Legislature(1995 - 1996)

01/17/1996 01:15 PM House JUD

Audio Topic
* first hearing in first committee of referral
+ teleconferenced
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
 HJR 2 - UNICAMERAL LEGISLATURE/SESSION LIMIT                                
 Number 368                                                                    
 CHAIRMAN PORTER announced the next order of business would be HJR
 2, Proposing amendments to the Constitution of the State of Alaska            
 relating to redistricting and to the length of a regular session,             
 and establishing a unicameral legislature; and providing for an               
 effective date for each amendment.  He added that the bill had been           
 discussed during the interim.                                                 
 Number 448                                                                    
 REPRESENTATIVE CON BUNDE made a motion to adopt the proposed                  
 committee substitute (CS) for HJR 2.  Hearing no objection, it was            
 so ordered.                                                                   
 Number 485                                                                    
 REPRESENTATIVE GREEN, sponsor of the resolution, opened his remarks           
 by stating that the CS was a result of an interim hearing which               
 suggests some small suggestive changes.  He proposed outlining a              
 few points he felt were important for discussion.  Unicameral                 
 government is not a new concept.  This system consists of only one            
 house, therefore a bill does not have to move through an additional           
 house.  This eliminates the bill's movement through less committee            
 hearings as well.  This could also affect the period of time the              
 legislature meets.  Nebraska adopted the unicameral system during             
 the depression as a cost-cutting measure.  Because of it's success,           
 the State of Nebraska has kept this system in place ever since.               
 Most states mimic the federal government system in the spirit of              
 equal representation.                                                         
 REPRESENTATIVE GREEEN added that the State of Alaska, in 1976,                
 proposed the unicameral system as an amendment to the constitution,           
 but the legislature turned it down even though it was the will of             
 the people.  He pointed out that it's a misconception to think that           
 this system eliminates jobs for legislators.  He quoted Dr. Robert            
 Sittig as background, "The legislature itself is the proscribed               
 starting place for constitutional amendments, however, legislators            
 are disinclined to approve proposals which would alter                        
 substantially the body in which they serve."                                  
 Number 825                                                                    
 REPRESENTATIVE BUNDE asked for clarification concerning this                  
 reduction misconception.  It was his understanding that there would           
 be none.                                                                      
 Number 841                                                                    
 REPRESENTATIVE GREEN responded that Representative Bunde was                  
 absolutely right.  HJR 2 calls for the existing sixty legislators             
 and the state would be divided into sixty different units.  Within            
 these units each representative or senator would be responsible to            
 their electorate directly.                                                    
 Number 850                                                                    
 REPRESENTATIVE BUNDE asked how many constituents would be comprised           
 in a district.                                                                
 Number 896                                                                    
 REPRESENTATIVE GREEN answered 9,000 generally as a number.  He                
 pointed out that this was far less than some of the larger states             
 and greater compared to places like Wyoming.  A poll taken within             
 the State of Nebraska reflected that it's citizens are very to                
 wildly supportive of the unicameral system.  The Nebraska members             
 of the legislature feel it's a more efficient, less contentious,              
 and a more responsive tool to the constituency.                               
 Number 1073                                                                   
 REPRESENTATIVE BUNDE asked if there had been an informal polling of           
 the Alaska legislature undertaken.                                            
 Number 1099                                                                   
 REPRESENTATIVE GREEN responded that he hoped as the bill moved                
 through committee the concept would gain support.  He envisioned              
 that this concept would pass the house, but he didn't know if the             
 senate would go along with it.  Representative Green added that a             
 unicameral system is a cost saving measure.                                   
 Number 1148                                                                   
 REPRESENTATIVE BUNDE asked about the impacts this system would have           
 on staff, the local economy effects, et cetera.                               
 Number 1161                                                                   
 REPRESENTATIVE GREEN answered yes, there would be various impacts.            
 The length of the legislative session would probably be shortened,            
 but the number of legislators would not change and they'd still               
 need staff.  Whether they would retain the same amount of staff or            
 a compromise amount, Representative Green supposed that there would           
 be some cost savings in this area.  If the legislative session was            
 shortened, Representative Green said staff might be increased since           
 legislation would be moving through one house at a greater speed.             
 A lot of frivolous legislation would fall by the way-side.                    
 Number 1228                                                                   
 REPRESENTATIVE BUNDE asked if this change would mean some members             
 of the legislature would not be seated on a committee.                        
