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    If eight is enough, is 12 better?

    By ALISA ULFERTS, Times Staff Writer
    © St. Petersburg Times
    published April 24, 2003

    TALLAHASSEE -- Tired of seeing politicians make a career of public service, Florida voters decided a decade ago that eight is enough.

    Now the Florida Senate thinks 12 is better.

    The Senate Wednesday gave preliminary approval to a proposed constitutional amendment that would extend term limits for state lawmakers from eight years to 12 years.

    Senators used the measure (SJR 612) to suggest that their House colleagues are inexperienced.

    "There's a learning curve for new members," said Sen. Dennis Jones, R-Treasure Island. The learning curve is especially evident in the House, he said, where 90 of the 120 House members have two years' experience or less.

    The question would be put to Florida voters in November 2004. But first the House must agree, and that doesn't appear likely.

    House Majority Leader Marco Rubio, R-Coral Gables, who is 31 years old and was elected to the House in 2000, says he opposes longer terms for legislators.

    "I think one of the great things about term limits is there are questions being asked in the Florida House that haven't been asked for 20 years," Rubio said.

    "People in the Florida House don't care that's the way it's always been done. They want to know why you're doing it that way, that it's wrong and they're going to ask you to change it. I think that's refreshing. There's a place for that in politics."

    Gov. Jeb Bush, who wants to give voters another shot at constitutional amendments to reduce class sizes and build high-speed rail, wants no part of this effort.

    "Let's put it this way: The voters have spoken. They clearly had all the information before they voted," Bush said.

    The measure was a last-minute addition to a bill by Sen. Les Miller, D-Tampa. Miller's bill asks voters to impose a 12-year term limit on all school board members in Florida, who now serve as long as voters like.

    Jones, the Senate's majority leader, said he saw Miller's bill on the Senate's schedule for Wednesday and decided to use it to emphasize the need for legislative experience. "It was an opportunity to see if voters like them as well as they did when they approved them," Jones said.

    Term limits forced Jones to leave the House in 2000 after 22 years. He was elected to the Senate last year.

    Florida voters overwhelmingly passed the 1992 constitutional amendment known as "Eight is Enough," which limited terms of legislators and Cabinet members to eight years in office, just like the governor.

    Jones and Senate Minority Leader Ron Klein, D-Boca Raton, who stood with Jones to support the amendment, said having so many inexperienced people in the lower chamber has contributed to the delays and rancor that has defined the Capitol in the past few years.

    "One of the concerns I had, especially in the House, is the lack of institutional knowledge," Klein said. "I like term limits, I just think they should be 12 years."

    -- Times staff writer Steve Bousquet contributed to this report.

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