Bill would give legislators term limits, extend Senate term

ATLANTA — Georgia voters could get a chance to limit state lawmakers to 12 years per chamber and extend state senators' terms to four years from two under a constitutional amendment advancing in the Senate.

The Senate Government Oversight Committee voted to approve Senate Resolution 37, sending it to the full Senate for more debate. Before it could be added to the state constitution, two-thirds of both the House and Senate would have to approve and voters statewide would have to ratify it.

The measure would also impose a two-term limit on the lieutenant governor’s office. Republican Lt. Gov Geoff Duncan has said he favors such a move, saying the post should carry the same eight-year maximum as Georgia’s governor gets.

“We should come down here and do our work and accomplish our work and have it be a season of life as opposed to, perhaps, the entire book of our life," the measure's sponsor, Republican Sen. Greg Dolezal of Cumming, said during a hearing earlier this month.

The measure's prospects in the House are unclear, where House Speaker David Ralston has been a representative since 2002 and speaker since 2010. The measure could be particularly unappealing to House members because they would continue to run for office every two years while senators would now get longer terms. House members get two-year terms and Senate members get four-year terms in most states.

“I believe that the two-year term causes us to be scared of our own shadow and afraid to pass bold legislation,” Dolezal said.

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 15 states moved between 1990 and 2000 to impose term limits on their lawmakers. Georgia would be the first new state in decades to add term limits, and would be relatively unusual in the South, with Louisiana and Florida the only other states enforcing limits. Six states that adopted term limits have repealed them or seen them struck down by state courts.

If adopted, the 12 years would begin running after the 2024 elections. House and Senate members could run for office in the opposite chamber and get 12 more years, or could run again after being out of office for at least one year.

Opponents warn the measures would drain chambers of their institutional knowledge and leave lawmakers more reliant on lobbyists and bureaucrats when making decisions.

“It restricts the rights of voters to choose their legislators," Democratic Sen. Nikki Merritt of Grayson said earlier this month. "If they’re happy with the legislator that they have, there’s no reason we should be taking that choice away from them.”

Dolezal said a recently elected lawmaker proved himself up to complicated tasks last year when Republican Sen. Blake Tillery of Vidalia was thrust into the role as Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman when Sen. Jack Hill of Reidsville died after 30 years in the Senate.

“Last year we saw someone in their fourth year in the building step into the budget process as appropriations chairman,” Dolezal said.

It would be the second term-limit measure senators have passed in recent days after on Monday calling for a U.S. constitutional convention to impose term limits on members of Congress.

“I don’t think we’re in a position to question this, we’re asking them to have term limits and not asking ourselves," said Sen. Burt Jones, a Jackson Republican.

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Follow Jeff Amy on Twitter at http://twitter.com/jeffamy.