batchelder, Ohio’s second longest serving legislator, is leaving the House for the second time because of term limits.

Paula Brooks is a Democratic county commissioner in Franklin County who also sits on the committee. She says term limits not only impact veteran leadership but also weaken the Legislature as a whole.

“You kind of empower an imbalance of those three the executive branch more when you have a shorter term for the House and Senate members on the legislative side.”

And the committee’s chair Fred Mills, a well-known Columbus attorney, says the general consensus seems to lean towards expanding the term limits from 8 years to 12.

“It takes away a very big option from the voter. You’re allowed to vote for anyone that wants to run except for these people who are the ones that already have the experience.”

But Tomboulides argues that the Ohio voters don’t want this change—noting a recent poll from the University of Akron showed that 70% of those polled believe the limit should remain at eight years.

“It shouldn’t be politicians originating these ideas—the people should ask for something but it’s not right for the politicians to push this when people haven’t asked for it and in fact have actively oppose it.”

However, the Buckeye Akron Poll also showed that more than half of voters surveyed said they’d be ok with a 12 year term limit.

The journey towards changing term limits is long. First the commission must approve a recommendation by a two-thirds majority. Then a resolution would have to be approved by three-fifths of the General Assembly – and only then would it go to the ballot.

The earliest voters could see a proposal on the ballot would be in the May primaries.

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