Legislature(1999 - 2000)

01/21/2000 01:37 PM JUD

Audio Topic
* first hearing in first committee of referral
+ teleconferenced
= 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                                                                      
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                                                                  
          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                                                                      
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                                                                   
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                                                             
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                                                             
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                                                                     
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                                                                   
There being no further business to come before the committee,                                                                   
CHAIRMAN TAYLOR adjourned the meeting at 2:40 p.m.                                                                              

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