By Amanda Zoch
Legislatures made headlines this year as they adapted to the COVID-19 pandemic—suspending or postponing sessions, holding virtual meetings, voting remotely and putting up a whole lot of plexiglass.
While those changes were both swift and newsworthy, legislatures have always evolved to meet changing circumstances—though often at a more measured pace. This year was no different.
In addition to establishing or continuing COVID-19 protocols, a handful of states sought voter approval on alterations to legislative operations. These may not be the flashiest of ballot measures—they don’t get the same attention as marijuana or election measures, for example—but they directly affect NCSL’s members and how they members can do their jobs.
And if you’re reading this, you care how the sausage gets made—especially if that process changes.
So, what changes are coming to legislatures in the near future?
In Arkansas, voters approved Issue 2, which ended the state’s 16-year lifetime limit on legislative service. Under the new law, legislators are limited to 12 years of consecutive service with the option to return after a four-year break.
Idaho voters passed Amendment HJR 4. Currently, the Gem State’s constitution allows the Legislature to have between 30 and 35 legislative districts. The new amendment will set that number at exactly 35—the number the state has had since the 1990s.
Maryland lawmakers gained some additional powers this election when voters supported Question 1, giving the General Assembly authority over the state budget amendment. Prior to this measure, Maryland was the only state where legislators could not add items to the governor’s budget. When the measure takes effect in 2024, the General Assembly will be able to increase, decrease or add items to the budget provided they don’t exceed the total proposed budget.
In New Mexico, voters approved Constitutional Amendment 2, which will allow the Legislature to adjust election dates of state and county officeholders, as well as adjust office terms. The measure intends to make the number of offices up for election in any particular year more uniform, though this change also means that some officeholders will serve two additional years while others will serve two fewer for the same term.
Utahns passed two measures that will alter legislative operations. Amendment B clarifies that the qualifications to serve as a legislator apply at the time of the election. The Utah Constitution requires that legislators be at least 25 years old; with this measure, a candidate must be 25 for the election—not at the time of filing for candidacy or assuming the office.
Utah voters also passed Amendment F, which allows the Legislature to change the start date of the January legislative session. Previously, the session had to begin on the fourth Monday in January—now lawmakers can start any time in January.
To learn more about other ballot measures, visit the NCSL Statewide Ballot Measures Database and our coverage of the 2020 state elections.
Amanda Zoch is an NCSL Policy Specialist and Mellon/ACLS Public Fellow.