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Former lawmakers file lawsuit to end Michigan term limits

Posted at 7:11 PM, Nov 20, 2019
and last updated 2019-11-21 05:52:33-05

LANSING, Mich. — Eight former Michigan legislators want to get rid of the state's current term limits, claiming the 1992 law is unconstitutional. They filed a lawsuit Thursday morning asking a federal court in Grand Rapids to block the law.

"We think that when you've got the shortest term limits in the nation combined with this very harsh lifetime ban, that that goes too far," said John Bursch, Attorney Bursch Law PLLC, the main litigator for the suit.

Michigan is one of only 15 states with limits on how long legislators can stay in office. They’re allowed two terms in the state Senate and three terms in the state House of Representatives for a combined 14 years. Those term limits booted 25 of 38 senators from office last year.

"Your skills develop as you do anything longer and you are more effective at it and that's what we're after here is an effective legislature," said Mary Valentine, former Democratic Representative for Muskegon County.

The bi-partisan group of former legislators wants that to change and labeled the limits the “strictest in the land.” They include three Republicans-Roger Kahn, Paul Opsomme and Joseph Haveman and five Democrats - Clark Harder, David Nathan, Scott Dianda, Douglas Spade and Mary Valentine. The temporary injunction they are requesting can do that.

“If you want to have an issue solved well rather than having to resolve it and resolve it and resolve it because oops, it didn’t do it quite right. I think you’ve got a better chance to achieve that with an experienced legislator,” said Roger Kahn, former Republican Senator for Saginaw County.

Voters passed an amendment to the state's constitution creating term limits back in 1992. Opponents say the right way to change the current limits would be again through voters instead of the courts. One of those opponents is Pat Anderson, author of the 1992 Term Limit Amendment.

"I think it's disgraceful for legislators who swore to uphold the Michigan Constitution to admit that their position is unpopular with voters and then go and ask the federal courts to overturn our laws. That's just wrong on so many levels,” said Anderson.

Even though he disagrees, Anderson says suing the state to change the law is the wrong way to go about it.

"If they want to change our constitution they should do what lawful people do. They circulate petitions and try to convince their neighbors that they're right. I don't know why they think a federal court should overrule and disenfranchise over 2 million voters who put this in our constitution,” said Anderson.

Michigan voters will ultimately decide the future of term limits in the state. If the court sides with the former lawmakers, the state legislature and governor would have to replace, modify and change the limits or choose not to at all. The measure could be on future ballots and would need 425,000 signatures or two-thirds majority to amend the state’s constitution again.

"I currently oppose them being that short because I think that it empowers lobbyists. I think they might make sense if we had longer-term limits maybe like something like 6 terms or something like that," said Michigan voter Salomon Orellana.

Several of the former lawmakers listed as plaintiffs on the lawsuit said they were not completely opposed to term limits and would like to find a middle-ground after the court makes its decision on constitutionality.

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