Legislature(1995 - 1996)
03/21/1996 09:20 AM FIN
* first hearing in first committee of referral
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
CS FOR HOUSE JOINT RESOLUTION NO. 5(FIN) am Proposing amendments to the Constitution of the State of Alaska relating to terms of legislators. Co-chairman Halford directed that CSHJR 5 (Fin) am be brought on for discussion. He then referenced SCS CSHJR 5 (Jud) and a proposed amendment by Senate Judiciary to correct an overreach relating to magistrates. CHRIS CHRISTENSEN, General Counsel, Alaska Court System, came before committee. He explained that the supreme court has taken no position on sections applying to non-judicial officers. However, it opposes sections that would create fifteen-year term limits for judges and magistrates. Alaska's system of judicial appointment and retention is considered a model and has been adopted by other states. The system will not be improved by the proposed bill but will, instead, be severely compromised. Judicial office is fundamentally different than political office. Alaska's constitution recognizes that difference. Justices and judges are appointed by the Governor rather than elected by voters. After assuming office, they do not face contested election. They stand for retention on a vote by the public. Magistrates are not constitutional officers. They are merely employees of the court system who serve at the pleasure of the presiding judge. Mr. Christensen noted that supporters of the original version of HJR 5 made several arguments in support of their views. He then said that none of the arguments "have any applicability, whatsoever, to the judiciary." While it is argued that public opinion polls show support for term limits, most polling data relates to Congress. Mr. Christensen said he had seen none that relates to term limits for judicial officers. No such initiatives or statutes have been passed elsewhere in the nation in the last few years. Mr. Christensen further advised, Second, it's argued that term limits will bring in people with new ideas. Mr. Chairman, I think I don't have to tell you, judges aren't supposed to have ideas, new or otherwise. Judges are supposed to take your laws and apply them to individuals. The third argument is that term limits level the playing field for challengers. There are no challengers in judicial retention elections. The voting public has an opportunity to approve or disapprove the action of each judge. Judges have been rejected by the voters in the past. The retention election is the appropriate form of judicial term limit. Mr. Christensen stressed that the practical effect of imposing a fifteen-year term limit on judges would be to deter "anyone under the age of 45 from applying to be a judge." Those under that age would be forced to leave the bench before retirement age and begin a second career at that time. The term limitation would also have a negative impact on the retirement system. Most judges presently serve longer than fifteen years before retiring. The actuarial basis of the judicial retirement system assumes that judges will continue to make contributions to the system after they have fully vested. If all judges are required to retire at fifteen years, there will be substantially more judges drawing retirement pay at any one time, and the state will be forced to increase its contributions to the retirement system. As evidence of further negative fiscal impact, Mr. Christensen noted that court system fiscal notes for new criminal law do not reflect the cost of a sitting judge but use of a recently retired judge on a pro-tem appointment. Because such judges draw retirement pay, the court system pays only the difference between their retirement and what a sitting judge receives. Legislation is thus implemented based on a cost of approximately fifty cents on the dollar. Under the proposed bill, judges would be prohibited from serving for three years after retirement. The court system will thus have difficulty getting pro-tem judges. That will substantially slow the process, and the court system will probably have to pay more to obtain judicial services. In his closing remarks, Mr. Christensen stressed the supreme court's belief that the state judicial system will work best if members "come from the widest possible demographic pool, and if the voters are allowed to decide which judges are doing a good job and deserve to be retained." Co-chairman Frank inquired concerning changes made in Senate Judiciary. Mr. Christensen explained that the Judiciary version adds municipal officers to term limits. The House resolution bill applies only to the legislature. REPRESENTATIVE THERRIAULT, sponsor of the resolution, next came before committee. He explained that the House version required an individual to "sit out for two, full, consecutive terms." Changes in Senate Judiciary would require a former legislator to "sit out for four years unless you were appointed to fill somebody's seat," if they left office. Senator Randy Phillips inquired concerning the rationale behind the resolution. Representative Therriault spoke to the "power of incumbency" that is not available to challengers. He voiced his belief that, "after a certain amount of time, you should break that incumbency." Senator Phillips remarked that cumulative averages since statehood indicate that "every two years 35 percent of the Senate is gone, and every two years 45 percent" of the House is gone. He suggested that being an incumbent puts one in a negative rather than positive position. Representative Therriault acknowledged a healthy turnover in the state legislature. He