Termed Out: Reforming California's Legislative Term Limits


Publication Date: October 2007

Publisher: Center for Governmental Studies

Author(s): Sasha Horwitz

Research Area: Government

Keywords: Legislature; Term limits

Type: Report

Coverage: California


In 1990, California voters adopted the strictest legislative term limits in the nation by approving Proposition 140. The limits allow legislators to serve up to six years in the Assembly (three two-year terms) and eight years in the state Senate (two four-year terms), a maximum of 14 years. Once those individual limits are met, assembly members and Senators are barred from their respective houses for life. California's term limits affect minority representation, policymaking, agency oversight and overall legislative effectiveness. Many voters generally support term limits, but Sacramento insiders, academics and newspaper editorial boards consider them detrimental to the process.
In 2002, voters soundly defeated Proposition 45, the first attempt to soften the statewide term limits law.

This report analyzes the impact of the current limits on the California legislature. It finds that term limits have had positive, negative and neutral impacts. The report also concludes that allowing legislators to serve a total of 12 years in either house will encourage them to develop
more expertise without any significant negative consequences.

In 2007, a coalition of critics unified behind a new proposal to reform California's term limits. The new proposal, Proposition 93, the Term Limits and Legislative Reform Act, will appear on the February 2008 California presidential primary ballot. It would reduce from 14 to 12 years the total time legislators can hold office, but enable them to serve those years divided between the houses any way they choose. As of the time of publication, the Center for
Governmental Studies has not yet taken a position favoring, opposing or remaining neutral on Proposition 93.