State Politics

Bennett proposes extending lawmakers’ terms from 8 to 12 years

MANATEE — Sen. Mike Bennett, R-Bradenton, has proposed a measure to partially roll back term limits in the legislature. Voters would be asked to consider extending the maximum term for state lawmakers to 12 years. They are now limited to eight.

Bennett tacked an amendment onto a separate ballot item addressing veterans’ property tax benefits during a meeting of the Senate Community Affairs Council earlier this week. The proposed constitutional amendment, Senate Joint Resolution 1550, which the council approved, would go on the ballot for voters in 2010 if it survives to final passage.

“I think right now, we’re finding out through economic cycles and apportionment cycles, eight years is not enough,” Bennett said Thursday. “People have not had the experience of going through a bad economic cycle, or re-apportionment. We could smooth out the transition, make sure those who serve smooth out the flow of legislation.”

Bennett, the council’s chairman, is term limited in 2012.

But he noted that the measure would not benefit him personally, as it applies only to legislators of the future. Anyone who started prior to 2010 would be ineligible, he said.

“Nobody up here would be able to get an extension, it’s not self-serving that way,” Bennett said. “This is effective for future senators and legislators, not us.”

The Republican Party of Florida has not taken a position on the measure, a spokeswoman said. A spokesman for the Democratic Party of Florida said his party generally does not take a position on individual pieces of legislation.

The original Senate bill addressed tax benefits for disabled World War II veterans.

Bennett’s effort to extend legislators’ terms drew support from Ben Wilcox, executive director of Common Cause of Florida, which describes itself as a non-partisan advocate for government reform and accountability.

“It may surprise you to know Common Cause doesn’t like term limits, and we would probably support him increasing them,” said Wilcox. “We believe the voters ought to be the ultimate deciders of whether someone should stay or go in office; the eight-year term limit has not served the intended purpose of trying to get rid of arrogant lawmakers who get too used to being in power.”

“Instead, it’s gotten rid of the more statesmanlike people, who have a more long-term perspective on state government,” he said.

However, his support would depend on what form the proposal took, he added, saying that a stand-alone measure would be preferable.

“I think it should be put to the voters as a separate ballot item, to stand on its own,” said Wilcox. “I don’t believe in getting voters to pass something by putting it in with something else more popular. If he wanted to do a separate constitutional amendment, I would work with him on that.”

Sara Kennedy, Herald reporter, can be reached at (941) 708-7908 or at skennedy@bradenton.com

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