Legislature(1993 - 1994)

04/16/1994 08:00 AM STA

Audio Topic
* first hearing in first committee of referral
+ teleconferenced
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
txt
  HJR 53 - UNICAMERAL LEGISLATURE/SESSION LIMIT                                
                                                                               
  CHAIRMAN VEZEY opened HJR 53 for discussion.  He noted                       
  REPRESENTATIVE OLBERG's arrival.                                             
                                                                               
  (REPRESENTATIVE OLBERG joined the meeting at 8:03 a.m.)                      
                                                                               
  Number 022                                                                   
                                                                               
  REPRESENTATIVE MIKE NAVARRE, CO-SPONSOR, addressed HJR 53                    
  for REPRESENTATIVE JOE GREEN, SPONSOR.  He said                              
  REPRESENTATIVE GREEN was out of town.  He stated in                          
  reference to the bicameral system, when the United States                    
  set up its system, there was a compromise between big and                    
  small states over population areas versus geographic areas.                  
  The compromise was that each state would get two senators                    
  and a number of representatives based on their population.                   
                                                                               
  REPRESENTATIVE NAVARRE related to the creation of Alaska's                   
  system and how a unicameral system was considered.  Being a                  
  new state, however, and questioning how they would even fund                 
  government, they were afraid they would not be able to                       
  justify to Congress a different system than most other                       
  states.  Therefore, a bicameral system was chosen.  Alaska                   
  allots geographic representation in the Senate, and                          
  population representation in the House.  He believed the                     
  U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1966 that states could not                       
  allocate their legislatures on the basis on geographic                       
  representation, it had to be one man - one vote.  As a                       
  result, Alaska now has two bodies that represent exactly the                 
  same population basis with half as many people.  He felt the                 
  checks and balances of this system would develop without                     
  question in the unicameral system.                                           
                                                                               
  REPRESENTATIVE NAVARRE stated the unicameral system would                    
  simplify the legislative process, make it more                               
  understandable for the public, eliminate duplication, cause                  
  less bills to be introduced, reducing research, and enhance                  
  accountability of the legislature.  He felt under the                        
  unicameral system the problem with the concentrated powers                   
  of committee chairman and others, could be reweighed.  He                    
  suggested checks and balances between the committees, rather                 
  than between the houses.  He expected a different structure                  
  of rules to accommodate the different changes.                               
                                                                               
  REPRESENTATIVE NAVARRE commented a unicameral system might                   
  reduce the influence of lobbyists because the concentrated                   
  power of only a few people from both sides would lessen.                     
                                                                               
  REPRESENTATIVE NAVARRE stated HJR 53 reduces the number of                   
  legislators to 49.  He and REPRESENTATIVE GREEN decided                      
  because Alaska was the 49th state, 49 legislators would have                 
  some significant historical value.  HJR 53 would make the                    
  change to a unicameral system after the next census.  They                   
  felt debate would be needed before the change and it would                   
  not threaten anyone already in the legislature.                              
                                                                               
  REPRESENTATIVE NAVARRE commented even though the two bodies                  
  of the bicameral legislature are meant to provide a more                     
  thorough review of proposed legislation, in the end, the                     
  scrutiny tends to falter.  He noted legislation based on                     
  strong emotionalism from a certain incident, can be stopped                  
  in a bicameral system because of its slow process.  Whereas,                 
  it might have rushed through a unicameral system without                     
  being considered adequately.                                                 
                                                                               
  REPRESENTATIVE NAVARRE referred to Nebraska, the only state                  
  with a unicameral system, which through a study, he found                    
  they consider their legislature to be the most accountable                   
  to the public in the country.                                                
                                                                               
  REPRESENTATIVE NAVARRE noted a considerable amount of money                  
  would be saved because of the reduction in the amount of                     
  legislators.  He estimated in excess of $2 million a year.                   
                                                                               
  Number 220                                                                   
                                                                               
  CHAIRMAN VEZEY asked REPRESENTATIVE NAVARRE to explain the                   
  savings.                                                                     
                                                                               
