Legislature(2019 - 2020)ADAMS 519

03/04/2020 09:00 AM FINANCE

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09:04:14 AM Start
09:05:16 AM HJR15
09:30:14 AM Adjourn
* first hearing in first committee of referral
+ teleconferenced
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
+ HJR 15 CONST. AM: VOTES NEEDED FOR VETO OVERRIDE TELECONFERENCED
Heard & Held
+ Bills Previously Heard/Scheduled TELECONFERENCED
HOUSE JOINT RESOLUTION NO. 15                                                                                                 
                                                                                                                                
     Proposing  an  amendment  to the  Constitution  of  the                                                                    
     State of Alaska relating to actions upon veto.                                                                             
                                                                                                                                
9:05:16 AM                                                                                                                    
                                                                                                                                
JOSIAH  NASH,   INTERN,  REPRESENTATIVE   JOHNATHAN  KREISS-                                                                    
TOMKINS, presented  the bill with  a prepared  statement. He                                                                    
noted   that  the   bill  had   first  been   introduced  by                                                                    
Representative Johnathan Kreiss-Tomkins the previous April.                                                                     
                                                                                                                                
     This  constitutional  amendment  would lower  the  veto                                                                    
     override threshold for  appropriation bills from three-                                                                    
     fourths  of legislators  (45  votes)  to two-thirds  of                                                                    
     legislators  (30  votes).   Currently  vetoes  on  non-                                                                    
     appropriation  bills in  Alaska  require two-thirds  of                                                                    
     legislators to be overridden. HJR  15 creates a uniform                                                                    
     veto  override  vote  threshold for  appropriation  and                                                                    
     non-appropriation   bills.    Alaska's   threshold   is                                                                    
     disproportionate  to every  other state  in the  union,                                                                    
     including territories. Alaska is  the only state with a                                                                    
     three-fourths  override  veto  threshold,  every  other                                                                    
     state  has   a  two-thirds,  three-fifths,   or  simple                                                                    
     majority vote threshold.                                                                                                   
                                                                                                                                
Mr.  Nash   pointed  to  a   slide  titled   "Veto  Override                                                                    
Thresholds in the U.S." (copy  on file) and highlighted that                                                                    
38 states had a two-thirds  threshold, 6 states had a three-                                                                    
fifths threshold, and 5 had  a simple majority threshold. He                                                                    
directed  attention to  the red  dot representing  Alaska in                                                                    
the upper  left corner  of the  slide and  noted it  was the                                                                    
only state with a high three-quarter vote threshold.                                                                            
                                                                                                                                
9:07:12 AM                                                                                                                    
                                                                                                                                
REPRESENTATIVE   JONATHAN  KREISS-TOMPKINS,   BILL  SPONSOR,                                                                    
elaborated on  the introduction. He clarified  that the bill                                                                    
had been  introduced prior to  any veto actions made  by the                                                                    
governor the  previous session. He  clarified that  the bill                                                                    
had not originated  as a "call and response  kind of thing."                                                                    
He recognized  that he  had anticipated  some of  the things                                                                    
that  had come  down the  pike.  He believed  it was  fairly                                                                    
clear when thinking about the  balance of powers that Alaska                                                                    
was anomalous from the rest of  the nation, which he did not                                                                    
believe  made sense.  He added  that having  asymmetric veto                                                                    
override  thresholds -  a  two-thirds  threshold for  policy                                                                    
bills and  a three-quarter threshold for  appropriations and                                                                    
revenue  bills  - created  legal  ambiguity  because it  was                                                                    
necessary to  define what constituted  a policy  bill versus                                                                    
an appropriation or revenue bill.                                                                                               
                                                                                                                                
Representative  Kreiss-Tomkins elaborated  it had  come home                                                                    
to  roost in  the 1990s  under Governor  Tony Knowles  and a                                                                    
legislature that  was by  in large at  lager heads  with the                                                                    
governor.  The  legislature  had   sought  to  override  the                                                                    
governor  on a  veto  and could  only  reach the  two-thirds                                                                    
threshold. He elaborated that  Governor Knowles had asserted                                                                    
that the legislation being vetoed  was an appropriation bill                                                                    
and  would   have  a  higher   veto  threshold,   while  the                                                                    
legislature asserted it was policy  legislation with a lower                                                                    
threshold.  The  issue had  ultimately  gone  to the  Alaska                                                                    
Supreme  Court. He  explained that  a non-uniform  threshold                                                                    
was messier  and resulted in  issues around  definitions. He                                                                    
detailed  that a  uniform threshold  resulted  in a  cleaner                                                                    
constitution and veto override process.                                                                                         
                                                                                                                                
