A lot of people in Alabama have voiced support for term limits, to keep people from staying in the state legislature indefinitely, and a bill before the senate currently would limit legislators to twelve consecutive years of service in a given house.
What makes the bill notable is that it stands a real chance of reaching voters.
As WHNT News 19 Political Analyst Jess Brown notes,”The voters believe in term limits.”
Maybe they’ve got a few senators on their side now.
SB153 would let voters decide if state legislators should have their years of service capped.
As Brown points out, “Term limits are very popular with rank and file voters. In states where this has been put on the ballot, it typically passes in a referendum by a margin of greater than two to one. Landslides.”
We hear about limiting the years on these careers time and time again, but this time, two of the senate bill’s sponsors head up key money committees.
For that matter, it has eleven sponsors total in the senate. There’s only thirty-five senators.
Brown says, “Given the collection of senators that serve as sponsors or co-sponsors of that bill, if this bill does not get at least a vote and debate on the full floor of the senate, I’m going to be honest with you, I think someone is playing a game with symbolic legislation in Montgomery.”
But why would senators conspire to put together legislation then let it die without a vote?
Brown answers, “The best of all possible worlds for some politicians is, you introduce a bill. You have a lot of public discussion. You get media attention to your bill. And then your bill just never quite completes the legislative process and goes to the people for a vote.”
Then your terms never get limited.
So maybe voters get a chance to approve term limits, but at very least, they have the names of eleven senators with the power to push it to a vote (Pittman, Fielding, Taylor, Williams, Orr, Beason, Sanford, Brewbaker, Hightower, Bussman, and Blackwell).
Meanwhile, the lobbyists who like to pull legislative strings won’t like it if they change out every few years.
Brown notes, “Generally speaking the major lobbyists and the general interest groups of the state do not want term limits. They typically would rather go back each session and deal with the people they know, deal with the people they’ve given money to in the past.”
But replace lawmakers too often, and suddenly unelected power brokers know more than their elected counterparts.
“If you want to increase the power of lobbyists and staffers,” says Brown, “Create a system where virtually everybody is new.”
You have to make sure the people we can hold accountable still know their way around the statehouse.
Brown details the delicate task, “What you want is a balance. You want some institutional memory, people who have been there, been through the budget processes, understand the state bureaucracies and what piece of state government performs what function or service. But by the same token, you want to inject some fresh blood periodically.”
SB153 tries to balance that tightrope.
Now, we just need to see if it gets a vote.