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North Dakota group seeking term limits can now gather signatures

Proponents of term limits believe capping years of service in the Legislature and the governor's office would inject fresh blood and new ideas into government. Critics say term limits already exist in the form of elections since voters get to choose whether to reelect their leaders.

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Conservative activist Jared Hendrix speaks during a rally at the North Dakota Capitol on April 5, 2021. Jeremy Turley / Forum News Service

BISMARCK — A group of conservative activists aiming to impose term limits on North Dakota's governor and legislators can begin gathering signatures to get the issue on next year's ballot.

North Dakota Secretary of State Al Jaeger announced Friday, July 16, that he approved the format of a petition that details a proposal for a constitutional amendment that would cap the governor and legislators at eight years of service, though lawmakers could serve up to eight years each in the House of Representatives and the Senate.

The petition also includes a grandfather clause for anyone currently serving in state government, so the clock wouldn't start ticking on their tenures until after voters approve the term limits. A provision in the petition would prohibit the Legislature from proposing a constitutional amendment to eliminate the term limits.

The group led by Jared Hendrix, a former campaign manager for U.S. Sen. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., will have one year to gather 31,164 signatures from eligible North Dakota voters to put the question on the ballot in 2022.

Hendrix and other proponents of term limits believe capping years of service in the Legislature and the governor's office would inject fresh blood and new ideas into government.

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Critics say term limits already exist in the form of elections since voters get to choose whether to reelect their leaders. They also argue forcing experienced legislators out eliminates institutional knowledge of lawmaking and hands more influence to lobbyists and bureaucrats.

Fifteen states, including South Dakota and Montana, have active term limits on legislators, and six states have repealed term limits or had them overturned in court, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures . No states have passed new legislative term limit requirements since Nebraska in 2000.

Governors are subject to some form of term limits in 36 states, including South Dakota and Montana.

Two other groups have also gained Jaeger's approval this year to gather signatures for constitutional initiatives. One would legalize recreational marijuana , and another aims to raise the threshold for amending the state Constitution.

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