Legislature(1995 - 1996)
02/19/1996 01:40 PM FIN
* first hearing in first committee of referral
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
HOUSE BILL 437 "An Act establishing the Judicial Officers Compensation Commission; relating to the compensation of supreme court justices, judges of the court of appeals, judges of the superior court, and district court judges; and providing for an effective date." CHRIS CHRISTENSEN, STAFF COUNSEL, ALASKA COURT SYSTEM, testified in support of HB 437. He stated that the bill would establish a Judicial Officers Compensation Commission. The bill was introduced by the Judiciary Committee at the request of the Alaska Supreme Court. He added that the bill would create a new Judicial Officers Compensation Commission to assume the judicial salary functions of the existing State Officers Compensation Commission. The existing commission recommends compensation levels for judges and other state officers to the legislature; those proposals frequently go unheeded for reasons unrelated to their merits. In contrast, the commission created by HB 437 would have the authority to actually establish compensation levels for supreme court justices, judges of the court of appeals, judges of the superior court and district court judges. The commission, appointed by the governor, could submit proposed salary and per diem for those officers to the Legislature every two years. These compensation levels would take effect on the date of the first appropriation to fund the increase, unless disapproved by another bill enacted into law within 60 days of submission. Mr. Christensen summarized: * Eight states and the federal government operate a compensation commission which sets the salary of certain public officials; * The existing State Officers Compensation Commission does not have the power to establish salaries, only to make recommendations to the legislature. 5 * The commission created by HB 437 is modeled closely on the existing commission. Two differences are that the new commission will have the power to establish compensation for justices and judges, not make recommendations, and will have a list of specific factors used in consideration of fair compensation for justices and judges. * The commission would have five members appointed by the Governor to four year terms. Among those members must be a business executive, a person with experience in personnel management, a representative or a nonpartisan voters' organization, an economist, and a lawyer. * The commission meets every other year. * The commission may consider the compensation of justices of the supreme court, judges of the court of appeals, judges of the superior court and district court judges. * The legislature has 60 days in which to reject the order by enacting a law. (Tape Change, HFC 96-41, Side 2). Representative Parnell asked why judges should be removed from the State Officers Compensation Preview. Mr. Christensen noted that judges get caught up in many battles over salaries. With passage of the legislation, the salaries would still be subject to appropriation. In response to Representative Parnell, Mr. Christensen explained that a judge's salary could not be changed by appropriation but instead by a change to the statute. The State Constitution specifies that a judges salary can not be diminished during a term in office. That understanding is repeated in the proposed legislation, although, would not apply to magistrates. A magistrates salary is set by the Supreme Court. Discussion followed referencing material on Page 4, Line 21, "opportunity for other earned income". Representative Brown referenced Page 3, Line 30, noting that 60 days was not enough time to pass a bill through the legislature. Mr. Christensen replied that 60 days was chosen as it appeared also in the Boundary Commission recommendations. He elaborated that in order for the proposed legislation to be in statute, it must be a bill, not a resolution. 6 Representative Parnell questioned why the fiscal notes do not reflect any increases for personnel. Mr. Christensen replied, until the compensation commission actually meets and orders a change in salary, there would be no fiscal impact showing. It would be speculative at this time. Representative Mulder asked if it was a problem attracting competent people to serve as judges. Mr. Christensen pointed out that there are fewer private applicants applying for judgeships and more people from the attorney general's and public defender's office. He commented that the less you pay people, the less qualified people will apply. Mr. Christensen continued, the legislative intent was initiated during the Hickel Administration through a salaries commission but then died in the Senate Rules Committee. The legislation was again introduced last year, and after a hearing in the Senate State Affairs Committee, legislators agreed that they would not support the legislation if "legislators" remained in it. It was reintroduced this year with only judges included. Co-Chair Hanley asked what would happen if the Legislature did not take action the first 60 days and there was not a specific appropriation for judges salaries. Mr. Christensen explained that issue has not yet been discussed. Representative Parnell recommended changing the language on Page 3, Line 30, "within 60 days" to "when enacted in law, within 120 legislative days". That way it could be taken up at any period of time during the legislative session and then the appropriate language could be inserted. Mr. Christensen indicated that an order would have to be submitted within the first 10 days of the session by the commission. The 60 day period was chosen because other items in statute use that time frame. Mr. Christensen informed Committee members that this issue has been considered in federal courts on several occasions. In order for the delegation to set constitutional salaries, the courts have held that there must be a disapproval mechanism as well as an appropriation mechanism. Representative Brown questioned the decision making process and structure within the court system. Mr. Christensen responded that under the Constitution, the supreme court is vested with ultimate administrative authority over the judicial branch. He concluded that judges salaries total less that 25% of the court systems budget. Representative Brown questioned if the list of recommended commission members needed to include lawyers and economists. 7 Mr. Christensen replied that the supreme court does not care what type of people are included on the commission as long as they are "public spirited" and have some knowledge of the concerns. Representative Parnell thought attorneys should be included on the commission as they are better informed of the time and skill required for that type commitment. HB 437 was HELD in Committee for further consideration. (Tape Change, HFC 96-42, Side 1).