Legislature(1999 - 2000)
01/21/2000 01:37 PM JUD
* first hearing in first committee of referral
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
SENATE JUDICIARY COMMITTEE January 21, 2000 1:37 p.m. MEMBERS PRESENT Senator Robin Taylor, Chairman Senator Dave Donley Senator John Torgerson MEMBERS ABSENT Senator Rick Halford, Vice-Chairman Senator Johnny Ellis COMMITTEE CALENDAR SENATE JOINT RESOLUTION NO. 27 Proposing amendments to the Constitution of the State of Alaska relating to revisions of the state constitution and providing that a court may not change language of a proposed constitutional amendment or revision. -MOVED SJR 27 OUT OF COMMITTEE SENATE JOINT RESOLUTION NO. 28 Proposing an amendment to the Constitution of the State of Alaska relating to the appropriation limit. -MOVED SJR 28 OUT OF COMMITTEE SENATE JOINT RESOLUTION NO. 29 Proposing amendments to the Constitution of the State of Alaska relating to terms of legislators and to the time of convening and length of regular sessions of the legislature. -MOVED SJR 29 OUT OF COMMITTEE PREVIOUS SENATE COMMITTEE ACTION SJR 27 - No previous action. SJR 28 - See Judiciary Committee minutes dated 5/23/99 and 5/24/99. SJR 29 - No previous action. WITNESS REGISTER Senator Sean Parnell Alaska State Capitol Juneau, Alaska 99801 POSITION STATEMENT: Sponsor of SJR 29 Mr. Rick Urion 319 Seward Street Juneau, Alaska 99801 POSITION STATEMENT: Supported SJR 29 Mr. Scott Calder P.O. Box 75011 Fairbanks, Alaska 99576 POSITION STATEMENT: Supported SJR 29 ACTION NARRATIVE TAPE 00-1, SIDE A Number 001 CHAIRMAN ROBIN TAYLOR called the Judiciary Committee meeting to order at 1:37 p.m. and brought up SJR 27 as the first order of business. SJR 27-CONST. AM: REVISIONS OF CONSTITUTION SENATOR DONLEY explained that SJR 27 is an attempt to return the meaning of the state constitution to what it was before the Supreme Court ruled in Bess vs Ulmer. Bess vs Ulmer brought a challenge against three proposed constitutional amendments on the ballot. The court argued because the amendments were presented as a package and because they caused such significant changes, they constituted a "revision" and not an amendment. There had never been a definition of "revision," and Bess vs Ulmer made the distinction by saying a "revision," as defined by the court, cannot be proposed to the people through the amendment process. Therefore, the people of Alaska cannot amend their own constitution. The Alaska Constitution placed the power to create the wording for a constitutional amendment with the elected legislature. No where does it imply that the Supreme Court should be able to manipulate the wording of a proposition put before the people. The court struck one sentence of one of the proposed amendments, causing the entire balance to disappear from the constitution. This subject was not briefed, it was not well studied, and there was no precedent presented. This decision calls into question past amendments that have been approved. Senator Donley sees no way that people can defend the right to privacy, as amended into the constitution--under the court's criteria. Future proposals would also be impacted because of the decision. The decision gives the courts tremendous leeway and vague authority over the people of Alaska, rather than the people having control over the system. SJR 27 would restore the people's constitutional right to amend their own constitution. Number 780 CHAIRMAN TAYLOR echoed Senator Donley's concerns and agreed the legislation was worthwhile. SENATOR DONLEY moved SJR 27 out of committee with individual recommendations. There being no objection, the motion carried. SJR 28-CONST AM: APPROPRIATION LIMIT SENATOR DONLEY stated that in article 9, section 16, of the constitution, an appropriation limit, that applies to the operation of government, has never worked because the initial dollar amount was high--$2.5 billion in 1981. The constitution also includes a provision for an escalator clause to raise the limit based on population and inflation. That calculation would equal a limit in excess of $6 billion today. There are several reasons for changing the existing appropriation limit. First, the lay person cannot understand the reading in the constitution. Second, it has never worked, and third, it would be a useful tool in reducing or restraining state spending. SJR 28 proposes to change and simplify the existing appropriation limit so it would be more effective and could be understood by the average person. CHAIRMAN TAYLOR expressed concern about what would be an appropriate number to allow for emergencies, expansions, the population base, etc. SENATOR TORGERSON acknowledged he would recommend a do pass, but the proposal must hold restraints on spending. Number 1080 SENATOR DONLEY stated there were hearings last summer in an attempt to establish a spreadsheet, so the problem could be better identified. One proposed change added a section that mandatorily brings the matter up for consideration in the year 2010. If the voters do not re-approve the resolution in 2010, the matter will go away. This would be an automatic "sunset" vote. SENATOR TORGERSON commented that "sunsets" are not put into the constitution, they are done through temporary law. SENATOR DONLEY agreed. Number 1315 SENATOR DONLEY stated if the legislature appropriated more money than was allowed or there was a miscalculation, clear guidelines are provided for the Governor to correct the problem. It would be the duty of the Governor to reduce expenditures of each state department, equally, to meet the limit. CHAIRMAN TAYLOR asked if there is a limit on the Governor's authority to spend. SENATOR TORGERSON said it sounds like SJR 28 changes authority from the legislative branch to the administrative branch. He questioned whether the Governor should call a special session for the legislature to handle the budget--the constitution does not give the Governor the right to manipulate the budget. CHAIRMAN TAYLOR commented that