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Meekhof: Mich. term limits a 'failed social experiment’

Jonathan Oosting
Detroit News Lansing Bureau

Lansing — Legislative term limits are a "failed social experiment” in Michigan, Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof said Monday, arguing the state can “do better” than a policy that forces turnover in the Legislature.

The West Olive Republican blasted Michigan term limits during a Lansing summit on fiscal stability, suggesting the rules discourage long-term planning and prudent decision making at the state Capitol.

“Giving people a longer term limit I think says that when you make the decision, you'll be there long enough to see the effects of that decision,” Meekhof told reporters after the event. “Now, most people aren't here long enough... so they can kind of wipe their hands of it.”

Term limits, as approved by Michigan voters in 1992, are baked into the state Constitution. Legislators are allowed to serve three two-year terms in the House for a total of six years and two four-year terms in the Senate. Combined, they can serve up to 14 years if elected to both chambers.

Meekhof is bumping up against that cap and will be forced out of office at the end of 2018, but he said he is not interested in changing the rules for himself, suggesting any policy change he may pursue would only affect future legislators.

His predecessor, former Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville, R-Monroe, also sharply criticized term limits during his final term in Lansing and introduced a resolution for a constitutional amendment to extend them.

Three years later, Meekhof said he just wants to “start the discussion” about potential changes. He isn’t proposing any legislation, noting term limit reforms would require voter approval or a legally binding court decision.

“If you had a $55 billion company and told investors every six years you're going to bring in new people that haven’t done this very much, how likely are people to invest in that business?” Meekhof said, comparing state government to the private sector. “It's very uncertain.”

State Sen. Curtis Hertel Jr., D-Meridian Township, agreed with Meekhof that term limits “don't work” and suggested they may be contributing to what he called “dysfunctional government” in Lansing.

But he acknowledged that lifting or extending term limits would be a tough sell with the public. Roughly 59 percent of voters approved the limits in 1992.

“It’s a difficult argument,” Hertel said. “I think the hardest part of the argument, to be honest with you, is the idea that this Legislature is so bad we need to give them longer time to actually learn how to be a legislator.”