When State Question 632 appeared before Oklahoma voters in 1990, they resoundingly said yes to 12-year term limits for state legislators. 

More than three decades later, Oklahoma lawmakers are seeking similar constraints on U.S. Senators and Representatives. The state Senate last week passed House Joint Resolution 1032, which signals Oklahoma’s support for limiting how long members of Congress are allowed to stay in office. 

The process necessary to establish congressional term limits is somewhat complex. In the 1995 U.S. Term Limits v. Thornton case, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that states cannot impose requirements on their congressional delegation stricter than what’s specified in the constitution, including term limits. Members of the U.S. House and Senate also don’t have the power to unilaterally impose term limits on themselves. 

Broad support is necessary for Congress or the states to commence establishing term limits. A two-thirds supermajority of Congress may pass a resolution that’s forwarded to state legislatures for final approval. Article V of the Constitution gives states the power to call a convention on the issue if at least two-thirds signal support. 

Whether through state legislatures or the constitutional convention process, at least 38 of 50 states would need to sign off on congressional term limits for the changes to take effect. 

Action on the issue doesn’t appear likely soon. Just five other states — Missouri, Florida, Alabama, West Virginia and Wisconsin — have passed similar single-subject applications for term limits, well short of the 34 necessary to call a convention. 

Such a convention has never taken place. But momentum is building in other states to pass similar resolutions, according to U.S. Term Limits, the advocacy group pushing for states to call a convention to establish term limits. The group, which argues lawmakers who stay in office longer are less effective and more beholden to special interests, cites outside polling showing that more than 70% of voters nationwide support congressional term limits. 

Some groups fear there could be ramifications of establishing term limits and convening a constitutional convention of the states. Less experienced members would lack policy experience and therefore rely more on lobbyists and special interest groups, according to the Brookings Institute think tank.  

No established federal rules limit a convention to one issue, meaning states could look to write new amendments outside of the usual process, according to the nonpartisan government watchdog group Common Cause

As always, I’d love your thoughts on this issue. Do you believe term limits in the Oklahoma legislature are effective? Would similar restrictions on Congress be a good thing for democracy? Let me know at kross@oklahomawatch.org

Tweet Watch

The McCurtain County Gazette newspaper, which does not have a website, has received widespread praise for its reporting on racist and threatening remarks made by county officials early last month.

What I’m Reading This Week

  • As Legislature Negotiates Private School Tax Credit, Tuition Cap Floated to Break Stalemate: With the rest of the session’s budget negotiations delayed until an education agreement is reached, leaders of the House, Senate and Gov. Kevin Stitt’s administration have been kicking around alternate parameters for the controversial private school tax credit, including phasing in an income eligibility cap or capping eligibility based on a school’s tuition cost. [NonDoc]
  • McCurtain County Commissioner Resigns: Mark Jennings, who was allegedly caught on tape discussing murdering local reporters and lynching Black people, submitted his resignation letter to Gov. Kevin Stitt. A county sheriff and two county employees who also spoke in the recording have yet to resign. [Tulsa World]
  • Oklahoma Court Upholds Richard Glossip’s Murder Conviction: Glossip can still plead his case for clemency to the five-member Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board, which could recommend that the governor spare the prisoner’s life by commuting his sentence to life in prison without parole. Oklahoma Attorney General Gentner Drummond and several Republican lawmakers have raised concerns about the case. [The Associated Press]

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