Legislature(1995 - 1996)

02/19/1996 01:40 PM FIN

Audio Topic
* first hearing in first committee of referral
+ teleconferenced
= 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."                                       
  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                 
       *    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.                             
  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.                 
  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).                                            

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