CARSON CITY, Nev. — Twenty Nevada state lawmakers will be pushed out of their seats over the next five years, changing yet again the makeup of the two houses thanks to the state’s term limits law.
Voters decided in the 1990s to limit lawmakers to 12 years, or six terms, in the Assembly and 12 years, or three terms, in the Senate. The cap affected just one lawmaker after the 2017 session: Assemblyman James Ohrenschall, D-Las Vegas, who just finished his last term and announced Wednesday he would run for state Senate.
Four lawmakers are term-limited in 2020, after the next legislative session in 2019. In 2022, after the 2021 session, 16 lawmakers are set to reach the cap on their terms.
Experts say term limits have brought in new faces but reduced institutional knowledge as veteran lawmakers are pushed out. They say lobbyists have more power, and the Legislative Counsel Bureau is even more vital both in educating new lawmakers and keeping the legislative process moving, the Las Vegas Sun reported (http://bit.ly/2ts6NG5 ).
U.S. Term Limits Executive Director Nick Tomboulides said 2017 rankings from the Mercatus Center, a conservative think tank, show states with term-limited lawmakers are performing better in key financial health metrics, on average, than legislatures that do not. He said the Nevada campaign for term limits was locally run with input from his organization.
“The limits would have been tighter if we had run the campaign, since we prefer limits not exceeding the eight years allotted to the president,” Tomboulides said.
University of Nevada, Las Vegas history Professor Michael Green said term limits were implemented in Nevada after Republicans took control of the U.S. Congress in 1994.
“The argument was that it was going to open up government to the people and drive out the professional politicians,” Green said. “Americans tend most of the time not to like professional politicians.”
Lobbyists have become key sources of knowledge in a part-time Legislature with term limits, possibly contrary to the intent of voters who passed term limits, Green said.
“Legislators need to know a lot about a lot of things,” he said. “A lobbyist needs to know a lot about what he or she is lobbying about.”
Nevada lawmakers can and have served 12 years and then hopped over to the other chamber to prolong their time in the Legislature. The limits mean there will always be more newcomers to the Assembly and Senate, which will naturally reduce the amount of long-term experience, he said.
“You can still serve 24 years,” Green said. “That gives you a lot of years for institutional memory, but it’s unusual for someone to serve that long.”
David F. Damore, a UNLV political science professor, says a third of Nevada’s part-time Legislature had not served before this session. He said the state’s biennial Legislature and 120-day sessions empower lobbyists and boost the importance of staff, who become the main sources of institutional knowledge.
Term limits mean power doesn’t just pass to the longest-serving lawmakers, Damore said, a shift that can bring new ideas to the top levels of the Legislature. He pointed to Sen. Majority Leader Aaron Ford, D-Las Vegas, who still has three sessions in the Senate before he reaches his term limit.