Former State Legislators Sue Over Term Limits

Route 50's Emma Coleman Reports

STATE AND LOCAL ROUNDUP | New Jersey Assembly passes voting bill for those on parole and probation … States question Census Bureau’s request for data … New York City Councilmembers call for cycling and pedestrian safety offices.

A bipartisan group of eight former Michigan state legislators filed a federal lawsuit challenging term limits that kept them from running again. The lawmakers take aim at a state constitutional amendment approved by voters in 1992 that limits legislators to 14 years of service, so their complaint does not apply to limits on statewide positions like governor and attorney general. According to the suit, the restrictions—which they call unconstitutional— have “proved a failed social experiment” and decrease a voter’s ability to support the candidate of their choice.

“[The imposition of term limits]  has decreased the experience and competency of the legislature, decreased bipartisanship and coalition building, increased dynastic and recruitment-based representation, and increased the influence of lobbyists and special interest groups,” reads the suit. The state’s term limits were also challenged on constitutional grounds in 1998, but that suit was brought by voters and public-interest groups. John Bursh, a former Michigan solicitor general who is now a lawyer on the case, said that Michigan’s term limits are particularly problematic, noting they are the most restrictive among the 15 states with legislative term limits. "There's probably a healthy mix somewhere in the middle that would be perfectly constitutional," he said. Roger Kahn, a former Republican lawmaker and a plaintiff in the suit, said that the ban on running for legislative office is an infringement on his rights. "I feel that my ability to run—and one of my ideals in life was to be able to do this sort of thing—has been lost and abridged and I'm treated no better than if I was a felon," Kahn said. Patrick L. Anderson, the author of the ballot initiative, said that the plaintiffs are acting foolishly. “It is disgraceful for people who took an oath to uphold the Michigan constitution, to now go before a federal judge and ask for it to be put aside. 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,” he said. [Associated Press; Ballotpedia News; WILX]

VOTING | The New Jersey Assembly passed a bill that would automatically restore voting rights to those on parole or probation as soon as they leave prison or jail. Advocates have said the bill would re-enfranchise 80,000 people who are disproportionately African American, as half the people currently denied the vote in New Jersey are black. The bill passed in the Assembly along party lines, with all Republicans, including state Rep. Jay Webber, voting against the measure. “It’s not fair for the people who obey the laws, stay out of jail, pay taxes, to have their votes diluted by those who did not follow the rules. This bill literally allows the inmates to run the asylum,” Webber said. The push for the legislation was led by the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice, whose president Ryan P.  Haygood, said the state is taking a huge step forward. “Currently, the racism of the criminal justice system is directly imported into the franchise by an insidious form of voter suppression that creates voiceless ghosts of democracy in New Jersey. As we mark 400 years since slavery arrived in America, the time has come to end that practice. We look forward to the bill’s passage in the Senate, and to the Governor signing it into law,” he said. If passed, the measure would make New Jersey the 17th state to allow people on parole and probation to vote. [Insider NJ; NJ Spotlight;]

CENSUS DATA | The U.S. Census Bureau is sending requests to states asking them to share their state driver’s license records, in accordance with a Trump administration directive that requires the Bureau to expand its use of state and local administrative records in Census efforts. Last week, Nebraska became the first state to say that it would share the information, but other states have not been as willing. At least 13 states have  refused to share the information, including Alaska, Illinois, and Idaho. Matt Dunlap, the secretary of state in Maine, also said the state would not share the records, calling it a violation of residents’ privacy. "We sort of believe that the information that's in our databases belongs to the citizens to whom it refers. So we're the custodians of that information—it's not ours to give away," Dunlap said. Other states have raised concerns about the amount of information being requested, including names, addresses, dates of birth, sex, race, eye color, and citizenship status, as well as what that data will be used for. The Census Bureau said that states shouldn’t be concerned. "When the Census Bureau receives the records, they are stripped of all personal identifiable information and are used for statistical purposes only," the bureau said in a statement. [Idaho Press; Maine Public Radio; NPR]


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