explained that the bill is aimed at those in office for 25 to 30 years. Senator Phillips raised concern that the resolution would deny voters the right to vote for whomever they wish. He stressed that voters can rid themselves of legislators they do not want. They have utilized that opportunity numerous times. The facts do not support the theory behind the resolution. Representative Therriault pointed to prohibitions denying both the President and Alaska's Governor third terms. Senator Phillips noted that much power is concentrated in those positions while it is shared among 60 members of the legislature. Co-chairman Halford told members that the National Council on State Legislatures views Alaska's legislature as one of the weakest in the country, in terms of power held by the Governor. He added that while he generally supports term limits, there is need for institutional legislative memory in the balance of power between the legislative and executive branches. He further observed that things done in response to public interest have weakened the legislature in several areas. Nothing since statehood has weakened the Governor. Questions are thus raised concerning the balance of power. Representative Therriault acknowledged need for an adequate learning curve for legislative proficiency. END: SFC-96, #45, Side 2 BEGIN: SFC-96, #46, Side 1 Senator Donley concurred in comments by Co-chairman Halford, advising of the following limitations on the legislature: 1. 120-day session 2. stringent ethics law applied to the legislature while the executive branch operates under much less burdensome law 3. requirement for a three-quarter vote on override of the Governor's veto on appropriation items. Alaska is the only state where the Governor has reapportionment power. Further, few states provide the line-item veto power enjoyed by Alaska's Governor. The need for centralized power has lessened rather than increased since statehood, yet the power of centralized government has increased over that period of time. Philosophically, "it's gone the opposite of what it should have gone." Senator Donley said he could support the resolution if provisions are packaged with other reforms such as legislative power over state-created public corporations. Senator Rieger concurred in need to maintain a balance of power. He expressed additional concern over placing multiple proposals before the voters that "make it look more and more like a constitutional convention." He questioned the kind of precedent that would set. Co-chairman Halford noted that the upcoming election would provide a test for voters confronted with complex, multi- page initiatives dealing with topics that are generally supported. He attested to the time required to read full ballot provisions and suggested that voters may reject "things that they would otherwise like, because they're too complex and presented with too many facets." The Co- chairman specifically cited issues relating to both fish and game and campaign reform. Representative Therriault voiced his belief that the Senate Judiciary version confuses the issue and asked that committee deliberations revert to the House resolution. Co- chairman Halford concurred in regard to Judiciary inclusion of magistrates. He said that magistrates would be removed from the resolution since they were inadvertently incorporated. Comments followed by Co-chairmen Frank and Halford regarding the regulatory powers of the executive branch. In response to a question from Senator Zharoff, Representative Therriault advised that the House resolution speaks specifically to House and Senate legislators. It does not include municipal officials. Further brief discussion followed regarding voter rejection of judges. Senator Rieger voiced concern that mandating a greater degree of turnover in the judiciary further tilts the balance of power toward the executive branch since the Governor has the power to appoint judges. Co-chairman Frank concurred and indicated a preference for the House resolution. He remarked that judicial retention is a separate issue. Senator Donley suggested that requirement of a super majority (60 to 65 percent) for retention of a judge might be a better approach. Additional discussion of an elected judiciary followed. Co-chairman Halford concurred that the balance of power question was made worse by inclusion of the judiciary within the resolution. Senator Zharoff suggested that term limits on the legislature should do away with the prohibition of having to wait a year prior to pursuing certain employment opportunities. Further discussion of the balance of power between the legislature and executive branch followed. As a counter argument to need for institutional memory within the legislature, Co-chairman Frank cited the institutional tendency toward the status quo that occurs the longer an individual serves. He noted that freshmen legislators "are willing to come in and change things more aggressively than are those that have been here for twelve years plus . . . ." The viewpoint of those who know they will serve limited terms may be valuable to the process. Co-chairman Halford voiced his belief that the greatest abuse of legislative incumbency in other states is leadership incumbency. Alaska has a tradition of not repeating presiding officers. Abuses occur when individuals retain the position of senate president or speaker of the house for twenty years. Co-chairman Halford directed that the bill be held in committee and noted consensus to "go back to the House bill as a starting point and work from there." ADJOURNMENT The meeting was adjourned at approximately 11:15 a.m.