House revives term limit proposal for legislative leaders

Posted June 14, 2017 4:18 p.m. EDT
Updated July 13, 2018 1:46 p.m. EDT

— House lawmakers are trying once again to adopt term limits for the positions of House speaker and Senate president pro tem.

Previous attempts in 2011 and 2013 stalled in the Senate, so sponsor Rep. Harry Warren, R-Rowan, said he used language in House Bill 182 that he thinks the Senate will accept.

The proposal, which also would need to be approved by voters as a constitutional amendment, would prohibit anyone from holding either of the two leadership positions in the General Assembly for more than four consecutive two-year terms.

"The purpose behind the bill is to help regain confidence in the system by our constituents, the general public, by working against any possibility of entrenchment in leadership roles," Warren said, noting that some previous House and Senate leaders ruled with an "iron hand" and forced other lawmakers to toe the line.

"One of the weaknesses of our institution is the power does seem to be in the hands of few people who call the shots," said sponsor Rep. John Blust, R-Guilford. "I would like to see the speaker as more of a servant to the membership, to make sure everything's done appropriately, according to rule, and that the members are the ones that hold the power."

Rep. Graig Meyer, D-Orange, asked why not institute a lifetime limit, suggesting someone could serve the four terms, step aside for two years and return for another four terms.

Warren said the House and the Senate need the flexibility to return to successful leaders if they find others aren't up to the job, although he expressed confidence that a number of lawmakers could serve as speaker or president pro tem without a problem.

Rep. Grier Martin, D-Wake, cautioned lawmakers both against weakening the legislative branch of state government by pushing aside strong leaders and against creating figurehead leaders who do the bidding of powerful politicians in "subordinate" roles that don't have term limits.

"We are all here on a two-year contract, so the possibility for a turnover in leadership could happen at any time," Warren said.

Meyer cast the lone vote against the measure in the House Judiciary I Committee, and it still must clear the House Rules Committee before getting to the floor.