Legislature(1995 - 1996)
03/28/1996 08:15 AM STA
* first hearing in first committee of referral
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
HJR 34 - LIMIT LEGISLATIVE SESSION TO 90 DAYS The next order of business to come before the House State Affairs Committee was HJR 34. CHAIR JAMES called on Representative Jerry Sander, sponsor of HJR 34. Number 1487 REPRESENTATIVE JERRY SANDERS said he would not read the sponsor statement because everyone here could read. He announced his wife, children and grandchildren really liked the resolution. He also believed the Governor would like it too. He explained the 120 day session had been in existence now for 10 years in Alaska. It had worked well. However, it was time to look at the issue again and consider reducing the session length to 90 days. He said it would not present a problem due to the advancement of computers, for example. It presented a significant savings of $1.5 million. He called it a conservative amount, and felt it would be a considerable amount more when the number of administrative operations that were moving to Anchorage were considered. Those members had to fly to Juneau for business of which the state paid for the trip. He said HJR 34 would be popular in his district. He also believed it would pass other districts as well. He said the public perceived that the oil companies paid for this government. He did not believe that, however, and the people would discover that soon. He predicted that in one year after passing a state income tax, the session would be reduced to 90 days anyway due to the change in the public's perception. The resolution asked for the people to vote on the issue. He asked the committee members to take an honest look at the resolution. Number 1729 REPRESENTATIVE GREEN said he supported the concept of HJR 34. The resolution would send a clear message. He said if other states could do it, Alaska could. He reiterated he strongly supported HJR 34. Number 1782 REPRESENTATIVE OGAN said he felt the legislature could accomplish what it did in 120 days in 90 days. The side effects would be less bills and forced priorities. It would also create a tendency to "hit the ground running." He said it would create better government and better legislation. He supported the resolution. Number 1856 REPRESENTATIVE ROBINSON said she initially voted against the 120 day session, and was glad others did not agree with her because she now believed it was good to have a time limit. She asked Representative Sanders if he looked at other options available, such as, one session being longer than another, for example? Number 1910 REPRESENTATIVE SANDERS replied, "yes." He would have written it for 90 days one year and 60 days the other year. However, he also believed in a one-step-at-a time approach. He suggested trying a 90 day session for a while before cutting one year to 60 days. Number 1937 REPRESENTATIVE ROBINSON asked Representative Sanders where the 90 days came from? Number 1955 REPRESENTATIVE SANDERS replied the House of Representatives passed a budget in 90 days which had always been a budget that the public supported. However, after that 90 day period, there were an additional 30 days "to go back and put all that money back in." Therefore, the state would be in better shape if it were limited to 90 days. Number 2004 REPRESENTATIVE ROBINSON said she was tired of all the bills being pushed through the legislature. Furthermore, each bill and fiscal note had to be evaluated by a department. She also supported a two year budget cycle because the departments had to cater to the legislature for 120 days out of each year rather than conducting state business. She asked Representative Sanders what the extension provision was in the resolution? REPRESENTATIVE SANDERS replied it was the same. There was no change to the extension provision. Number 2135 REPRESENTATIVE GREEN explained the state of Texas only allowed legislation to be introduced on the alternative years, allowing one session to be dedicated to the budget. It was not fair to compare other states to Alaska due to its short statehood. A step in that direction was worthwhile, however. Number 2226 REPRESENTATIVE PORTER asked Representative Green if Texas did an annual budget? REPRESENTATIVE GREEN replied, "yes." There were states, however, that did biannual budgets. Number 2243 CHAIR JAMES said she supported HJR 34. She was concerned about comparing Alaska to other states, however, because Alaska did not have a steady revenue source. Moreover, she was also concerned about the number of bills introduced. She explained she was criticized for not hearing some bills this session, but there was only so much that the House State Affairs Committee could do, and do it right. Furthermore, the rules would have to change. She suggested that a bill could not pass unless it had been presented in the previous session to prevent unintended consequences of the political bickering. By presenting a piece of legislation one year, the interim period could be used for discussion with the public before action was taken. She said the legislators did not hear from the public while in Juneau. "We hear from a few dissenters and a few passionate supporters," a very small part of the public. TAPE 96-43, SIDE A Number 0000 CHAIR JAMES reiterated the rules could be determined given a length of time. The arguments against were just excuses. Number 0044 REPRESENTATIVE GREEN stated most of the states that had restricted time entertained public hearings throughout the session. Furthermore, although those states had a shorter session, they had a longer interim period. Moreover, most states were far more austere towards their compensation of their legislators. Number 0104 CHAIR JAMES said the legislature had made giant strides over the past four years reducing the amount of money spent on the legislature as-well-as the carry over amount. She announced Pam Varni, Executive Director, Legislative Affairs Agency, was here to answer any questions regarding the legislature. REPRESENTATIVE GREEN stated the legislature at the same time increased its per diem. CHAIR JAMES responded everybody focused on the increased per diem even though the legislature cut its staff and unrolled the carry over amount. Number 0182 REPRESENTATIVE WILLIS said he was not sure how he would vote on HJR 34. He was concerned about how this would affect the balance of power between he executive and legislative branches. The Alaskan Governor was the strongest executive in the United States, and the counter balance to the executive branch in the state was the legislature. He felt the 120 day session was an excellent idea when it was changed years ago. He cautioned the committee members when considering shortening it even further to 90 days, however, for fear of a tip in the balance of powers. Number 0316 CHAIR JAMES explained regulations distressed the public. Based on her analysis of the problem, the legislature was not willing to take the time to include specifics in the bills creating more regulations on the part of the Administration. Therefore, she agreed with Representative Willis that the balance of powers needed to be looked at further. Number 0367 REPRESENTATIVE PORTER explained four years ago the legislature cut 79 positions. He felt the legislature never did receive full credit for that so every time he had to opportunity to state that he would. Furthermore, most of the business in other states was done at the municipal and county levels compared to Alaska. There was more money spent and issues addressed between King County and the City of Seattle in the state of Washington than Olympia, for example. Therefore, the Alaska State Legislature was in effect a borough assembly county seat of government for a large percentage of the area of Alaska addressing issues that other states would not. Number 0479 CHAIR JAMES announced HB 485 and HB 490 would not be heard today due to time constraints. They would be rescheduled for Saturday, March 30, 1996. Number 0496 REPRESENTATIVE IVAN said if the session was moved to Akiak, the expenses would be reduced as much as possible. He cited the diversity, the limited access, and the cultures of Alaska affected the government and how a state was governed compared to any other state. He was afraid to make a radical change right now. Number 0575 CHAIR JAMES explained due to redistricting every 10 years, a freshman legislature was almost inevitable. She said it was a steep learning curve for her as a freshman four years ago and that needed to also be considered when changing the system. She cited it was hard to even find the bathrooms for that freshman class. She complimented Representative Scott Ogan for his efforts as one of only a few freshmen legislators last year. Number 0642 REPRESENTATIVE ROBINSON said she sympathized with other Representatives that had businesses outside of their work as a legislator. She believed in more interim types of work. She stated the issue needed to be looked at further. The entire way of doing business needed to be reconsidered. She did not think the legislature could get through in 90 days as it currently operated. She reiterated a more serious look was needed and provisions included to incorporate those changes. Number 717 REPRESENTATIVE OGAN said, for the record, he found the bathroom pretty fast when he arrived in Juneau as a freshman. REPRESENTATIVE OGAN moved that HJR 34 move from the committee with individual recommendations and attached fiscal notes. Chair James objected. A roll call vote was not called for, however.