Panel proposes extending SD lawmakers’ term limits

PIERRE, S.D. (AP) - South Dakota’s term limits force out state lawmakers just as they’re becoming good at their jobs, legislative leaders said Friday as a House committee approved extending the constitutional limits.

Senate and House members can serve no more than four consecutive two-year terms in a chamber, for a total of eight years. But a lawmaker can run for another chamber after being term-limited in one.

The House State Affairs Committee voted unanimously to approve extending those limits to six two-year terms, or 12 years, in a chamber. The legislation is a proposed amendment to the South Dakota Constitution, so if the Legislature passes it, voters would still need to approve the change in a statewide vote.

The measure’s main sponsor, Rep. Charlie Hoffman, R-Eureka, said current term limits force lawmakers to decide during their first term whether they will seek leadership positions. By the time people become experienced lawmakers or seasoned leaders, term limits force them out of a chamber, he said.

“We lose a lot of good people,” Hoffman said.

Voters soundly rejected a 2008 proposal to eliminate term limits, but Hoffman said they likely would be more willing to extend them by a few years.

Rep. Scott Munsterman, R-Brookings, said longer term limits would strengthen the Legislature and create a better balance of power between it and the executive branch.

“We’re not getting rid of term limits. We’re talking about how we can put our experience to work here,” Munsterman said, adding that voters can always get rid of legislators in elections.

House Democratic Leader Bernie Hunhoff of Yankton said the current term limits force lawmakers to leave about the time they become really effective. He noted that House Republican Leader David Lust of Rapid City can’t seek re-election this year because he’s in his eighth year.

“What sense does it make if you shove a David Lust out the door? We’re losing a good legislator,” Hunhoff said.

Lust thanked Hunhoff for the compliment, but said he’s not sure he would seek re-election even if he were not term-limited.

“I’m a proponent of term limits, but eight years is simply too short,” Lust said.

Hoffman said voters usually reject proposed constitutional amendment unless supporters mount a strong campaign. He said if the term-limit proposal winds up on the ballot, he would travel around the state to promote it.

“Somebody has to take charge and sell this,” Hoffman said.

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