 Number 1250                                                                   
 REPRESENTATIVE GREEN stressed that because so many of the                     
 legislators are on so many committees now, they could cut back                
 their membership and do a better job of serving on one or two                 
 committees, rather than four or five committees at one time.  He              
 felt as though there was enough committee work to go around.                  
 Number 1326                                                                   
 REPRESENTATIVE FINKELSTEIN outlined his suggested amendment to the            
 HJR 2 legislation.  He felt as though the unicameral system was a             
 great idea.  If the proposed legislation was to be introduced                 
 through a constitutional amendment, he felt as though they should             
 try to solve as many of the problems that currently exist with the            
 formation of the legislature as possible.  He proceeded to outline            
 what he saw as a problem with deciding legislator's salaries.                 
 Because legislators are required to set their own salaries, they              
 suffer severe criticism anytime an increase is suggested.  This has           
 become a major political football.  He generally outlined how these           
 legislative salaries have fluctuated over the years.                          
 REPRESENTATIVE FINKELSTEIN said a committee now exists, which sets            
 salary policy and recommends proper compensation for legislators.             
 They assess the legislative work load and look at comparable                  
 salaries in order to make recommendations, but the legislature                
 doesn't usually act on these suggestions because of the perceived             
 conflict.  Representative Finkelstein suggested the formulation of            
 a constitutional amendment which allows for a citizen's committee             
 much like the one that exists now.  When recommendations are made             
 they would go into effect automatically, unless the legislature               
 overrides them.  This system would eliminate the issue of what and            
 how the assembly members get paid.  Although this amendment is not            
 integral to a unicameral legislature, Representative Finkelstein              
 feels as though it's an issue that will haunt future legislators              
 who are forced into the position of approving their own salaries.             
 With that, Representative Finkelstein asked to move the amendment.            
 Number 1541                                                                   
 REPRESENTATIVE GREEN objected for the purposes of discussion.                 
 Assuming that there isn't any legal problem with this amendment,              
 Representative Green submitted that at line seven, of paragraph b,            
 "it may prevent," he suggested changing the tenor of the sentence             
 to say, "a proposed change is considered disapproved unless acted             
 on by a resolution concurred in by at least a majority of the                 
 senate members within 45 days after it is presented."                         
 Number 1614                                                                   
 REPRESENTATIVE FINKELSTEIN clarified that in the event a proposal             
 wasn't accepted, then the status quo would stay in effect.                    
 Representative Green said yes.  Representative Finkelstein                    
 reiterated that the concept of this amendment was that the                    
 legislature would turn over the decision of compensation to an                
 impartial committee.  If the legislature took no action and                   
 salaries were automatically generated, the committee's proposal to            
 stand goes to the heart of this proposal.                                     
 Number 1721                                                                   
 CHAIRMAN PORTER then welcomed Dr. Robert Sittig and Patrick                   
 O'Donnell from the State of Nebraska, who were both standing by on            
 teleconference, to testify about the unicameral concept.                      
 Number 1744                                                                   
 DR. ROBERT SITTIG, Professor of Political Science, University of              
 Nebraska, spoke first with a factual outline of how the Nebraska              
 Legislature is configured.  There are 49 seats, four year staggered           
 terms, all members are called senators, and are paid 12,000 dollars           
 per session.  The session lengths run 60 days one year, 90 the                
 other.  The state recently adopted a two year budget cycle.  The              
 members are non-partisan which means the members are nominated and            
 elected without an identification on the ballot.  The Lieutenant              
 Governor presides over the Legislature.  To accommodate outsiders,            
 there are mandatory public hearings on all bills by the committees.           
