ANNAPOLIS – A Republican senator sparred briefly with Democratic colleagues Thursday over a proposed term limits amendment to the Maryland Constitution.
“Why do we need it?” Sen. Brian E. Frosh, D-Bethesda, asked about the bill pushed by Sen. Timothy R. Ferguson, R- Taylorsville.
In response, Ferguson said members of a “citizen legislature” should rotate. He also noted that Maryland’s governor is limited to two terms.
Sen. Paula C. Hollinger, D-Baltimore County, told Ferguson she saw no reason to “take judgment away from the people” by requiring three-term incumbents to step down — even when their constituents want them to stay.
“If there is such a clamoring from the public [for term limits] this room would have been filled to overflowing,” Hollinger told members of the Senate Economic and Environmental Affairs Committee.
Except for Ferguson, who was a few minutes late to testify for his own bill, no one spoke in favor of the measure. There was no vote.
Ferguson said he might have bused in some of the many terms limits supporters in his district but saw no point in “stacking the deck” at the hearing.
A member of the Young Democrats of Montgomery County, David Hondowicz of Gaithersburg, charged during testimony that the bill was a Republican attempt to undermine the legislature’s Democratic majority by tying the hands of incumbents.
Ferguson denied that after the hearing.
“We’re whipping them without term limits aren’t we?” he said, referring to 1994 state election results that gave the GOP six additional seats in the Senate and 15 more in the House. Despite those gains, Democrats continue to outnumber Republicans by a large margin: 32 to 15 in the Senate and 100 to 41 in the House.
Sen. Leonard H. Teitelbaum, D-Montgomery, said after the hearing that the bill stands “very little” chance of advancing beyond the eight-Democrat, three-Republican committee.
“I’d be very surprised if it got anywhere near a majority,” Teitelbaum said.
Under the bill, lawmakers who have served three consecutive terms could return to their respective houses only after leaving the General Assembly for four years.
Three-term delegates could move to the Senate right away. But three-term senators could go immediately to the House only if appointed to fulfill an unexpired term, and they would have to leave at the end of their appointed term.
The term-limits proposal, which would take effect in 1999, would also bar any legislator from serving more than 24 years, or six full terms, in the General Assembly.
According to a staff analysis of Ferguson’s bill, 20 states had imposed term limits on state lawmakers as of July 1995.
The Maryland Constitution establishes four-year terms for both delegates and senators, but puts no limit on the number of terms they may serve. A bill introduced last year would have limited consecutive terms to two, but it died in the House.
According to the Department of Fiscal Services, Ferguson’s measure could reduce slightly the state’s pension costs by making it more difficult for legislators to reach 22.5 years of service, the point at which they are eligible for maximum retirement benefits. Amending the Maryland Constitution requires three-fifths majorities in both houses of the legislature. Constitutional amendments must also be approved by a majority of the state’s voters, but they do not need the governor’s signature to become law. -30-