9:09:34 AM                                                                                                                    
                                                                                                                                
Co-Chair  Foster asked  if  the bill  sponsor  had done  any                                                                    
research to see  what the framers of  the state constitution                                                                    
had  in  mind. He  highlighted  that  by the  time  Alaska's                                                                    
constitution  went  into  effect  all  other  states  except                                                                    
Hawaii  had  theirs in  place.  He  thought it  seemed  like                                                                    
Alaska's  constitutional framers  would have  looked to  the                                                                    
other  states.  He wondered  why  the  framers chose  three-                                                                    
quarter threshold.                                                                                                              
                                                                                                                                
Representative Kreiss-Tompkins replied  that he had reviewed                                                                    
the  minutes from  the constitutional  convention and  there                                                                    
had been  two schools of  thought on the issue.  He detailed                                                                    
that the school  of thought that prevailed  resulting in the                                                                    
three-quarters  override threshold  asserted the  desire for                                                                    
the  executive to  be as  strong as  possible in  Alaska. He                                                                    
believed it was  the same guiding principle that  had led to                                                                    
having   all  constitutional   officers  appointed   by  the                                                                    
governor   including  the   attorney  general   and  various                                                                    
commissioners,  which was  different than  many, albeit  not                                                                    
all, other states.                                                                                                              
                                                                                                                                
Representative  Kreiss-Tomkins continued  that  in terms  of                                                                    
the  three-quarter override  threshold, the  opposing school                                                                    
of thought in the  constitutional convention had argued that                                                                    
it was such  a high threshold that  the governor effectively                                                                    
had unilateral  power to  veto and  never be  overridden. He                                                                    
elaborated  that  effectively,  one-quarter  of  legislators                                                                    
representing one-quarter  of Alaskans would have  power over                                                                    
three-quarters  of legislators  and Alaskans.  He referenced                                                                    
the  green dots  on  the slide  representing  states with  a                                                                    
simple majority override threshold  and did not believe that                                                                    
threshold level  made a  lot of sense.  He noted  the states                                                                    
with a  simple majority  threshold were all  southern states                                                                    
and he  did not  know the thinking  behind the  decision. He                                                                    
reasoned that having  the threshold too far  in the opposite                                                                    
direction did not make a lot of sense either.                                                                                   
                                                                                                                                
Representative  Kreiss-Tomkins stated  it  was pretty  clear                                                                    
with  over a  half century  of legislative/executive  branch                                                                    
interaction that  the school of  thought that  suggested the                                                                    
governor basically  had unilateral  veto power and  that the                                                                    
three-quarters    override    threshold   was    effectively                                                                    
unattainable,  had more  or less  been  proven accurate.  He                                                                    
highlighted that  the number of attempts  to override vetoes                                                                    
in Alaska history  was scarce and he believed  the number of                                                                    
successful overrides could be counted  on one hand. He would                                                                    
double check on the actual count over the past century.                                                                         
                                                                                                                                
Co-Chair  Foster  looked  at  a  handout  showing  the  vote                                                                    
required  to override  a  veto of  selected  types of  bills                                                                    
["Table  98-6.22" published  by the  National Conference  of                                                                    
State  Legislatures  (copy  on  file)]. As  an  example,  he                                                                    
highlighted that  Arizona required a three-quarter  vote for                                                                    
an emergency  bill and  revenue (tax)  bills. He  thought it                                                                    
appeared that  may be the  only three-quarter  vote required                                                                    
on other things.  He was interested in the  rationale in the                                                                    
other   examples  where   a   three-quarter  threshold   was                                                                    
required. He wondered if there  were other actions that were                                                                    
not included on the handout.                                                                                                    
                                                                                                                                
9:13:11 AM                                                                                                                    
                                                                                                                                
Representative  Kreiss-Tomkins  deferred   the  question  to                                                                    
Legislative Legal Services.                                                                                                     
                                                                                                                                
