Nevada Term Limits Debate Goes On

Somewhere out there is a longtime Nevada lawmaker who may be willing to put a political career on the line and challenge a constitutional amendment that will bring term limits to the state Legislature beginning with the 2011 session.

"There is constant talk among legislators about finding a way to circumvent term limits," says state Sen. Bob Beers, R-Las Vegas. "I have no doubt that the majority of legislators want to see term limits reversed. Someone will step forward."

But it won't be Beers, who favors the limits on service. Two-thirds of Nevadans favor term limits, and Beers believes voters would not look favorably on a lawmaker who wants them overturned.

Fear of voter backlash led Assembly leaders in 2005 to decide against holding a formal vote on then-Assemblywoman Chris Giunchigliani's proposal to ask voters to repeal the term limit amendment in the 2008 election.

"Leadership was concerned about putting anybody on record who
opposed term limits," said Giunchigliani, now a Clark County commissioner.

Because her proposal died, legislators must turn to the courts if they want the amendment overturned before it takes effect.

Whoever ends up challenging term limits probably won't step forward with a legal challenge until the last possible moment: the 2010 election filing period, which begins in May of that year, Beers said.

During candidate filing in May 2010, the secretary of state will block lawmakers who have served 12 or more years in their particular house of the Legislature from seeking re-election. Seven state senators and 12 members of the Assembly, including Assembly Speaker Barbara Buckley, D-Las Vegas, wouldn't be able to seek re-election that fall.

Two years later, in 2012, the secretary of state would have to reject re-election filings from two current Assembly members and six additional state senators, including state Senate Majority Leader Bill Raggio, R-Reno, who has held his seat since 1972.

State Sen. Bob Coffin, D-Las Vegas, a critic of term limits, said the result will be a Legislature run by inexperienced lawmakers unable to stand up to veteran state officials and lobbyists.

"The only way you know what is going on (in the Legislature) is with experience," said Coffin, who's undecided on whether to file a legal challenge. "You have to call what heads of state agencies say into question. We are about to lose a lot of experience."

Giunchigliani agrees, saying staff and lobbyists "would run everything."

Nevada's term limits are the most liberal in the nation. They allow legislators to serve 12 years in each house of the Legislature. A legislator could conceivably serve 24 years: 12 in the state Senate and 12 in the Assembly.

The constitutional amendment on term limits was approved with 70
percent of the vote in 1994 and 54 percent of the vote in 1996. But
some claim the amendment is unconstitutional.

The Nevada Constitution requires amendments be passed "in the same manner" in two consecutive general elections.

The amendment, as passed by voters in 1994, also called for a 12-year limit on the terms of District Court judges and state Supreme Court justices.

Judges fought their inclusion in the proposed amendment, saying their jobs are different from those of other politicians. State Supreme Court justices agreed and placed term limits for judges and justices in a measure separate from the amendment to limit lawmakers' terms.

Judges mounted a strong campaign and defeated the measure affecting them in 1996, while voters again overwhelmingly supported
term limits for legislators.

Giunchigliani contends the state Supreme Court altered the measure approved in 1994 by creating the separate proposal for judges. She questions how term limits for legislators can pass constitutional muster when the measure voters approved in 1994 was not the same as the one they backed in 1996.

(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)