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Proposed term limits for Baltimore mayor, council fails in committee

A bill that sought to impose term limits on Baltimore politicians, including the mayor and City Council members, died Tuesday in a council committee.

By a 4-3 vote, the council’s Judiciary and Legislative Investigations Committee rejected the proposal after it had languished without a hearing for more than a year.

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“It’s disappointing because this is a common sense, good government bill,” said Councilman Isaac “Yitzy” Schleifer, the measure’s lead sponsor.

Schleifer’s bill would have limited Baltimore elected officials — including the mayor, comptroller and council members — to no more than three four-year terms in office starting in 2020 if voters approved a charter amendment in this fall’s election.

Though 11 of the council’s 15 members originally signed on as co-sponsors, several changed their positions to vote against the bill.

Committee chairman Eric Costello and fellow council members Ed Reisinger, Robert Stokes and Leon Pinkett voted against the measure. Stokes and Pinkett had initially been supporters.

Both said they believed voters should get to decide who their elected officials are at the polls.

“No one in my district has come to me and said, ‘We want term limits,’” Reisinger said. “Their concern is crime and grime and taxes. … If your constituents want you to stay there, it should be up to them.”

Costello argued that the four-year elections that council members face already serve as term limits.

“This job isn’t easy,” he said. “This job is a complete grind. ... If you don’t do your job … you lose your job.”

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The proposal — Schleifer’s first as a councilman — had sat without a hearing for months because City Council President Bernard C. “Jack” Young had not assigned it to a committee.

After The Sun ran an article about bills that had languished, Young pushed several measures forward, including the term limits proposal.

Lester Davis, a spokesman for Young, said the council president has historically supported term limits and did not stall the bill. Other matters were more pressing, he said.

“It’s a scheduling thing,” Davis said.

Council members Mary Pat Clarke, Brandon Scott and John Bullock voted in favor.

Even though he backed the measure, Scott said it could have resulted in more people joining the elected officials’ pension system, which could burden taxpayers

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“I support the bill,” Scott said. “My only concern is long-term fiscal impact.”

Term limits have been proposed before in Baltimore, but have never succeeded. A bill proposed by Councilman Bill Henry died in committee in 2015.

Henry said the last election resulted in eight new council members who have infused the legislative body with new energy and ideas. He said he’d like to see such turnover more often.

“Term limits would allow us to have that kind of turnover more than once a generation,” Henry said. “Personally, I think it’s been a positive change. … Term limits would ensure that we get that regular turnover.”

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