 Time constraints to enact a bill are enforced.  There are very few            
 related officer positions.  The opportunity for the media to attend           
 closed door proceedings of the standing committees during mark up             
 proceedings exists.                                                           
 Number 1820                                                                   
 DR. SITTIG then gave an overview of the advantages to the                     
 unicameral system.  The Nebraska legislature is a small body, which           
 adds to public accessibility.  This also adds to the legislature's            
 accountability.  The members appreciate this format because it's              
 unstructured and simple.  This maximizes the impact that each of              
 the members has in the legislative process.  In addition, the                 
 committees are more accommodating which aids to moving legislation            
 through the system.   The negatives to this system is that it's               
 becoming more centralized and more complicated.  This decreases               
 public input.  The non-partisan factor of the Nebraska Legislature            
 has caused more consternation than anything else.  It leads to less           
 candidate competition in the nominating and electing process.  This           
 also contributes to less public awareness and involvement than                
 there would be if the system was partisan.  The chief executive               
 officers seem less engaged and distant from the policy making                 
 process.  It's almost impossible for non-urban legislators to spend           
 a career in the legislature.  The average amount of service by a              
 legislator is between only five or six years.  Participation has              
 been flat over the decade.  Generally, service in the legislature             
 is not attractive.                                                            
 Number 1943                                                                   
 DR. SITTIG then outlined a program Nebraska has initiated which               
 allows for a rotation of leaders after serving longer than one                
 year.  This helps with stability.   Even though Nebraska has a non-           
 partisan system, the governor appoints members to committees who              
 are actually partisan.  Because there are a lot of vacancies on               
 committees, the governor appoints in many instances, four or five             
 individuals of choice.  Even though the system is non-partisan,               
 Republicans and Democrats will square off on the floor in house               
 debates or in campaigns.  Nebraska legislators are not rewarded for           
 their diligent service and that puts a damper on the process.                 
 Number 2026                                                                   
 REPRESENTATIVE GREEN pointed out that the negatives Dr. Sittig                
 outlined were more related to Nebraska's non-partisanship                     
 structure.  If a bi-partisanship was maintained, would that make a            
 Number 2048                                                                   
 DR. SITTIG thought that it would add to more recruitment of                   
 candidates.  He thought the public would identify more strongly               
 with party affiliation.                                                       
 Number 2087                                                                   
 REPRESENTATIVE GREEN asked if Nebraska's legislature has term                 
 limits and Dr. Sittig responded no, but that this question was in             
 litigation now.  Representative Green then asked how non-                     
 partisanship affects the structuring of legislative committees.               
 Number 2127                                                                   
 DR. SITTIG responded that anyone can run for any leadership                   
 position, including committees.  A person can nominate themselves.            
 The votes are conducted secretly.  If anyone runs for a committee             
 they usually have some experience regarding that committee's                  
 subject matter jurisdiction.                                                  
 Number 2172                                                                   
 REPRESENTATIVE BUNDE asked if the position of Lieutenant Governor             
 in Nebraska was non-partisan and if so, was there a presiding                 
 officer with a defacto influence over the legislature as well?                
 Number 2184                                                                   
 DR. SITTIG responded that the Lieutenant Governor is non-partisan             
 and doesn't always preside over the house.  Sometimes they will,              
 but the Speaker of the House or others will do so as well.                    
 Number 2225                                                                   
 PATRICK O'DONNELL, Clerk of the Legislature, Nebraska State                   
 Legislature, testified to a few points Dr. Sittig made.  He felt as           
 though the members of the legislature would resist change to a                
 partisan system.  The Nebraska Legislature does not caucus per se             
 and there are no partisan caucuses.  The legislature's leadership             
 is voted on by secret ballot on the opening day of session.                   
 Presently there are 26 non-partisan Republicans and 22 non-partisan           
 Democrats.  The speaker is a Democrat and half of the committee               
 chairs are Democrat.  The Lieutenant Governor's work is tolerated,            
 but they have very little influence.  Often times, if there's a               
 controversial bill before the house, the Lieutenant Governor is               
 encouraged not to attend.  In regards to how legislation moves                
 through the unicameral house, there are four readings of each bill.           
 The fourth reading is designed as a checks and balance.  It allows            
 the bill to be debated on two separate occasions.  The process is             
 fairly decentralized.  The speaker is somewhat limited in their               
 authority.  They have the ability to set the daily agenda, but any            
 member has the ability to offer amendments and there's no                     
 limitation on the length of debate.                                           
 Number 2461                                                                   
 REPRESENTATIVE GREEN asked Mr. O'Donnell what types of problems               
 Alaska could anticipate in their change to a unicameral system.               
 Number 2473                                                                   
 MR. O'DONNELL couldn't say specifically since he hadn't seen the              
 Alaskan proposal.  He thought there would be some reservations if             
 the plan called for a reduction of legislators.                               
 Mr. O'DONNELL added that if a special session of the Nebraska                 
 legislature was convened they're required to meet a minimum of                
 seven legislative days.  Other than mechanical, the change-over to            
 a unicameral system may not affect how legislation is enacted.                
