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Florida Lawmakers Face Term Limits

March 5, 2000

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) _ The clock is ticking on Florida’s lawmakers, leaving some who have occupied the Statehouse for decades with just two more months to make a lasting impression.

The state’s ``Eight is Enough″ amendment that takes effect this year is forcing out nearly half of the House members and more than a quarter of the state senators.

``It’s sort of like our last chance,″ said Senate President Toni Jennings, who is out after 20 years in that chamber and four in the House.

Sixty-three of the Legislature’s 160 members can’t seek re-election, meaning the session that starts Tuesday is their last chance to bring home money for roads and special projects.

Some of them, particularly House members, hope to continue their public careers by running for seats in the other chamber. Jennings is running for insurance commissioner and treasurer.

``It’s the world’s biggest job fair up here,″ said state Rep. Bob Henriquez. ``A lot of folks will be very careful not to make people angry.″

About 20 other states have term limit laws for state lawmakers, most put into effect after voters had petition drives and then voted them into law.

In Arizona, this is also the first year lawmakers are being forced out by term limits. California voters imposed term limits on their lawmakers in 1990. Under term limits in Michigan, 64 of the 110 state House races had no incumbents running in the 1998 elections.

Term limits on congressional candidates were declared illegal by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1995.

In Florida, some legislators complain that with new lawmakers with less experience, staff and lobbyists will gain more power in the lawmaking process.

``Even knowing the process, it still takes several years to establish expertise in a certain issue,″ said Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz. ``By the time you establish that expertise, it’s time to go.″

Lobbyists and other advocates are also concerned about losing their champions.

Dorene Barker, who works on poverty issues with a group called Florida Legal Services, said it takes years to establish credibility with lawmakers. At the same time, however, lawmakers who have blocked her legislation also face term limits.

But the president of Florida Citizens for Term Limits, Max Linn, said throwing lawmakers out will be beneficial. Right now lobbyists only have to cozy up to a few ``power brokers″ with seniority, he said. That should change.

``What we want out of Tallahassee is institutional knowledge,″ Linn said. ``We want fresh new ideas and fresh people in office.″

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