Politicos propose legislative session limits

Rep. Gary Pendleton, R-Wake, and a group of political movers and shakers are forming a committee to push for a constitutional amendment to curb how long lawmakers meet.

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NC Legislative Building
Mark Binker
RALEIGH, N.C. — Rep. Gary Pendleton, R-Wake, says this year's marathon legislative session should have been enough to convince anyone that it's time to put term limits on legislative sessions.

Pendleton is one of a group of political movers and shakers who have formed a committee to push for a constitutional amendment that would constrain how long lawmakers are allowed to get together each year. Joining him are Rufus Edmisten, a former state attorney general and secretary of state, Phil Kirk, a a former Republican state senator and former head of the North Carolina Chamber, Bob Luddy, a businessman and prominent Republican donor, former state Supreme Court Chief Justice Burley Mitchell, a Democrat, and Temple Sloan Jr., a Republican and retired chief executive of Carquest.

"This whole thing is about getting young people with fresh ideas to run for the legislature," Pendleton said.

A former Wake County commissioner, he said some of his younger colleagues can't afford to spend so long in Raleigh while leaving their careers and families unattended. Among those who have cited the grueling session length in saying they won't run again are Reps. Paul Tine, U-Dare, and Nathan Baskerville, D-Vance.

"We intend on raising money to let the people know how they're being affected by us meeting so long," Pendleton said of the group, calling itself the NC Committee to Preserve a Citizen Legislature.

He pointed to a cost estimate that says it took more than $4 million more than usual to keep the legislature staffed up through August and September this year.

Pendleton said he'll introduce a constitutional amendment when lawmakers return to Raleigh in April to limit the length of sessions. Doing so, he said, could reduce in-fighting among lawmakers and give them a real deadline by which work on the budget would have to be done every year.

The group is proposing holding sessions in odd-numbered years to 90 days and limited even-numbered-year short sessions to 45 days.

Others have suggested that North Carolina is a big enough state that it ought to move to a full-time legislature, something Pendleton said he would oppose and "fight to the death." Other large states, he said, have limited legislative sessions, so there's no reason North Carolina couldn't do the same.

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, there are 10 states with full-time or nearly full-time legislatures, including Florida, California, New York and Pennsylvania. NCSL ranks only six small states as working on the truly "citizen legislature" model that Pendleton prefers, including Montana, New Hampshire, North Dakota, South Dakota, Utah and Wyoming.

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