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Published: Monday, 2/4/2008

Term limits still provoke hearty debate

ASSOCIATED PRESS

COLUMBUS - Eight years after laws took effect to limit the amount of time state lawmakers can hold office, the turnover tactic draws strong reactions from backers and detractors.

The creators of the idea insist the term limits do their job: keeping lawmakers from becoming entrenched in office. But the politicians who have to live within the restrictions still loathe them, at least privately.

Ohio voters in 1992 overwhelmingly approved the change to the Ohio Constitution that limited state representatives to four consecutive two-year terms and state senators to two four-year terms, beginning in 2000. Those left in the first class of newcomers have been forced to find other jobs, and many do so by jumping from one chamber to the other, or by keeping an eye out for future employment while legislating.

Half-hearted efforts to repeal or extend the limits have failed.

Backers promised new ideas would sprout at the Statehouse. The ideas may be new, but they are coming from many of the same people.

This year, the hall traffic between the House and Senate will be busy as ever. Nine people who began the current session as House members are running for the Senate - two already have been appointed to those seats but face election in November - and three who began the session as senators are running for the House. One of them already has been seated. All 99 House seats are up for election, along with 16 of 33 Senate seats.

Twenty-five members of the Senate used to be in the House and seven former Senate members are representatives.

"It really saddens me to see members have to play musical chairs between the two houses," Senate Democratic Leader Ray Miller of Columbus, a former House member, said. "Recently, we lost Senator Randy Gardner, an outstanding member - the opposite party of me, but just a very fine person. He would have run for re-election here if he could."

In all, 23 House members and six senators are being forced out. In 2000, 42 House members and six senators were shown the door.

The change in turnover in the House isn't surprising to former Speaker Jo Ann Davidson, a suburban Columbus Republican. In 2000, her last year, many members left early for other jobs or the number of House members leaving because of limits would have been closer to 50, she said.

"They come here and it sounds like a long time when it gets started. It's human nature to think what are the other opportunities," Ms. Davidson said. "I don't think that means they have any less interest, any less commitment."

All the chamber-switching and job hunting is fine with David Zanotti, a conservative suburban Clevelander who helped get the issue before voters 16 years ago.

Lawmakers who sit out for four years can return, as did Rep. William Batchelder, the Medina Republican who resumed his House career this year after 10 years as a judge.



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