  Number 222                                                                   
                                                                               
  REPRESENTATIVE NAVARRE answered $2 million a year based on                   
  salaries of 11 less legislators and their respective                         
  commensurate staff.                                                          
                                                                               
  Number 227                                                                   
                                                                               
  CHAIRMAN VEZEY commented the average cost of everything                      
  involved with a legislator is about $600,000.                                
                                                                               
  REPRESENTATIVE NAVARRE replied there would be 11 less                        
  legislators.                                                                 
                                                                               
  Number 234                                                                   
                                                                               
  REPRESENTATIVE HARLEY OLBERG directed CHAIRMAN VEZEY to page                 
  2 of the fiscal note for a detailed description.  He noted                   
  it lists 11 less legislators, 22 less staff, travel,                         
  contractual supplies, equipment, etc., to comprise the $2                    
  million figure.                                                              
                                                                               
  REPRESENTATIVE OLBERG found it interesting in the historical                 
  record, that in 1975 a bill was introduced with 20 co-                       
  sponsors that authorized an advisory vote.  The bill passed                  
  the House within days and was sent to the Senate "where it                   
  died in the State Affairs committee."                                        
                                                                               
  Number 260                                                                   
                                                                               
  CHAIRMAN VEZEY commented he felt the overhead expenses had                   
  not been taken into account.  He assumed less legislative                    
  agency personnel, research or legal, would be needed.  He                    
  estimated a 20 percent cut of the legislature's current                      
  operating budget at $6 million.                                              
                                                                               
  Number 280                                                                   
                                                                               
  REPRESENTATIVE GARY DAVIS questioned if other states had                     
  attempted to convert to the unicameral system.                               
                                                                               
  Number 282                                                                   
                                                                               
  REPRESENTATIVE NAVARRE answered he had not studied the                       
  material for some time, but he guessed other states consider                 
  the change based on frustration with the bicameral system.                   
                                                                               
  REPRESENTATIVE NAVARRE mentioned HJR 53 also limits the                      
  session to 90 days.  They felt this would be adequate.                       
                                                                               
  Number 296                                                                   
                                                                               
  CHAIRMAN VEZEY commented 90 days would probably be adequate                  
  for a bicameral legislature, too.  He felt people want their                 
  own personal representative in the legislature.  They do not                 
  want to share with everyone.  He stated if anything were to                  
  change in the legislature it would be an increase in the                     
  degree of representation.  This is offset by the demand for                  
  keeping the cost of government down.  He estimated                           
  approximately 11,000 people per representative, with a                       
  switch to the unicameral system.  He inquired if there was                   
  another rationale for the degree of representation 49                        
  representatives would offer.                                                 
                                                                               
  Number 331                                                                   
                                                                               
  REPRESENTATIVE NAVARRE responded when he had introduced this                 
  type of legislation in the past, he had set the number of                    
  legislators at 55 so current legislators would not feel                      
  threatened.  He said 49 was picked because Alaska is the                     
  49th state.  He said 49 districts instead of the current 40                  
  districts, would make the districts smaller.  Without the                    
  duplication, people would actually have more representation.                 
                                                                               
  Number 345                                                                   
                                                                               
  CHAIRMAN VEZEY stated the biggest demand for greater                         
  representation comes from the bush areas.  He gave the                       
  example of one district which is almost the size of Texas,                   
  with barely 13,000 people in it.  Reducing it to 11,000, it                  
  would still be "as large as Texas, less the panhandle."  He                  
  felt the concerns of the rural areas with smaller districts                  
  would not be addressed.  He inquired if this degree of                       
  higher representation is not reasonable to address by the                    
  legislature.                                                                 
                                                                               
  REPRESENTATIVE NAVARRE replied it might be worthwhile to ask                 
  legislative research to gather numbers as to how to address                  
  this concern.  Where are the population centers and what is                  
  the optimal size of representative districts, thereby                        
  reducing the size of the rural districts.                                    
                                                                               
