A constitutional amendment that would limit legislators to serving 16 consecutive years in the Iowa House or Senate has won approval from the first panel to review the proposal. 

Representative Guy Vander Linden, a Republican from Oskaloosa who is a first-year member of the Iowa House, was on the three-member subcommittee that reviewed the issue this morning. “When I was campaigning and many others, we heard an awful lot from Iowans about wanting term limits,” Vander Linden says. 

Because of the lengthy process of proposing amendments for the state’s constitution, 2014 is the earliest election year in which Iowa voters could decide whether to approve the constitutional amendment.  Members of the House would be limited to eight terms, and House terms are two years each.  Senate terms are four years long, so members of the Senate would be limited to four terms under the proposal.   “And it’s only consecutive, so you could move from the House to the Senate, or from the Senate to the House, or you could leave and come back,” Vander Linden says. 

Critics of the idea say voters already have the power of term limits, as they can vote out incumbents each election year — and did so in 2010 in many races.  Others say long-term legislators have institutional knowledge that helps keep the other branches of government in check.  Vander Linden isn’t convinced by that argument. 

“I think we are so lightly limiting — 16 years is a pretty experienced individual — so I don’t think we are affecting the experience factor in this piece of legislation,” Vander Linden says. 

New legislators are valuable because they bring a “fresh” set of eyes to review the state’s vexing problems, according to Vander Linden and others. Vander Linden says for that and other reasons, this term limits proposal deserves debate in full committee. 

“There is a perception amongst the electorate that incumbents have a distinct advantage over challengers and the longer they’ve been in office, the perception is the greater the advantage in terms of money in the bank and name recognition and things like that,” Vander Linden says.

Fifteen states currently have term limits for state legislators, including the neighboring states of Missouri and Nebraska.  There used to be more states with term limits for state-level lawmakers, but the courts in Massachusetts, Oregon, Washington and Wyoming tossed out the proposals.  In Idaho and Utah, the state legislature repealed their term limit laws.

The proposed amendment to Iowa’s constitutional only establishes term limits for state legislators.  It would not apply to Iowa’s governor or other statewide elected officials.