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Blame game: Term limits aren't cause of Oklahoma Legislature passing bad laws

by The Oklahoman Editorial Board Published: September 9, 2013

Lawmakers met in special session last week because of an example Morrissette cited in making the case that greenhorn legislators are problematic. The state Supreme Court's negation of a 2009 tort reform package led to the special session. Spiropoulos says term limits aren't the reason legislators had to return early to the Capitol.

The problem, he said, “is the standards the court uses to decide these cases are so confusing it is difficult to tell ahead of time” what is constitutional and what isn't. Opponents of bills may wave the “Unconstitutional!” flag, but this doesn't mean the court will follow a consistent path and provide lawmakers with clear guidance.

Lawyers and special-interest groups who specialize in challenging the constitutionality of legislation have plenty of room to crow that the Legislature is consistently passing unconstitutional bills. But is this due to term limits? Hardly. Lawmakers passing these bills — and the political party they represent — have gone on ideological forays guaranteed to draw legal challenges.

While their majority status itself is partly due to term limits, the inexperience of legislators isn't the reason for their ideology. It's just part of the package that many Republicans bring to the Legislature. The result? Abortion bills challenged almost on the day they take effect, the decision to put a Ten Commandments monument on state Capitol grounds and a host of other bills with an ideological bent. We've often urged the majority party to avoid ideological sidetracks. They've done so anyway. But this has little to do with inexperience or term limits.

Over the years, term-limit law opponents have leveled withering criticism at the law, as if it were responsible for everything up to and including droughts, spoiled milk or OU football setbacks. The opponents say voters can limit the terms of any politician they don't like. Yet voters in 1990 voluntarily surrendered that right and, less than four years ago, took themselves out of the process of keeping a statewide official on the job for more than eight years (12 in the case of corporation commissioners).

Sooner or later, every term-limited legislator will leave. An open seat will be up for grabs. Democrats have every opportunity to compete for these seats and send new, inexperienced lawmakers to the Capitol. If Democrats ever regain the majority due to term limits, will Morrissette complain about their lack of experience?

If so, he likely will do so as an ex-legislator: The term limit for him, fortunately, takes effect in 2016.

by The Oklahoman Editorial Board
The Oklahoman Editorial Board consists of Gary Pierson, President and CEO of The Oklahoma Publishing Company; Christopher P. Reen, president and publisher of The Oklahoman; Kelly Dyer Fry, editor and vice president of news; Christy Gaylord...
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