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Term limits measure ready -- or not?

Business backers of a measure to change legislative term limits sent a memo to supporters Wednesday saying enough signatures to place the matter before voters Feb. 5 had been collected, but delivery to election officials would be delayed while lawmakers who would benefit struggled to hash out an already-overdue state budget.

A few hours later, after Capitol Alert asked about the memo, they said they were wrong about all of it.

"I wanted to inform you that the term limits signatures are completed and are ready to be turned into the county registrar's office," Rob Lapsley, vice president for public affairs for the California Chamber of Commerce, wrote in a memo emailed to dozens of its most politically engaged members on Wednesday.

"The current plan is to turn the signatures in after the state budget is completed."

Kevin Spillane, spokesman for the opponents of the measure, suggested that submitting hundreds of thousands of signatures for a relaxation of term limits while a budget stalemate raged could be an image term limits backers might want to avoid.

"Right now the Legislature is once again failing to do its job, and it doesn't look good to the average voter," Spillane said. "This is not the time to draw attention to politicians trying to extend their terms. The failure to pass a budget is becoming increasingly embarrassing to its leaders."

Lapsley initially referred all inquiries to political consultant Gale Kaufman, who is running the campaign for Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez, D-Los Angeles.

She declined to comment about the memo, but Lapsley called back a few hours later to say he would soon be retracting the memo.

"It was a miscommunication on my part and I totally and completely take full responsibility for that," Lapsley said. "I misinterpreted what some of the discussion was."

He later sent a second email to the chamber's Advocacy Council. "In regard to the previous e-mail on Term Limits, the information was premature and it is still out for signatures. I regret any confusion this may have caused."

The proposed ballot measure, pushed by a coalition that includes labor unions and the chamber, would decrease the maximum legislative tenure from 14 to 12 years, but allow a legislator to serve all of his or her time in one house. Current law, passed by voters in 1990, allows service of up to six years in the Assembly and eight in the Senate.

The proposal also would allow otherwise termed out lawmakers to serve an additional term. Núñez and Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata - both scheduled to leave their posts at the end of 2008 - conceivably could serve in their leadership jobs for another four and six years, respectively, if the measure passes.

Núñez and Perata are at the center of prolonged negotiations at the Capitol over a state budget they were constitutionally supposed to deliver to the governor on June 15.

Proponents have until Sept. 10 to submit 694,354 valid signatures for verification and counting, but need to get them in by early August to be assured of meeting deadlines for the presidential primary ballot on Feb. 5.

Having the measure appear on the February ballot is important to current lawmakers facing the end of their terms in 2008, because that's the only way they would have time to file for re-election for the June 3 state primary.