Governor Larry Hogan proposes General Assembly term limits and the use of live-streaming during floor deliberations during a State House news conference. (Amy Davis, Baltimore Sun video)
Gov. Larry Hogan is proposing term limits for the General Assembly and live video streaming of all of the legislature's deliberations, reforms he said are needed to reduce partisanship, gerrymandering and corruption.
Hogan called Tuesday on the legislature, which convenes its 90-day session Wednesday, to restrict lawmakers to two consecutive four-year terms. He said the measure, which would be subject to a referendum of voters, would not force any current long-serving lawmakers out of office.
“Our founding fathers never envisioned professional politicians who spend their entire careers in office,” Hogan said. “It has led to out-of-control partisanship.”
He said Maryland is among only seven states that does not offer residents live video streams of all legislative deliberations. The General Assembly broadcasts audio of its floor debates and video of most committee hearings.
“Legislators should be deliberating and making these important decisions out in the open,” he said.
Hogan’s proposals come as debate swirls over the seating of Sen. Nathaniel Oaks. Oaks was indicted in June on fraud and bribery charges, and recent FBI court filings show he has admitted to wrongdoing and cooperated with prosecutors.
Common Cause Maryland called the term-limits proposal “one of those ‘sounds good in theory, terrible in practice’ kind of ideas.” The advocacy group suggested it would give lobbyists more power over General Assembly members because it would reduce the institutional knowledge within lawmakers’ ranks.
Many new lawmakers are placed on committees of which they have little background knowledge. Damon Effingham, acting director of Common Cause, said that problem “is greatly exacerbated by a term limit.”
Dozens of the 141 members of the state House of Delegates and more than a third of of the 47 senators have served more than two terms in Annapolis.
The presiding officers of both chambers are noteworthy for their longevity. House Speaker Michael Busch has led the lower chamber for 15 years, longer than any other speaker in the state’s history. Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller is the longest-serving leader of any state’s upper chamber, with a tenure of 31 years.
Representatives for Miller and Busch declined to comment.
Sen. J.B. Jennings, the Senate minority leader, said in the past he has supported the idea that voters, and lawmakers themselves, already have the ability to decide when a legislator’s time in Annapolis is over. He said he would have to look closer at the details of Hogan’s proposal before forming an opinion on it.
“It’s nice that if it does go to referendum, it gives the voters a chance to decide what’s best,” said the Republican, who represents Baltimore and Harford counties.
Common Cause said it supports the live-streaming proposal. The current audio streams are only useful to those who can distinguish the voices of individual legislators — a familiarity most Marylanders lack.
"At this point, the technology is not difficult for them to put together, and over 30 other states have similar programs,” Effingham said.
The legislature has considered live-streaming initiatives as recently as 2016. That year, legislative analysts suggested the measure would cost the state an additional $1.2 million.
Fifteen states impose term limits on legislators, according to the National Conference on State Legislatures. Six other states have imposed such limits, but the policies have been thrown out by courts or repealed.
No state has passed term limits since 2000.
In states that have enacted term limits, political representation of women and minorities has not significantly increased, nor has political careerism decreased, the group found in a 2006 study. Instead of prompting lawmakers to leave political life, the policies instead encourage them to seek different, often higher, public office, the study said.
Montgomery County voters approved term limits on local lawmakers in 2016. Freshmen Baltimore City Council members proposed adopting term limits in that body last year, but the proposal has languished.
Lawmakers have considered term limits in 10 General Assembly sessions since 1996, including in each of the past two years. None of the bills has advanced out of committees or come up for votes.
Enacting the policy would require an amendment to Maryland’s constitution, which requires the approval of three-fifths of each chamber of the legislature and then of a majority of voters.
Hogan spokesman Doug Mayer said the governor’s proposal does not include term limits for the attorney general or the comptroller, positions that both tend to have long-tenured incumbents.
“If the legislature wants to include those offices in order to pass the bill, let’s do it,” Mayer said.
Maryland governors are limited to two terms, and Hogan is correct in assessing that the nation’s founding fathers put an emphasis on restricting the dominance of any one executive, said Edward Papenfuse, Maryland’s state archivist from 1975 until 2013. As for any visions or worries they might have had about career legislators, Papenfuse said, “I’m not so sure that it entered their minds.”
At least one of Maryland’s founding fathers enjoyed a long political career. Charles Carroll of Carrollton served in the state Senate for 23 years, with stints in the Continental Congress and U.S. Senate throughout that career.