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Competing bills sink County Legislature’s desire for term limits

Republican-aligned members of the Erie County Legislature all agree on imposing term limits for elected officials, but they can’t seem to agree on how to do it.

A resolution that would have imposed term limits on lawmakers and five other countywide office holders failed to make it to the floor of the Legislature Thursday because Majority Leader Joseph C. Lorigo would not support it. The West Seneca Conservative Party member instead joined the Legislature’s five-member Democratic minority in blocking the bill from coming up for a vote. Lorigo said the resolution, which was co-sponsored by the rest of his majority caucus colleagues is unfair because it does not take into account time already served by current office holders.

“They want to pass a law that treats us different than everybody else, and I will not budge on that. It’s hypocritical,” Lorigo said.

The bill’s initial sponsor, Republican Legislator Kevin R. Hardwick of the City of Tonawanda, proposed a limit of six consecutive two-year terms for lawmakers, and three four-year terms for all other countywide officeholders. If approved in a public referendum, the law would not be retroactive. It would kick in only after this year’s election, meaning current officer holders would, in effect, not be subject to the same, consecutive 12-year term limit as future office holders. The new term limit would, in actuality, not kick in until after their current terms have expired.

Lorigo proposed his term limit bill that would, retroactively, restrict current officer holders to the exact same 12-year term limit as all future office holders. However, there was no effort made Thursday to move it off the table for a vote. Though, Lorigo said, members of the majority caucus are still welcome to consider taking a vote on his proposal.

“I can still move my law forward and they can choose to support it, or not,” he said.

That is unlikely, Hardwick said, noting that a bill he originally introduced last year called for 10-year term limits. In its current incarnation, introduced last February, that was expanded by two years.

“I was totally against making it retroactive until we made it partially retroactive,” Hardwick said, “I thought that was the compromise but, apparently it’s not.”

A motion to bring Hardwick’s bill to the floor for a vote Thursday was made by Legislator Edward A. Rath III, R-Amherst, but it failed by a 5-6 vote.

Hardwick later said he was disheartened that his bill received no support among the Democratic minority. Democratic Minority Leader Betty Jean Grant said that may have to do with the fact that Democrats were not expecting to bill to be moved Thursday. Grant has already gone on the record against any term limits bill because she believes it interferes with voters’ right to determine who they want to represent them in office.

Hardwick said there still may be time to pick up some Democratic support for the bill, but acknowledged that it may have to wait until after this November’s general election.

“I think we’d have to pass it by late July or early August to get it there, and we couldn’t even get it off the table to debate it, and I came ready to debate today,” Hardwick said.