According to Ballotopedia, 15 state legislatures have term limits. In the United States as a whole, there are 1,972 state senate seats and 5,411 state house seats. 562 of the 1,972 state senate seats, or 28.5%, come with a limit. 1,368 of the 5,411 state house seats, or 25%, come with a limit. Of the total of 7,383 state legislative seats, 1,930 (26.1%) are limited.
In the nine states where the limits are consecutive, once a state legislator has served the maximum number of terms in office, he or she, if eligible, can run for office for the state’s other legislative chamber, or leave the legislature. These states are Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Louisiana, Maine, Montana, Nebraska, Ohio and South Dakota. Alternatively, after a period of time (typically 2 years) out of office from that legislative, the legislator is allowed to run again for his/her old office.
In six of the 15 states with limits on state legislators, there is a lifetime limit. These states are Arkansas, California, Michigan, Missouri, Nevada and Oklahoma.
California has perhaps the most revealing experiences with term limits.
This state first passed Proposition 140 in 1990, which was more of a scorched earth policy for term limits – state assembly members were limited 3 two-year terms and state senate members to 2 four-year terms. These were not consecutive term limits – a member was banned for life for the same office once those limits were reached.
As might be predicted from the research, these changes were problematic:
As a body, the Legislature is less likely to alter the Governor’s Budget, and its own budget process neither encourages fiscal discipline nor links legislators’ requests to overall spending goals. In addition, legislative oversight of the executive branch has declined significantly. The authors’ interviews with members and their staff revealed a widespread sense in Sacramento that something needs to be done soon to provide more stability and expertise to the Legislature’s policymaking process.
As a result of these issues, Proposition 28 was proposed and passed in 2012. It increased the number of years a legislator can remain in the California State Assembly from 6 to 12 years, and from 8 years to 12 years in the senate. The results so far have been positive:
Some in California say the change is already having an effect. Assemblyman Ken Cooley of Sacramento County says he’s seen a heightened interest among new lawmakers to seek out information for their committee assignments and try to build expertise in a subject area. Developing a serious depth of knowledge wasn’t as realistic as before, he says. State Controller John Chiang agrees that he’s also seen a shift in attitudes: “A lot of freshmen, in their public comments, are taking a long view—that six, seven or eight years from now the actions they take will have an impact.”
In addition to the legislature, statewide office holders (other than the insurance commissioner) are limited to two 4-year terms. All California term limits are absolute and not consecutive.