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Missouri Constitutional Amendment Would Change Term Limits

The Missouri Senate has given initial approval to a proposed constitutional amendment that would allow members of the Legislature to serve up to 16 years in one chamber.

Voters would have the final say if the Senate approves the proposal once more and it also passes the House.

Currently, lawmakers can serve no more than eight years in the House and eight in the Senate. The proposal, approved Wednesday in a 20-12 vote, would still cap legislative service at 16 years, but lawmakers could serve all of that time in one chamber.

However, the change would reset the clock for current lawmakers, allowing representatives approaching their term limits to instead be re-elected.

The measure's sponsor, Democratic Sen. Jason Holsman of Kansas City, said that eight years was not long enough to master one chamber. The Legislature is complex, he said, and so are the issues facing the state.

"We are essentially a $27 billion company who replaces their CEO and their CFO every two years," he said Tuesday, referring to the length of a term in the Missouri House. "What private company can afford to replace their CFO and CEO every two years and remain a successful business?"

Much of the debate hinged on the potential for some current lawmakers to serve up to 32 years.

Holsman argued that the measure could be found unconstitutional by a court if current lawmakers couldn't take advantage of the change, because that would treat different citizens differently. He cited the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which says all citizens must have "equal protection of the laws."

Other senators weren't buying it.

"I think that doesn't really pass the snicker test," Sen. Bob Onder, R-Lake St. Louis, said Tuesday. Any argument otherwise, he said, was just playing politics.

The measure would also ban lobbyist gifts. Lobbyists, and the businesses they represented, would be prevented from giving "anything of value" to a lawmaker, their staff or family.