 TAPE 96-1, SIDE B                                                             
 Number 077                                                                    
 REPRESENTATIVE BUNDE asked if caucuses did grow out the non-                  
 partisan system regardless of like-minded people establishing                 
 Number 101                                                                    
 MR. O'DONNELL responded by saying that it does happen informally              
 and not as often as someone would think.  The ebbs and flows of               
 coalitions change rather quickly.  Usually when caucuses do form              
 they're issue related rather than agenda specific.                            
 Number 144                                                                    
 CHAIRMAN PORTER asked if there were any state statutes or                     
 legislative rules which limit the ability of caucuses having                  
 confidential conversations.                                                   
 Number 148                                                                    
 MR. O'DONNELL said no, but Nebraska does have an open meetings law.           
 People gathering in caucuses don't take action per se and these are           
 not considered meetings of the legislature in any meaning of the              
 term.   Dr. Sittig pointed out that Nebraska has regional caucuses            
 to accommodate and facilitate assignment of committees.  Committees           
 are formed along geographical lines.                                          
 Number 207                                                                    
 CHAIRMAN PORTER then asked if the "mark-up" process as mentioned              
 earlier, wasn't the process of putting the final touches on a bill            
 out of the full session before it's presented for the full body's             
 consideration.  Would this be the same as an Alaska caucus                    
 Number 216                                                                    
 MR. O'DONNELL responded by saying bills are referred out to their             
 standing committees based on subject matter jurisdiction.  The                
 committee then conducts their public hearing and has the ability to           
 modify proposals in any way deemed appropriate.  This is the                  
 process of mark-up.  Often times when a bill reaches the floor the            
 first thing considered are the amendments proposed by the                     
 committee.  Bills can also be amended on the floor.                           
 Number 252                                                                    
 REPRESENTATIVE GREEN asked who assigns the sequence of committee              
 referrals and whether there is a sequence a bill goes through                 
 before it gets to the house, rather than it being worked through              
 two committees at one time such as in Alaska.                                 
 Number 272                                                                    
 MR. O'DONNELL responded.  Nebraska has a management committee                 
 consisting of regional representatives, the speaker of the house,             
 and a chairman and vice-chairman who are elected on the floor by              
 secret ballot.  It is a nine member committee and they're                     
 responsible for assigning the different pieces of legislation to              
 the appropriate committee.                                                    
 Number 315                                                                    
 REPRESENTATIVE GREEN referred to the problem of Nebraska's high               
 rate of turnover and asked how this has affected the legislature's            
 Number 341                                                                    
 MR. O'DONNELL answered yes, this does affect the legislature.                 
 There are situations where they're forced to reinvent the wheel,              
 especially in their rules discussions revolving around process                
 orientation.  The floor is affected as well.  Members who have not            
 been exposed to particular issues have to be re-educated.  It takes           
 time to get people up to speed.  Dr. Sittig agreed.  Turn over is             
 very rapid in the lower ranks.                                                
 Number 415                                                                    
 REPRESENTATIVE GREEN asked if this turn over might not improve if             
 a bi-partisan system was installed.                                           
 Number 427                                                                    
 MR. O'DONNELL said he did not honestly know.  Dr. Sittig didn't               
 think it would make that much of a difference, although he felt the           
 political party vehicle does provide a bit more opportunity for               
 Number 466                                                                    
 REPRESENTATIVE FINKELSTEIN then continued his discussion regarding            
 the proposed amendment to HJR 2.  He reiterated what he said about            
 the legislature's requirement to approve their own compensation,              
 which is an untenable situation.  He pointed out that to require              
 the legislature to act on a salary committee's recommendation would           
 not the change the status quo.                                                
 Number 550                                                                    
 REPRESENTATIVE BUNDE said he understood what Representative                   
 Finkelstein was trying to achieve, but he also recalled a situation           
 in Congress where a pay raise was to take effect unless the                   
 Congress voted it down.  They were taken to task by the public.               
 Representative Bunde was concerned that the Alaska Legislature                
 might be damned if they did and damned if they didn't.  The concept           
 of a commission making a salary recommendation and the legislature            
 being required to endorses it, was a compromise he could live with.           
 Number 608                                                                    
 REPRESENTATIVE GREEN voiced his concern about this commission being           
 appointed by the governor.  He used a hypothetical situation where            
 there's a governor of one party and a legislature of another.  If             
 the governor suggested a percentage decrease and the legislature              
 didn't go along with that, the legislature would look bad.                    