  Number 376                                                                   
                                                                               
  CHAIRMAN VEZEY stated legislative research could not give                    
  the answer.  The area most extreme are the Interior villages                 
  with very low population densities.  Coastal communities                     
  have a little more concentration.  He questioned if the                      
  reduction to 11,000 people in a district would be enough of                  
  a difference.                                                                
                                                                               
  Number 397                                                                   
                                                                               
  REPRESENTATIVE OLBERG suggested using a pie shape, centering                 
  in Anchorage, whereby every district would be pie shaped.                    
  This would work if urban and rural had a similar vested                      
  interest.                                                                    
                                                                               
  CHAIRMAN VEZEY responded that is not allowed under the                       
  Alaska Constitution.                                                         
                                                                               
  Number 407                                                                   
                                                                               
  REPRESENTATIVE NAVARRE added the different rural groups all                  
  want their own representatives; however, due to federal law                  
  another group's influence cannot be reduced or impacted.  He                 
  suggested there might be a way to determine the interests of                 
  the groups, thereby determining optimal size.                                
                                                                               
  CHAIRMAN VEZEY stated he did not believe there was a                         
  political solution to the problem.  As a microcosm, there is                 
  tremendous strife and tension between different rural                        
  groups.  The groups do not want to be dominated by one                       
  another.  An ethnicity break down would diminish the                         
  populations to 4,000-6,000 people.                                           
                                                                               
  Number 432                                                                   
                                                                               
  REPRESENTATIVE JEANNETTE JAMES commented on HJR 53.  She was                 
  concerned that even though the unicameral system may alter                   
  the public's view of the legislative process, there would                    
  still be no way to totally get rid of the politics.  The                     
  problem lies in the politics.  She agreed the unicameral                     
  system needs to be studied.  She felt there is time for                      
  legislators to review material before it goes to the floor;                  
  however, a lot of legislation has passed without their                       
  sufficient review.  She stated if the lobbyists were made                    
  less effective, the public would then have to be more vocal.                 
  There would be more time spent on teleconferences, thereby                   
  slowing down the committee process.  There would be benefits                 
  with a unicameral system; however, additional changes would                  
  have to be made in the processes.                                            
                                                                               
  Number 460                                                                   
                                                                               
  REPRESENTATIVE NAVARRE agreed.  He commented that lobbyists                  
  would still have a tremendous amount of influence.  The                      
  legislature knows that a lot of times the lobbyists have the                 
  best information available on the individual issues because                  
  they have a vested interest in them.  He felt their                          
  influence would diminish because they would not have the                     
  opportunity, as they do now on both sides, to stop a piece                   
  of legislation with a relatively few number of people.  The                  
  overwhelming majority of the legislative body can be                         
  thwarted simply by having the right person in the right                      
  place.                                                                       
                                                                               
  Number 476                                                                   
                                                                               
  REPRESENTATIVE JAMES stated the lobbyists represent a lot of                 
  people who, without lobbyists, would have to fragmentally                    
  make their presentation.                                                     
                                                                               
  REPRESENTATIVE NAVARRE commented Gordon Harrison, who                        
  researched the unicameral system for him over a period of                    
  years, has written a book on the Constitution of the state                   
  of Alaska.  He noted he was present to testify and would be                  
  a valuable resource.                                                         
                                                                               
  Number 489                                                                   
                                                                               
  JEFF LOGAN, STAFF, REPRESENTATIVE JOE GREEN, commented on                    
  HJR 53 for the sponsor.  He stated REPRESENTATIVE GREEN had                  
  a prior engagement out of town which prevented him from                      
  being present.  He addressed the question about the number                   
  of legislators, and stated that REPRESENTATIVE GREEN was                     
  flexible and was willing to change it.  He agreed HJR 53 was                 
  deserving of more research as REPRESENTATIVE JAMES stated.                   
  He commented there has been considerable research done on                    
  the unicameral system in Alaska over the last 50 years.                      
                                                                               
