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Sayfie Review Featured Column

by Dr. Kathryn DePalo
June 9, 2016

Florida’s Term Limits: An Overview

Kathryn A. DePalo, Ph.D.

Florida International University

It has been almost a quarter century since the national term limits movement hit the state of Florida. Proponents of term limits, who supported a ballot initiative, wanted “new blood” infused into Tallahassee. In 1992, almost 77% of Florida voters enacted 8-year term limits on the state’s congressional members, state legislators, and cabinet officers. The U.S. Supreme Court in U.S. Term Limits v. Thornton (1995) struck down state constitutional amendments limiting members of Congress, including Florida’s provision, while leaving the term limits on state senators and state representatives in place. Today, Florida is one of 15 states with term limitations on their state legislature. (See Table 1 below).

Table 1

 

 

 

House

Senate

 

State

Year Enacted

Limit (years)

Year of Impact

Limit (years)

Year of Impact

% Voted Yes

MAINE

1993

8

1996

8

1996

67.6

CALIFORNIA

1990

12 (c)

1996

12 (c)

1998

52.2

COLORADO

1990

8

1998

8

1998

71

ARKANSAS

1992

16 (d)

1998

16(d)

2000

59.9

MICHIGAN

1992

6

1998

8

2002

58.8

FLORIDA

1992

8

2000

8

2000

76.8

OHIO

1992

8

2000

8

2000

68.4

SOUTH DAKOTA

1992

8

2000

8

2000

63.5

MONTANA

1992

8

2000

8

2000

67

ARIZONA

1992

8

2000

8

2000

74.2

MISSOURI (a)

1992

8

2002

8

2002

75

OKLAHOMA

1990

12 (c)

2004

12 (c)

2004

67.3

NEBRASKA

2000

n/a

n/a

8

2006

56

LOUISIANA

1995

12

2007

12

2007

76

NEVADA (b)

1996

12

2010

12

2010

70.4

(a) Because of special elections, term limits were effective in 2000 for eight current members of the House and one Senator in 1998.
(b) The Nevada Legislative Council and Attorney General ruled that Nevada's term limits could not be applied to those legislators elected in the same year term limits were passed (1996). They first applied to persons elected in 1998.
(c) In California and Oklahoma, a legislator may serve a total of 12 years in the legislature during his or her lifetime. The total time may be split between the two chambers, or spent in its entirety in a single chamber. Before 2012, California's limits were six years in the assembly and eight years in the senate.

(d) In Arkansas in 2014 a ballot measure changed term limits so that a legislator may serve a total of 16 years in the legislature during his or her lifetime. Before 2014, limits were six years in the House and eight years in the Senate.

Source: National Conference of State Legislatures: http://www.ncsl.org/research/about-state-legislatures/chart-of-term-limits-states.aspx

 

In 2000, term limits took effect in Florida, immediately removing from office 57 members of the House and 11 members of the Senate. This was a collective loss of over 900 years of legislative experience.

Figure 1

When term limits took effect in 2000, almost half of the legislators elected in 1998 were forced from the House. The support for proverbially “kicking the bums out” had its intended impact, affecting 47.5% of the House chamber. Subsequent years did not see such a large wave. In fact, in 2004, just four years later, only 7 out of 120 members of the Florida House were ousted from office because of term limits. The data suggests that there was a larger group of term limited members in 2008, eight years since the first class of post-term limits legislators were elected. We do not see similar numbers in 2016, although there is a slight uptick from the previous two election cycles.

Figure 2

The data suggests a similar pattern in the Florida Senate. Because all 40 senators are up for election in redistricting years (2002, 2012) some senators are allowed up to ten years in the chamber. Combined, the 2000 and 2002 waves removed 23 members of the Senate, or 57.5% of the chamber. There appears to be another wave in 2012. However, in both 2004 and 2014, no senators faced term limits. This see-saw effect in the House and the Senate suggests that there is no even distribution of the number of term limited members per election cycle.

Figure 3

These observations are also reflected in turnover levels noted in Figure 3. While some members are forced from office because of term limits, others decide to exit early and run for other offices, and a few are defeated for re-election. Redistricting years (1992, 2002, 2012) are traditionally higher turnover years, as members are more likely to decide against running for re-election, or be defeated at the ballot box because redistricting has changed nature of their district. As expected, higher turnover also occurred in 2000, as the initial implementation of term limits removed long-term members (a second wave occurred in the Senate in 2002.) Large spikes in turnover occurred eight years later in both chambers (2008 in the House and 2010 in the Senate) coinciding with a greater numbers of term limited members leaving office.

Comparatively, in the “off” years without redistricting and larger waves of term limited members, turnover is low, as observed in the 2004 and 2014 electoral cycles in each chamber. Prior to 2000 and term limits, it appears that low turnover in 1996 and 1998 is likely the result of potential candidates “waiting out the clock” until these seats opened up.

Figure 4

What impact have term limits had on experience in the Legislature? Certainly the desire to bring new people into the process has been a success, but at the expense of any legislative experience. Prior to term limits taking effect in 2000, the average tenure of a member of the House was 5.5 years, while senators averaged 6.81 years. That dropped dramatically in 2000, when the average tenure in the House and Senate was less than one full term. The average tenure has increased considerably since that time, and legislators still in office after the 2014 elections had the longest average tenure within the post-term limits era (though never reaching the high-water marks of the decade prior to term limits.)

So, what do we know?

-The percentage of members term limited since 2000 has averaged 15% of the House and 16% of the Senate per each electoral cycle.

- Total member turnover in the House in the decade prior to term limits averaged 24%; post-2000, with term limits in place, turnover now averages 30% per election cycle.

- Member turnover in the Senate in the decade prior to term limits averaged 24%; post-2000, with term limits in place, turnover has remained the same at 24% per election cycle.

- Average tenure in the House in the decade prior to term limits was 5.2 years; post-2000, with term limits in place, the average tenure is just 2.8 years, an average difference of more than one full term for each House member.

-Average tenure in the Senate in the decade prior to term limits was 5.9 years; post-2000, with term limits in place, the average tenure is 3.9 years, an average difference of half a term for each Senate member.


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*Some information found here is credited to Failure of Term Limits in Florida, by Kathryn DePalo, University Press of Florida, 2015.