different governors have handled this situation differently and the issue should be clarified in the constitution. SENATOR DONLEY said the status of the Alaska railroad was also a concern. He asked whether the railroad is within or outside the appropriation limit. Committee members felt that language for the railroad and other trusts needed to be clarified. CHAIRMAN TAYLOR asked if the deletion of the trust language impacts fish and game and tobacco revenues. SENATOR DONLEY responded that legislative finance has done an analysis on which funds were affected and the total amounts. CHAIRMAN TAYLOR asked for the analysis. SENATOR DONLEY stated that the totals in the original bill are affected by the definition of general fund. With the language of the CS, the general fund expenditure for last year was a little over $2.9 billion. He suggested the following solutions: expand the dollar amount, change the year or limit the growth calculation. Number 1776 CHAIRMAN TAYLOR expressed concern that if a spending limitation was forced on state government, the only way to maintain that limitation would be to shift costs and services to communities that could afford them. If the spending limitation was too arbitrary, there would be no effect, or too much of an effect. SENATOR DONLEY asked for some guidance from the committee in crafting the committee substitute. One problem of using a new base number is that the public will perceive a dollar amount increase so updating the base year to 2001 may be preferable. CHAIRMAN TAYLOR stated he was not comfortable in giving a recommendation at this time, but the consensus was that a special session may be needed. The bill meets the judicial purview by adhering to legal requirements and Chairman Taylor would defer to the Finance Committee because the specific wording would depend on the numbers coming from that committee. SENATOR DONLEY moved SJR 28 from committee with individual recommendations. Without objection, the bill moved from committee. SJR 29-DURATION OF REGULAR LEGISLATIVE SESSION Number 2131 SENATOR PARNELL stated that SJR 29 would place a constitutional amendment on the 2000 ballot limiting the Alaska legislature to annual sessions of 75 days, beginning on the fourth Monday of February. A shorter session would save the state at least $1.2 million. This legislation would help foster a citizen legislature and help legislators to focus their priorities. 32 states now have session limits shorter than 120 days and 22 states have session limits shorter than 75 days. SENATOR TORGERSON was not sure a constitutional amendment was necessary. CHAIRMAN TAYLOR responded he had proposed a 90 day limit several years ago by statute, but existing constitutional limitations would override and he felt an amendment may be necessary. Also, the Chairman felt this legislation would enhance a greater involvement from citizen legislators. SENATOR TORGERSON felt the legislation was workable, but because the proposed budget is published December 15, work should start sometime in January. Work on the budget is difficult to accomplish within the time limit now. Tape 00-1, Side B SENATOR PARNELL asked the committee if 75 days seemed workable. CHAIRMAN TAYLOR responded that certain members in the legislature, especially finance committee members, would need more time. He would have left the starting date in January and ended the session earlier, because winter is when people have more time off. A January start date would also keep the session closer to the budget cycle. SENATOR PARNELL responded he had considered this option but had based his calender on oil revenues. SENATOR PARNELL requested that the committee move SJR 29 with his amendment of 75 consecutive calendar days. CHAIRMAN TAYLOR moved SJR 29, as amended, from committee. MR. RICK URION, representing himself, spoke in favor of this legislation as a person who had served in the legislature prior to the 120 day limit when the sessions went on with no end in sight. The 120 day limit has proven work can be accomplished within a set time and could probably be accomplished in less time. He also feels this legislation will encourage a citizen legislature. SCOTT CALDER, representing himself, supports SJR 29 from a citizen's standpoint. He feels this proposal would give legislators more time to work with constituents and improve public perception. SENATOR TORGERSON was concerned about the February 1 start date because of the trip to Washington D.C. every year in March. The legislature would be taking a five day break almost immediately after opening. Starting February 1 would only give the legislature 31 days, after having the revenue forecast, to work on the budget. He would like to see the starting date moved back to the second Monday in February. SENATOR DONLEY commented that the start date is set by statute, therefore, section 1 of the resolution was unnecessary, unless there was implied voter approval. Number 1979 SENATOR PARNELL agreed except that terms of office would be affected. SENATOR DONLEY commented that legislators could take office in January to get up to speed on the budget even if the session did not start until February, rather than having lame duck legislators remain in office in January. SENATOR PARNELL agreed with this. CHAIRMAN TAYLOR said he would like to have a debate on holding a budget session in an off election year, passing a two year budget and then coming back in the election year and taking up issues. Many western states have this type of legislature. SENATOR PARNELL responded that some sessions are 30 days one year and 60 or 90 the next year. Some states felt that this lead to diminished legislative power and increased executive power. SENATOR PARNELL stated that this legislation was drafted so that legislative power was not diminished. SENATOR TORGERSON moved SJR 29 from committee with individual recommendations. There being no further business to come before the committee, CHAIRMAN TAYLOR adjourned the meeting at 2:40 p.m.