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Douglas sets forth proposed amendment to Georgia constitution
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A constitutional amendment, introduced by Sen. John Douglas, to extend the terms of all General Assembly members from two years to four years, has cleared the Senate and its House subcommittee.

Senate Resolution 279 was passed out of the House Governmental Affairs Committee last week. Douglas (R-Covington) said the resolution is in the House Rules Committee right now waiting to be assigned for a House floor vote.

Douglas said he introduced the resolution because he felt a move to four-year terms would allow legislatures to focus more on consistent services and less on campaigning for re-election.

"Having a two-year term puts you in a perpetual campaign mode," Douglas said. "You are campaigning, basically all the time."

The resolution was voted out of the Senate on March 1 by a vote of 49-to-6, more than the two thirds majority necessary for a constitutional amendment. To pass in the House, the resolution will need the votes of 120 members.

"It's got widespread support up here," Douglas said. "I hope to see it approved by the House and the voters."

As a constitutional amendment, the resolution will need to be approved by Georgia voters in a referendum, possibly in November. The governor's approval is not necessary for a constitutional amendment.

With five legislative days remaining in this year's session, the support of House Speaker Glenn Richardson (R-Hiram) is viewed as necessary as the speaker can change the order of bills appearing before the House for a vote and can control floor debate. Douglas said he did not know what Richardson's position on the resolution was.

Representatives from Richardson's office did not return calls for comment.

SR 279 would set staggering terms for House and Senate districts with odd-numbered districts elected during presidential election years and even-numbered districts elected during Georgia's gubernatorial election years.

If approved by Georgia voters in November, even-numbered districts would elect their legislatures to four-year terms in 2010 while odd-numbered districts would elect their legislatures to a final two-year term before moving to the four-year term cycle in 2012.

Douglas said he purposely wrote the resolution for odd-numbered districts to make the change last as he represents an odd-numbered district, District 17.

"This would just bring these terms in line with everybody else," Douglas said.

However a review of the term cycles of the country's 50 legislatures shows that there is no clear majority in term lengths. According to UGA Political Science Professor Arnold Fleischmann, 12 states, including, Georgia, have two-year terms for their upper houses, which in Georgia's case is the Senate.

In the lower house (in Georgia's case the House of Representatives) only four states nationally have four-year terms, according to Fleischmann. They are: Alabama, Maryland, Mississippi and North Dakota.

A move to four-year terms with a single constitutional amendment for both legislative chambers would make Georgia unusual said Fleischman, who is the author of the book "Politics in Georgia."

"Four years for both houses would be an exception," Fleischmann said. "There's a long tradition of electing officials here to short terms. This would be a change in that regard. I'm not sure how well that would go over."

Douglas said most of the feedback he has heard from members of his district on the proposed amendment has been positive.

"I think people understand that it's time to bring these terms in line with all the other elected officials and to bring some change," Douglas said, adding four-year terms would allow legislatures to build up a greater institutional knowledge of Georgia laws and allow for greater continuity.

According to Fleischmann, a move to a four-year term cycle could give incumbents more time to build up their campaign war chests, likely resulting in less competitive district races in a state where most incumbents already run unopposed.

Fleischmann added that a move to staggered terms could also make it more difficult to change party control in the General Assembly.