  Number 507                                                                   
                                                                               
  CHAIRMAN VEZEY estimated about 25 percent of Alaska's                        
  population is legally classified as a legal minority.  He                    
  felt the federal government treats Alaska "as a second class                 
  state" because of the large population of racial diversity.                  
  Alaska's representation or voting laws cannot be changed                     
  without approval of the U.S. Justice Department.  He assured                 
  the committee the change to a unicameral system would be                     
  subject to federal challenge.  Alaska would have to prove it                 
  was not diminishing the representation of its ethnic and                     
  racial minorities.                                                           
                                                                               
  Number 518                                                                   
                                                                               
  REPRESENTATIVE NAVARRE responded CHAIRMAN VEZEY may be                       
  right.  He suspected a legal battle would ensue because the                  
  government in the state is done to the purview of the state,                 
  under the States' Rights Act.  Approval by the Justice                       
  Department would be in the apportionment process within the                  
  structure, rather than challenging the system.  He felt                      
  Alaska would have a very strong case.                                        
                                                                               
  Number 526                                                                   
                                                                               
  REPRESENTATIVE JAMES directed to the point about researching                 
  the unicameral system.  She noted there may be some                          
  legislators well educated in the unicameral system, however,                 
  some are not.  For the rest of the legislature to "buy in"                   
  to the idea and be educated about the unicameral system it                   
  would take time.  She noted more time than what is left in                   
  this session.                                                                
                                                                               
  Number 535                                                                   
                                                                               
  CHAIRMAN VEZEY responded he believed everyone in the House                   
  was very much aware of the concept of representation and the                 
  duplicity of the bicameral system.  He felt the legislature                  
  was capable of making a knowledgeable decision on this                       
  subject.                                                                     
                                                                               
  Number 549                                                                   
                                                                               
  REPRESENTATIVE NAVARRE commented the public is very informed                 
  about the unicameral system because all of the local                         
  governments (e.g., school boards, etc.,) operate as                          
  unicameral systems.                                                          
                                                                               
  Number 555                                                                   
                                                                               
  GORDON HARRISON, DIRECTOR, LEGISLATIVE RESEARCH AGENCY,                      
  commented on the HJR 53.  He felt the unicameral system                      
  would be a sensible change for Alaska.  From the public's                    
  perspective the process would be less frustrating and easier                 
  to understand.  The unicameral system would make it more                     
  difficult for lobbyists to affect one committee chairman,                    
  thereby stopping a bill.                                                     
                                                                               
  MR. HARRISON addressed representation.  As strategy and                      
  policy, it may be desirable to have 60 members in a                          
  unicameral legislature.  The senators would therefore not                    
  lose their opportunity to serve in the legislature.                          
  Dividing the state more with 60 districts would put the                      
  representatives closer to their people.  He mentioned                        
  campaigning would be more manageable for those in rural                      
  districts.  The numerical representation of various groups                   
  would not be affected, thereby not having any more                           
  influence.  However, their representatives would be closer                   
  to them because the huge districts would be divided into                     
  smaller districts.  He felt rural people should find the                     
  unicameral system very appealing.                                            
                                                                               
  MR. HARRISON stated he believed if 60 people were divided                    
  into various committees, more people would have a longer                     
  amount of time to focus and work on a bill.  Presently, the                  
  20 members of the Senate are sparsely divided among the                      
  committees, therefore working quickly from meeting to                        
  meeting.  A unicameral house would increase the amount of                    
  time committed to committee work.                                            
                                                                               
  MR. HARRISON addressed the checks and balances.  The                         
  legislative branch is the only branch of government with                     
  internal checks and balances within itself.  He stated the                   
  bicameral system was designed to cripple the legislature.                    
  People are suspicious of law making power, and checks and                    
  balances enhance the ability to slow down the process.  He                   
  noted the unicameral system does not eliminate the inherent                  
  checks and balances between branches of government, rather                   
  the check within the legislative branch.                                     
                                                                               
