ND lawmakers’ attempt to tweak term limits passed by voters falls short

The term limits ballot measure passed by nearly two-thirds of North Dakota voters last year had hardly taken effect before legislators started messing with it. The constitutional amendment limits lawmakers to eight consecutive years in office in both houses, while constraining governors to two four-year terms.

It’s no secret that legislators and insiders widely opposed the effort to force more turnover among state senators and representatives in Bismarck. As a result, they wasted no time in proposing options aimed at giving themselves more years on the job, cognizant of the reality that the statewide electorate would need to vote again to approve the changes in order to pull it off.

But now it seems the effort to extend the number of years legislators could remain at the state capital by 50 percent has run out of gas, according to the Bismarck Tribune.

The Senate on Monday killed House Concurrent Resolution 3019 by Rep. Jim Kasper, R-Fargo, in a 5-41 vote.

The measure sought to impose term limits of 12 consecutive years each in the House and Senate, with at least a four-year break before those lawmakers could run to serve again for another 12 consecutive years. Members who completed serving partial terms would be eligible to serve 12 more consecutive years under the proposal.

The same limits would have applied to all elected executive branch officials, such as the attorney general and secretary of state. Kasper’s measure sought to repeal the 2022 term limits voters approved.

The proposed loosening of terms limits for lawmakers easily passed the House a few weeks ago. Yet attempts to justify tweaking the conditions for remaining in office more to suit themselves fell flat on the Senate side.

Sen. Jeff Magrum, R-Hazelton, unsuccessfully proposed a floor amendment to remove the governor, lieutenant governor and state lawmakers from the measure, what he called “a good compromising amendment to not insult our voters but to continue on with the term limits for our other officeholders.”

Sen. Judy Estenson, R-Warwick, said the measure isn’t “insulting the intelligence of the electorate,” but is a “modification” for voters to determine. Had the Legislature passed the measure it would have gone to voters next year.

Meantime, it might be wise for lawmakers bent on retaining their positions longer than currently allowed to let term limits play out for a few years before second-guessing the public’s expressed will on the issue again.

Lawmakers are set to study the impact of the 2022 term limits in the 2023-24 interim period, including whether to provide more educational opportunities for lawmakers, whether to increase the number of Legislative Council policy staff, and whether to hold annual sessions.