MEGAN WALLACE, DIRECTOR,  LEGISLATIVE LEGAL SERVICES, ALASKA                                                                    
STATE  LEGISLATURE,  asked  Co-Chair Foster  to  repeat  the                                                                    
question.                                                                                                                       
                                                                                                                                
Co-Chair Foster  explained that he was  thinking about where                                                                    
a three-quarter  vote was  required, whether  it was  for an                                                                    
override or any  other actions by states. He  asked if there                                                                    
was  a theme  that led  states  to set  a bar  at a  certain                                                                    
level. He used  Arizona as an example  where a three-quarter                                                                    
vote was required for an emergency bill or tax bill.                                                                            
                                                                                                                                
Representative  Kreiss-Tompkins noted  he had  misunderstood                                                                    
and there  was no need to  call Ms. Wallace forward  for the                                                                    
question. He did not know if  there was a theme of the other                                                                    
examples  of  the  three quarter  threshold,  but  he  would                                                                    
follow up.                                                                                                                      
                                                                                                                                
Representative Carpenter asked what  the outcome had been in                                                                    
the    former   Governor    Knowles   case    mentioned   by                                                                    
Representative Kreiss-Tomkins.                                                                                                  
                                                                                                                                
Representative    Kreiss-Tompkins    recalled    that    the                                                                    
legislature had  prevailed in the  litigation in  the 1990s.                                                                    
He explained  the issue had involved  the legislature giving                                                                    
land to the University for  its land grant. He detailed that                                                                    
Governor  Knowles  had  asserted  that giving  land  to  the                                                                    
University constituted  an appropriation  and he  vetoed the                                                                    
action. The legislature had sought  to override - it had the                                                                    
two-thirds threshold  but could not reach  the three-quarter                                                                    
threshold. The legislature had litigated and had prevailed.                                                                     
                                                                                                                                
9:15:46 AM                                                                                                                    
                                                                                                                                
Representative  Carpenter  asked if  Representative  Kreiss-                                                                    
Tompkins had seen any evidence  showing that Alaskans wanted                                                                    
to  move  away from  a  three-quarter  vote threshold  or  a                                                                    
strong governor.                                                                                                                
                                                                                                                                
Representative  Kreiss-Tompkins  answered  that  he  assumed                                                                    
people   had  varying   views.   He   elaborated  that   the                                                                    
legislation  almost inevitably  had  to  be colored  through                                                                    
recent  history.  He  believed there  had  been  significant                                                                    
consternation  upon discovery  that  the override  threshold                                                                    
was high  and unattainable  in the  past year.  He explained                                                                    
that even  if the  threshold was  two-thirds, which  was the                                                                    
most  common  in  most  of the  country  and  what  Alaska's                                                                    
constitution  provided  for  with  policy  bills,  the  veto                                                                    
override vote  in January would  have failed because  it did                                                                    
not  meet  the  two-thirds  threshold. He  noted  there  was                                                                    
active  legislation  in  both bodies  [of  the  legislature]                                                                    
about  the  election  of the  attorney  general  instead  of                                                                    
appointment of  the attorney general.  He believed  a strong                                                                    
executive made  sense albeit within  reason. He  thought the                                                                    
three-quarter threshold was a bit  beyond reason in terms of                                                                    
practicality.                                                                                                                   
                                                                                                                                
Representative  Carpenter remarked  that  he  had not  heard                                                                    
anything  about  reducing  the  power  of  the  governor  or                                                                    
adjusting the three-quarter vote prior  to the past year. He                                                                    
wondered if there  was feedback or data  indicating a desire                                                                    
by  Alaskans  to entertain  a  move  that could  impact  the                                                                    
state's government for the foreseeable future.                                                                                  
                                                                                                                                