 Number 661                                                                    
 CHAIRMAN PORTER spoke to the amendment and said that he agreed with           
 Representative Finkelstein's suggestion the legislature should not            
 vote on their salary increases, because that would put the issue              
 right back at square one.  Regardless of this, Chairman Porter said           
 he couldn't support the amendment because it would cloud the issue            
 of establishing a unicameral legislature.                                     
 Number 708                                                                    
 REPRESENTATIVE BETTYE DAVIS appreciated what Chairman Porter said,            
 but felt that if this issue wasn't addressed now, it would be too             
 hard to form a commission such as this one at a later time.  She              
 said this commission concept works well in Anchorage.  A commission           
 such as the one suggested sets the salaries for the Anchorage                 
 assembly and if the assembly doesn't take any related action, the             
 suggested salaries automatically go into effect.  The public never            
 comes down on the commission for the amount of salary suggested.              
 Number 753                                                                    
 CHAIRMAN PORTER, moving onto a different subject, agreed that                 
 establishing a non-partisan system in Alaska would be ideal.  It              
 would be easier to be a legislator in this type of environment.               
 The Alaskan legislature would not necessarily become a non-partisan           
 system as a result of enacting unicameral legislation.  This would            
 become a constitutional issue.                                                
 Number 820                                                                    
 REPRESENTATIVE FINKELSTEIN felt as though it would be very unlikely           
 that the governor would penalize the legislature in the way                   
 suggested by Representative Green.   This type of situation rarely            
 happens if ever because the legislature appropriates monies to the            
 governmental administration.  Once this type of feud is undertaken,           
 it would only get worse.                                                      
 Number 937                                                                    
 REPRESENTATIVE BUNDE said he is generally supportive of the                   
 amendment, but is hesitant to designate a single person who in turn           
 appoints all the commission's members.  He added that he would be             
 interested in seeing an amendment which addresses this salary                 
 appropriations concern further through the legislative committee              
 Number 950                                                                    
 CHAIRMAN PORTER asked for an amendment roll call.  Voting for the             
 amendment were Representatives Davis and Finkelstein.  Voting                 
 against the amendment were Representatives Bunde, Green and Porter.           
 Representatives Toohey and Vezey were not present.  Chairman Porter           
 declared that the amendment had failed.                                       
 Number 990                                                                    
 CHAIRMAN PORTER asked the committee to then consider HJR 2.                   
 Number 996                                                                    
 REPRESENTATIVE DAVIS asked a question of the sponsor, Joe Green               
 regarding HJR 2.  It was her understanding while listening to the             
 testimony from Nebraska that the reasons why the unicameral system            
 was so successful had more to do with the fact that their form of             
 government was non-partisan.                                                  
 Number 1045                                                                   
 REPRESENTATIVE GREEN added that this was not what he heard.  The              
 disadvantages of the unicameral legislature outlined had more to do           
 with the system being non-partisan.  Representative Green then re-            
 defined what these already discussed disadvantages were.                      
 Number 1006                                                                   
 CHAIRMAN PORTER understood from the non-partisan discussion that              
 the legislators appreciate this system as it is established.  Both            
 witnesses thought the system would be better served with more                 
 public involvement and more tenure for the legislators under a                
 partisan partnership.                                                         
 Number 1137                                                                   
 REPRESENTATIVE DAVIS added that the witnesses said if the system              
 was partisan this might allow legislators to move to higher                   
 offices.  Her impression of the Alaska legislature is that their              
 members don't move up respectively in it's bi-partisan system                 
 Number 1166                                                                   
 REPRESENTATIVE BUNDE stated that he couldn't imagine this                     
 unicameral system proposal could be implemented under a non-                  
 partisan banner.  He stated that change is hard for people.  He               
 also asked the sponsor if he envisioned that the Lieutenant                   
 Governor would preside over the Alaska legislature within this                
 unicameral framework.  Chairman Porter first recognized the                   
 presence of Representative Vezey.                                             
 Number 1240                                                                   
 REPRESENTATIVE GREEN thought that a presiding Lieutenant Governor             
 would not be part of the proposed legislation.  He felt this would            
 ensure the separation of power.                                               
 Number 1281                                                                   
 REPRESENTATIVE BUNDE thought the advantages of establishing a                 
 unicameral system was the overall efficiency, including the                   
 establishment of smaller constituencies to serve.  He then made a             
 motion to move HJR 2 from the Judiciary Committee with individual             
 Number 1328                                                                   
 CHAIRMAN PORTER asked if there were any objections.  Hearing none,            
 HJR 2 was moved out of committee.                                             

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