Prior to 1990, the California State Constitution article IV Section 2 declared when the terms of office began for legislators and set forth rules for election and eligibility. It allowed 40 State Senators to be elected for terms of 4 years and 80 Assembly Members to be elected for terms of 2 years. At that time, the Constitution contained no provisions limiting the number of times a legislator could be elected to the same office.
Modern California law for legislative term limits was created with the passage of Proposition 140 in November 1990. This measure changed the Constitution to restrict legislators to three two-year terms in the Assembly (a maximum of six years) and two four-year terms in the Senate (a maximum of eight years). They would not be permitted to run again. The measure provided an exception for any individual serving additional time by completing less than one-half of the term of another person who left the Legislature. In addition, Prop. 140 limited the amount legislators could spend on operating costs and staff salaries. The measure also stopped state legislators from earning retirement benefits for their service. Proposition 140 passed 52.17% to 47.83%.
Proposition 140 was challenged in several court cases, the most significant of which was Bates v. Jones.
In that case, termed-out Assemblyman Tom Bates brought suit alleging that voters were not appropriately informed about the effects of the measure. Among several points of contention, Bates and his constituents maintained that the measure was unclear whether or not it imposed a lifetime ban on reelection. The California Supreme Court found that Proposition 140 was valid but invalidated the retirement provisions of the measure as they applied to legislators who were currently in office. Bates took his case to the federal courts, challenging that the measure violated the First and Fourteenth Amendment rights of voters. The court initially agreed with his claim, before the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled against him, keeping the limits in place.
In 2002, California Democrats and other reformers sought to combat some of the provisions of Prop. 140 by placing Proposition 45 on the March 5, 2002 ballot. Prop. 45 was a constitutional amendment which would have permitted voters to petition the Secretary of State to allow their existing State Senator or Assembly Member to serve an additional four years in office. The measure required that registered voters living in the legislator's district would sign the petition in number up to 20 percent of the ballots cast for that office in the last general election. The measure was hotly contested and lost 57.7% to 42.3%.
Six years later, another term limits measure was brought before voters. Proposition 93 on the Nov. 2008 ballot, would have imposed limits on legislators' terms in office. It would have reduced the total amount of time a person may serve in the state legislature from 14 years to 12 years. It would have allowed a person to serve a total of 12 years either in the Assembly, the Senate, or a combination of both. It also provided a transition period to allow current members to serve a total of 12 consecutive years in the house in which they are currently serving, regardless of any prior service in another house. The measure was defeated, 53.6% to 46.4%.
Details on Proposition 28
This measure would reduce the total number of years a legislator may serve to 12 years during his or her lifetime. Individuals could be elected to up to three four-year terms in the Senate or six two-year terms in the Assembly.
The measure has garnered controversy because it would allow legislators to serve less years total but for a longer period of time in a single house of the Legislature than what the current law provides. Under Prop. 28, individuals could be elected to serve in one house of the Legislature and then be elected to the other house, but they would still be limited to no more than 12 years in the Legislature as a whole.
Under Proposition 28, Senators and Assembly Members who were first elected to the Legislature on or before the date of the election would continue to be subject to the current legislative term limits of 14 years as detailed in the California Constitution. Legislators elected after the date of this election would be subject to the new term limits.