9:18:08 AM                                                                                                                    
                                                                                                                                
Representative  Kreiss-Tompkins believed  most Alaskans  and                                                                    
most  legislators had  probably been  unaware of  the three-                                                                    
quarter  veto  override  threshold  for  appropriations.  He                                                                    
reasoned  that  the  topic  did   not  come  up  unless  the                                                                    
situation presented  itself. He noted that  most Alaskans he                                                                    
had spoken  to the  previous session had  not been  aware of                                                                    
the  three-quarter threshold.  He believed  the same  may be                                                                    
true for  people in the  legislature. He never had  cause to                                                                    
be familiar  with the specific  part of the  constitution in                                                                    
his first  seven years  with the  legislature. He  stated it                                                                    
was hard to  say whether the public supported  a change, but                                                                    
the issue would go to a vote of the people to decide.                                                                           
                                                                                                                                
Representative  LeBon  remarked   that  the  discussion  was                                                                    
interesting  because  there  was  a  historical  perspective                                                                    
involved.  By his  reading of  the debate  in the  mid-1950s                                                                    
when the  Alaska territory  crafted its  state constitution,                                                                    
there  had  been a  political  influence  from Congress  for                                                                    
Alaska to have a strong  governor and a high veto threshold.                                                                    
The view had been that Alaska  did not have the resources to                                                                    
support itself. The fear was  the state's spending would get                                                                    
out of control quickly and the  state needed an adult in the                                                                    
room to  keep spending down.  He believed it was  the reason                                                                    
Alaska  was  the  only state  with  the  three-quarter  vote                                                                    
threshold.   He   considered   whether   the   three-quarter                                                                    
threshold  was still  needed. He  noted the  issue would  be                                                                    
decided by  a vote of  the people if the  legislation passed                                                                    
the legislature.  He explained  that the  existing framework                                                                    
had  been  used to  entice  Congress  to  vote in  favor  of                                                                    
statehood.  The framers  of the  constitution had  felt that                                                                    
putting  the language  in the  constitution would  help with                                                                    
the vote.                                                                                                                       
                                                                                                                                
Representative  Wool noted  that  there  were three  options                                                                    
used by  other states and Alaska  was the only state  with a                                                                    
three-quarter override.  He had  not been aware  that Alaska                                                                    
was  the  only  state  with  a  three-quarter  override.  He                                                                    
recognized that  Alaska was one  of the newest  states other                                                                    
than  Hawaii and  Hawaii had  a two-thirds  threshold across                                                                    
the  board. He  highlighted the  states with  a three-fifths                                                                    
threshold and noted  that with the exception  of two states,                                                                    
all had a  three-fifths veto threshold across  the board. He                                                                    
highlighted that  Rhode Island had a  three-fifths threshold                                                                    
with everything  except an appropriation  bill, which  had a                                                                    
two-thirds threshold. Additionally,  Ohio had a three-fifths                                                                    
threshold for everything but an  emergency bill. He observed                                                                    
that HJR 15 would  make Alaska's threshold two-thirds across                                                                    
the board,  which would  be uniform  with other  states that                                                                    
selected  one  threshold.  He  asked   if  the  sponsor  had                                                                    
considered a three-fifths threshold.                                                                                            
                                                                                                                                
9:22:13 AM                                                                                                                    
                                                                                                                                
Representative  Kreiss-Tompkins  replied  that  he  had  not                                                                    
considered  the idea  because  the  state's policy  override                                                                    
threshold was two-thirds and it  seemed reasonable to tether                                                                    
to the state's constitutional  precedent. He was not overtly                                                                    
opposed  to the  idea and  would defer  to the  will of  the                                                                    
committee  and legislature.  He  returned to  a question  by                                                                    
Representative Carpenter  and relayed that he  believed in a                                                                    
strong  executive  within  reason,   whether  he  agreed  or                                                                    
disagreed  with the  executive.  He believed  three-quarters                                                                    
was a bit too much. He  noted that the three-fifths gave him                                                                    
a  bit  of hesitation  for  that  same reason.  The  primary                                                                    
reason  he  had  selected  two-thirds  was  because  it  was                                                                    
already  included in  the constitution.  He thought  that if                                                                    
asked, prior  to the  past year,  people broadly  would have                                                                    
thought the veto threshold was two-thirds.                                                                                      
                                                                                                                                
