Voters Not Politicians working on expanding term limits in Michigan

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Michigan’s legislative leaders are working on a term limits expansion deal for state lawmakers with Voters Not Politicians, the grassroots organization that brought the state the new redistricting commission, and the Michigan Chamber of Commerce.

The conceptual plan, which won’t be finalized until December, would be that lawmakers could serve a combined 20 years in both the House and Senate before they would be broomed from office.

The length of the combined years is still flexible and would be based on what future polling looks like. As part of the arrangement, House Speaker Lee Chatfield, R-Levering. and Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey, R-Clarklake, would add other ethics reform measure into the mix that Voters Not Politicians members are passionate about.

Other questions on whether the expansion would include serving or past members also needs to be fleshed out. Legislative leaders are conscious about not wanting the proposal to appear to be self-serving, but they also don’t to run into any legal problems of excluding a certain group of people from the expanded restriction.

“The Senate majority leader has a known interest in addressing the issue of term limits and the fact that they have been a failed experiment,” said Shirkey spokeswoman Amber McCann. “He and the speaker have found a willing partner in VNP. They have some reforms that they would like to pursue in conjunction with the issue of term limits changes. We have found some common ground and moving forward with that consensus.”

Shirkey and Chatfield briefed their respective legislative chambers on the development today.

“I have always prioritized greater government transparency, accountability and efficiency,” Chatfield said. “I’m glad to be partnering with anyone who is willing to come to the table and work together on a real, responsible plan to make state government better for the people of Michigan.”

Reached for comment, Michigan Chamber of Commerce President Rich Studley told MIRS that, yes, there have been recent discussion with “traditional and non-traditional partners” as well as legislators about seeing what proposals the Legislature could enact to strengthen state government and transparency.

While there is no “agreement or proposal,” just yet, Studley said the chamber is open to discussions. The thinking is if those proposals are enacted, it might give the public more confidence and allow the door to be cracked on reforming term limits — something Studley noted the chamber has been discussing on and off for years.

In 1992, Michigan voters passed a constitutional amendment that limits Michigan residents to being elected to three two-year terms in the state House and two four-year terms in the state Senate.

A change to the Constitution would require a vote of the people. To put a term-limits amendment on the ballot, the Legislature could either pass a joint concurrent resolution with a two-thirds majority or 425,059 valid Michigan voter signatures would need to be collected within a six-month window.

To get the amendment on the Nov. 3, 2020, ballot, the signatures would need to be turned in by July 6 next year.

Today’s breakthrough is substantial. Former House Speaker Rick Johnson and former Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville are among the many state leaders who have talked about expanding the six-year limitation in the House and eight-year limitation in the Senate.

The efforts have continuously fallen apart amid poor polling data. Working with Voters Not Politicians, who successfully pushed through a petition drive in 2018 to create a new citizens’ redistricting commission, gives legislative leaders a popular ally to help make reforms.

Nancy Wang, executive director of Voters Not Politicians, said earlier this summer that her members were putting together “good government, pro-democracy reforms” for a potential petition drive in 2020 or 2022. Reforming term limits — either extending or eliminating them — was among the ideas on the table.

Fifteen states have legislative term limits and only Arkansas have terms as restrictive as Michigan’s. California’s term limits were modified in 2012 to a 12-year cumulative total, either or both houses.

(Kyle Melinn of the Capitol news service MIRS is at melinnky@gmail.com.)

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