  MR. HARRISON noted unicameral systems are throughout                         
  municipal government and they do function efficiently.  The                  
  unicameral system is considered a radical reform because it                  
  is not traditional.  He stated a unicameral proposal has                     
  been before virtually every state.  Some of which, he noted,                 
  have come very close to being adopted.  Only Nebraska                        
  succeeded in the depression.  He conveyed no one in Nebraska                 
  has any regrets about their unicameral system.                               
                                                                               
  Number 641                                                                   
                                                                               
  CHAIRMAN VEZEY referred to the history of politics before                    
  1964, and stated the purpose of the reapportionment and                      
  bicameral legislature is to prevent, to the greatest extent                  
  possible, change.  He said Alaska's Senate was set up to be                  
  there in perpetuity.  No allowance for change in the Alaska                  
  Constitution.                                                                
                                                                               
  MR. HARRISON responded those intentions have been radically                  
  upset by the reapportionment decisions, for example Baker v.                 
  Carr.  These decisions required Senate, or upper chambers,                   
  to be apportioned on the basis on population rather than                     
  geographical area.  The initial state Constitution, set up                   
  with the Senate representing geographical areas, has been                    
  fundamentally changed by outlawing the apportionment of one                  
  house on the basis of geography.                                             
                                                                               
  Number 672                                                                   
                                                                               
  CHAIRMAN VEZEY reiterated the state Constitution states                      
  there will be no apportionment changes in the Senate.                        
  Changes in the House are only allowed when there is 100                      
  percent disparity in population.  He stated "one man - one                   
  vote" is accepted quite readily by Alaskans.                                 
                                                                               
  MR. HARRISON agreed.                                                         
                                                                               
  Number 680                                                                   
                                                                               
  REPRESENTATIVE NAVARRE commented, as an example, the                         
  legislature used to have two research agencies and now there                 
  is only one.                                                                 
                                                                               
  Number 685                                                                   
                                                                               
  REPRESENTATIVE G. DAVIS noted one of his biggest concerns                    
  was seeing the duplication of presentations before                           
  committees for a few months out of the year.                                 
                                                                               
  Number 692                                                                   
                                                                               
  REPRESENTATIVE OLBERG mentioned limiting agency lobbying.                    
                                                                               
  CHAIRMAN VEZEY responded it is ironic that state law                         
  specifically excludes public employees from regulation of                    
  lobbying.                                                                    
                                                                               
  TAPE 94-48, SIDE B                                                           
  Number 018                                                                   
                                                                               
  REPRESENTATIVE JAMES commented the legislature could demand                  
  the finance committee only deal with finance issues instead                  
  of rewriting bills.                                                          
                                                                               
  Number 025                                                                   
                                                                               
  REPRESENTATIVE NAVARRE responded often times legislation                     
  given to the finance committee has not been sufficiently                     
  altered to the state where it is in its final form.  Other                   
  committees often do not do their work.                                       
                                                                               
  Number 034                                                                   
                                                                               
  REPRESENTATIVE OLBERG related to Nebraska and how they went                  
  to a unicameral legislature in the depression.  He felt                      
  Alaska had a wonderful opportunity coming.                                   
                                                                               
  Number 040                                                                   
                                                                               
  MR. HARRISON added the depression was part of the                            
  motivation.  The state government was broke and the long                     
  unproductive sessions had frustrated the people.                             
                                                                               
  Number 072                                                                   
                                                                               
  REPRESENTATIVE OLBERG moved to pass HJR 53 from committee                    
  with individual recommendations.                                             
                                                                               
  Number 075                                                                   
                                                                               
  CHAIRMAN VEZEY, hearing no objection, moved HJR 53 from                      
  committee with individual recommendations.                                   
                                                                               
  CHAIRMAN VEZEY called for a recess at 8:25 a.m.  The meeting                 
  reconvened at 9:03.                                                          

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