Tired of a broken Arizona Legislature? Here are 6 ways to help fix it

Term limits have systematically drained the Legislature of institutional memory and expertise since 1992.

Opinion: The way the Legislature runs hasn’t changed in generations, and it shows in ways big and small. Voters can help in a major way.

By Kevin DeMenna, opinion contributor || The Arizona Republic

Our state government is filled with well intentioned, hardworking legislators, and they are supported by the finest staff in the country.

But sessions have lengthened, and the number of bills introduced each year continues to grow – from 817 bills and 109 session days in 1980 to an astounding 1,774 bills introduced during a marathon 171-day session in 2021.

The volume and complexity of potential new law coming before lawmakers each session is now seriously straining a system that hasn’t changed in generations.

Here are a few key problems that need to be fixed:

1.   Boost legislative pay

Arizona’s lawmakers are genuinely underpaid. The current legislative salary of $24,000 may be the single biggest barrier in attracting qualified candidates to run for the office. 

We don’t want a Legislature filled with affluent members who have no concern over how much the position pays, and we also don’t want lawmakers struggling to support their families while serving at the Capitol. The last salary increase occurred in 1998, and the work has increased dramatically since then. What was originally a part-time position now requires year-round attention.

It’s been 25 years, and it’s clearly time for an increase. There is a balance to be found, and I suspect it lies somewhere in the range of $70,000. But the salary is set by the voters (typically based upon outside recommendations), and it is always difficult to find a constituency with the enthusiasm to fund a statewide campaign. Even so, voters should be offered the chance to give lawmakers a raise.

2.   Nix term limits

Term limits have systematically drained the Legislature of institutional memory and expertise since 1992. It has changed the culture at the Capitol, effectively transforming every lawmaker into a policymaking sprinter while simultaneously retiring the concept of enduring leadership. 

Legislators must run for reelection every two years. They are limited to four consecutive 2-year terms, and everyone gets fired after 8 years, regardless of performance.

More churn:Senator resigns, opening seat to write-in candidates

Few lawmakers have time to become experts on topics, nor do they have time build working relationships or to learn who to trust – which is among the most critical talents of all.

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