Term limits and legislator productivity: New research

Florida House Speaker Will Weatherford and Senate President Don Gaetz, 2013 (Florida House of Representatives)

April 9, 2018

State lawmakers who cannot seek reelection sponsor fewer bills, serve on fewer legislative committees and skip more roll-call votes, according to a new study on term limits from the University of Chicago and Stanford University.

The findings suggest that when politicians have the ability to serve another term, they’re more productive. But when there’s no hope of staying in office, they tend to do less work.

Researchers analyzed more than 780,000 bills introduced over the last 30 years in states where lawmakers could serve at least three terms. They also looked at legislators’ committee assignments, votes cast in committees and participation in floor votes.

The analysis, the authors write, reveals “a striking ability” for elections to influence the behavior of legislators. Here are some of the main takeaways:

  • During the last term in office, state lawmakers sponsor fewer bills and pass fewer bills that become law. They also cosponsor fewer bills.
  • “The reduction in bill sponsorship among term-limited legislators is concentrated in states where the term limits permanently bans incumbents from the office, as opposed to states where the term limit only requires them to sit out a term before running again.”
  • Termed-out legislators serve on fewer committees and are less likely to be involved with top committees. In addition, they are less likely to serve as committee chairmen or chairwomen.
  • Legislators who cannot seek another term are present for fewer committee votes, on average. They participate in fewer roll-call votes, on average.
  • “These effects are larger … in state legislatures that pay higher salaries.”

Looking for more research on legislative office? Check out our write-ups on the most effective members of Congress and how legislative salaries affect who seeks office.




This photo, property of the Florida House of Representatives, was obtained from Wikimedia Commons and used under a Creative Commons license.


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