State News

Bill seeks to limit leadership terms in General Assembly

Posted June 14

— Legislation moving through the House would let North Carolina voters decide whether to limit the leadership terms of the General Assembly's two most powerful members.

A bill advanced by a House judiciary committee Wednesday would put a constitutional amendment on the November 2018 ballot that asks voters whether the House speaker and Senate president pro tempore should be restricted to four consecutive two-year terms.

Currently, there are no term limits for officers elected by the legislature.

One of the bill's sponsors, Rep. Harry Warren, a Republican from Rowan County, said that the bill works to prevent entrenchment in leadership roles.

"I think one of the weaknesses of our institution is the power does seem to be in the hands of a few people who call the shots," said Guilford County Republican Rep. John Blust, another sponsor of the measure.

According to Warren, there have been previous proposals seeking to limit leadership terms. The House in 2011 and 2013 approved proposals to limit time serving at the top to no more than two legislative terms, or a maximum of four years. Although the Senate backed an eight-year limit in 2011, the idea hasn't gotten as much traction in the chamber in recent years.

This latest bill "doesn't limit how long you can serve in the legislature," Surry County Republican Rep. Sarah Stevens said in favor of the proposal. "It limits how long you can be the leader and not possess all the power in one person all the time."

Current Senate leader Phil Berger, a Rockingham County Republican, is in his fourth two-year term. His predecessor as president pro tempore, Democratic Sen. Marc Basnight of Dare County, served a record 18 years at the post.

There used to be an unwritten rule that a lawmaker would get the top job for one two-year term, then give it up to a colleague. That changed as voters in 1977 allowed the governor and lieutenant governor to run for a second term. Then-Speaker Liston Ramsey of Madison County served eight years in the 1980s before a bipartisan coalition unhappy with his leadership ended his run.

Opposed to the bill, Rep. Graig Meyer, a Democrat from Orange County, said that he preferred to have term limits enacted by a vote and not by a statue or constitutional amendments.

"I am one of the people ... who make the argument that they believe term limits should be the will of the voters, whether that be the public voting for the person as the speaker or our ability to vote for who the speaker is in the chamber," Meyer told committee members.

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Associated Press writer Gary D. Robertson contributed to this report.

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