It sounded like a good idea to most Florida voters in 1992: Limit the amount of time legislators can stay in office to eight years in the House and Senate. Proponents of the measure argued that it would help break the bonds between lawmakers and lobbyists and usher in a new era of less corruptible lawmakers.
It hasn't worked that way. Lobbyists have more influence than ever before. With their decades of experience in passing legislation, lobbyists often serve as the tutors to the new, inexperienced lawmakers. Term limits encourage more short-term thinking, with legislators focused on moves with quick political rewards. Term limits also have created a dynamic that forces majority party lawmakers to pick a House or Senate leader nearly six years in advance. And it has only heightened the legislator-turned-lobbyist phenomenon, with most lawmakers using the Legislature as a training ground for the lobbying corps or other elected office.
Term limits have brought some good, however. Thanks in part to these limits and redistricting, we now have a more diverse Legislature. Twenty-seven percent of the Florida Legislature is black and Hispanic vs. 12% in 1992. It's also created a more even playing field among lobbyists, reducing the risk of one lobbyist linking up with a powerful lawmaker and obtaining a free pass for their clients' wish lists.
A better idea would be for the Legislature to introduce a constitutional amendment to lengthen term limits from eight years to 12, creating some breathing room for elected officials to focus on learning the issues and their jobs as representatives while still limiting how long they can serve.