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Time for term limits for legislators

Time for term limits for legislators

Voters new tool against corruption, stagnation in Albany

If the convictions and removal from office of Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos have made anything clear, it's that the longer certain people are in office, the more difficult it is for them to resist the temptation to use that office for personal gain.

Silver had been a legislator for 38 years, including 21 as Assembly leader, before he was convicted of federal corruption charges last November. And Skelos had been in office for 33 years, seven as leader of the Senate, at the time of his conviction on extortion, fraud and conspiracy charges in December.

While some lawmakers can serve with honor, distinction and a clean rap sheet for decades, the number of state legislators who have taken advantage of the security of lengthy tenures should convey to New Yorkers that it's time for a change. Limiting terms of office and limiting the number of years lawmakers can serve in leadership positions removes the ability to become entrenched and overly powerful.

Reasonable limits — not too short — would allow lawmakers to gain extensive knowledge of issues and the people involved, and it would allow them to develop the negotiating skills and political savvy needed to get crucial legislation passed.

But eventually, they'd have to make way for someone else, before all that knowledge, connections and skills can develop into a power base that serves as the the seeds for corruption.

Citizens would benefit from an infusion of new ideas and experience in the job.

Right now, the turnover rate in the New York state Legislature is the lowest in the country. That's an indication of the advantage of incumbency, which has resulted in a virtually impenetrable blockade against any new individuals who might bring fresh perspective to age-old issues and approaches.

Support for term limits around the country is growing. Already, 15 states limit their legislators to a specific number of years and/or terms, including California, Louisiana and Michigan.

For those who believe that limiting the public's choice for candidates violates their right to select their representatives as they see fit, the courts around the country have consistently upheld term limits. And the U.S. Constitution itself contains the biggest term limit of them all — the two-term limit for president of the United States.

Term limits also suit the original intent of the founding founders to make public service a temporary venture, not a lifelong career.

No less than seven bills (A.2861, A.2568, A.3783, A.4651, S.0943, S.3808, S.4352) are currently pending in both houses of the state Legislature this session calling for some type of term limits on lawmakers, and two bills (A.7775, S.4470) call for limits on the governor, state attorney general and comptroller.

The lengths of the terms suggested in the bills vary, with some proposing to limit lawmakers to four 2-year terms, others suggesting six 2-year terms, and some limiting lawmakers to a finite number of years, such as eight or 12.

Because lawmakers must run for re-election every two years, it might be more effective and efficient to lengthen the legislative terms to four years and limit lawmakers to either two or three consecutive terms. That way, they could devote more of their time to legislating and less to campaigning.

Whatever number they arrive at will be better than allowing lawmakers to stay in office indefinitely, keeping out new blood and setting the table for potential corruption.

The evidence is clear that the time has come for New York to enact term limits on the state's elected officials.

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