Representative   Kreiss-Tomkins  referenced   Representative                                                                    
LeBon's comment and highlighted that  one of the pieces that                                                                    
gave  him pause  about the  three-quarter threshold  was the                                                                    
ability for a veto pen  to make policy through appropriation                                                                    
veto.  He  elaborated that  if  there  was a  governor  with                                                                    
strong perspectives  on a particular issue  it would require                                                                    
a supermajority to override the  veto. For example, if there                                                                    
was  a governor  strongly  opposed to  mining, the  governor                                                                    
could line item  veto funding for the  Department of Natural                                                                    
Resources,  Division   of  Mining,   Land,  and   Water  and                                                                    
effectively put  a stop to  mining in Alaska.  Similarly, if                                                                    
someone thought  that the notion  of the municipal  share of                                                                    
commercial fish tax  was a bad idea, it could  be ended with                                                                    
an appropriation veto. He believed  that keeping in mind the                                                                    
policy  ramifications  or  the   policy  making  power  that                                                                    
existed through  appropriation veto was great.  He explained                                                                    
that  the   additional  context  was  the   impetus  of  the                                                                    
legislation.                                                                                                                    
                                                                                                                                
9:25:13 AM                                                                                                                    
                                                                                                                                
Co-Chair Foster returned to his  earlier question about what                                                                    
other  states may  use the  three-quarter vote  for. He  was                                                                    
reminded  of a  vote the  House had  taken the  previous day                                                                    
related  to  taking  funds from  the  Constitutional  Budget                                                                    
Reserve  (CBR). He  detailed that  any time  the legislature                                                                    
wanted  to  draw from  the  CBR  (including deficit  filling                                                                    
language,  drawing  from  the CBR,  and  doing  the  reverse                                                                    
sweep), a three-quarter vote was required.                                                                                      
                                                                                                                                
Representative Kreiss-Tompkins  remarked that it was  a good                                                                    
point. Having  been on both sides  of CBR votes, he  was not                                                                    
averse to the CBR  threshold being three-quarters. He shared                                                                    
that the  concept he  kept in mind  when thinking  about the                                                                    
veto  override  threshold   versus  the  supermajority  vote                                                                    
required to  draw from  the CBR was  that hopefully  the CBR                                                                    
was not fully  required to maintain the  status quo. Instead                                                                    
of using the CBR to maintain  the status quo, a small amount                                                                    
could be  taken from the fund  to cover any final  extra gap                                                                    
in the budget. The hope was,  the funds would not need to be                                                                    
taken  from the  CBR  at all;  however,  recent history  had                                                                    
proven otherwise.  He viewed the  budget that  had initially                                                                    
been  presented  to  the  governor  as  the  status  quo  or                                                                    
default. He thought that requiring  a three-quarters vote to                                                                    
sustain the  default seemed  extraordinary. Whereas,  if the                                                                    
legislature  was looking  to use  funds from  savings, which                                                                    
should not  be habitually relied upon,  a more extraordinary                                                                    
or exceptional threshold may be warranted.                                                                                      
                                                                                                                                
9:27:43 AM                                                                                                                    
                                                                                                                                
Representative Josephson  shared that  he had looked  at the                                                                    
simple  majority  states and  many  had  been slave  holding                                                                    
states. For  example, before  the Civil  War there  had been                                                                    
the  nullification crisis  in the  1830s  when John  Calhoun                                                                    
told President Jackson that South  Carolina would not comply                                                                    
with  the federal  law,  which  had almost  led  to war.  He                                                                    
elucidated that those votes were  explained by the fear of a                                                                    
strong executive.  He pointed out  that the  southern states                                                                    
were also more reluctant to join the union in 1789 because                                                                      
of fear of a strong presidency.                                                                                                 
                                                                                                                                
Co-Chair Johnston asked Mr. Nash to provide a sectional of                                                                      
the bill.                                                                                                                       
                                                                                                                                
Mr. Nash reviewed the sectional analysis (copy on file):                                                                        
                                                                                                                                
     Section 1: This section changes the veto override                                                                          
     threshold for appropriations bills from three-fourths                                                                      
    of the membership of the legislature to two-thirds.                                                                         
                                                                                                                                
     Section 2: The section places the amendment on the                                                                         
     ballot in the next general election.                                                                                       
                                                                                                                                
HJR 15 was HEARD and HELD in committee for further                                                                              
consideration.                                                                                                                  
                                                                                                                                
Co-Chair Johnston reviewed the schedule for the afternoon                                                                       
meeting.                                                                                                                        
                                                                                                                                

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