Florida Makes First Call for Term Limits Convention

Florida Rep. Larry Metz (R-Groveland) and State Senator Aaron Bean (R-Jacksonville) lead the successful effort by that state’s legislature to make the call for a Term Limits Convention under Article V of the U.S. Constitution, signed by the Florida Secretary of State on March 9, 2016.

The term limits referred to are those of elected federal officials, both representatives to Congress and senators. The limits aim to curb the tide of “career politicians,” those who gain an elected office and are able to win re-election multiple times, allowing them to remain in office for 20, 30 or more years.

Many state legislatures have set term limits for elected officials in that state. In 1992 Floridians voted to establish term limits both for the state’s own elected officials and those elected from Florida to Congress, a term limit of eight years for both state and federal offices. The legality of that vote was indirectly contested in the U.S. Supreme Court in U.S. Term Limits Inc. vs. Thornton in which the high rules by a 5 to 4 vote that it was unconstitutional for states to self-determine term limits for federal legislators.

With that Supreme Court ruling, Florida and 23 others states who had established term limits for their national representatives and senators saw their efforts disappear with a pen stroke. Until the Florida legislature took up the issue of authorizing the state to participate in a Term Limits convention, beginning with the introduction of the memorial bill in December 2015, no state has made successful efforts to regain control of Congressional term limits.

In writing for the winning majority, Justice John Paul Stevens explained that term limits for federal elected officials may not come through legislation either by Congress or individual states, but only through an amendment to the Constitution. As written, the Constitution lists three qualifications for legislators, namely those of citizenship, age and residency. A change in the Constitution, which is what term limits represent, needs to pass both the House of Representatives and the Senate by a two-thirds vote and approval from 38 of the states.

According to the group U.S. Term Limits, the Constitution also provides an alternative to the requirement of Congressional approval for a Constitutional amendment via Article V. A convention of at least two-thirds of the states’ legislatures must pass a bill to apply for a convention to consider only the topic of Congressional term limits. Article V compels Congress to call the convention under those circumstances. Once the amendment for term limits is set at the convention, it must be ratified through the vote of the states, three-fourths or 38 of which must agree to the amendment for it to pass.

The importance of Article V is that the states can circumvent Congress when it is unwilling to act on issues such as term limits that can affect the power of those already in office.

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