The Lead

Rookie lawmakers push legislation to limit General Assembly members’ tenure

By: - March 12, 2019 2:06 pm

Rep. Mike Jones, R-York, speaks in favor of term limits Tuesday. (Capital-Star photo by Stephen Caruso)

Another session, another reform effort.

In previous years, campaign finance reform, shrinking the legislature, and redistricting changes have been pushed as a solution to Harrisburg’s dysfunction. This year, House lawmakers from both parties have coalesced around a bill to restrict lawmakers from gaining power through endless tenure in the Capitol.

“We are not trying to limit voter options, but level the playing field,” Rep. Mike Jones, a first year Republican from York, said. 

The bill would not cap the number of years a lawmaker can serve in his or her lifetime. Instead, it would require an elected official step down — at least temporarily — after a maximum of 12 consecutive years in either the House or the Senate.

A lawmaker would be able to rejoin the General Assembly after sitting out a two-year session. A member could also serve 12 years in one chamber then run for a seat in the other.

“If the voters have buyer’s remorse, they can go back to the original,” Jones said.

The assembled lawmakers — the most senior elected in just 2014 — said the plan was more about keeping a flow of fresh faces and ideas moving into the General Assembly than casting out long-serving members.

Such accommodation would be key.

Restricting how long a lawmaker can serve may be popular with the public — 70 percent of Pennsylvanians told Franklin & Marshall College last summer they support reforming term limits and the size of the legislature.

But long-serving members are often at the head of the General Assembly’s most powerful committees and have wide discretion to either hold referred bills or advance them to the floor.

The House’s rules in fact mandate that chairs are chosen by seniority. The bill’s sponsors say their legislation would shake up committee chairs regularly.

The legislation would grandfather in existing members, allowing them to serve for another 12 years after the bill’s passage.

Without the clause, all current leaders from both parties in the House and Senate, as well as Speaker of the House Mike Turzai and Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati, would be forced out of office for a period of time.

As a constitutional amendment, the bill — which has not yet been introduced — would need to pass the chambers in identical form two sessions in a row before going to voters as a referendum.

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Stephen Caruso
Stephen Caruso

Stephen Caruso is a former senior reporter with Pennsylvania Capital-Star. Before working with the Capital-Star he covered Pennsylvania state government for The PLS Reporter.