Legislature(2001 - 2002)
02/19/2002 08:05 AM STA
* first hearing in first committee of referral
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
HJR 31-POWERS OF US SEN/EMERGENCY APPOINTMENTS Number 2152 CHAIR COGHILL announced the next order of business, HOUSE JOINT RESOLUTION NO. 31, Relating to requesting the United States Congress to propose an amendment to the Constitution of the United States that would address emergency appointments to and powers of the United States Senate. [Before the committee was CSHJR 31(MLV).] Number 2137 REPRESENTATIVE SCOTT OGAN, Alaska State Legislature, as sponsor of HJR 31, referred to terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, and [the sending of anthrax through the mails by unspecified terrorists]; the latter could have killed a majority of U.S. congressional members. He said those events raised his level of concern regarding the issue. Representative Ogan said, essentially, if the nation were to lose a majority of the House or the Senate, it would be left with martial law and the power held be the executive [branch], until another Congress could be elected. REPRESENTATIVE OGAN noted that the Seventeenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution "provides a modality for making appointments to the Senate," but sets no limit of time. That amendment gives some latitude to the governors and laws of individual states regarding how [those Senators] are appointed, but is silent regarding [how the House would be reappointed]. He explained that the Seventeenth Amendment was envisioned to prepare for events such as the assassination or death of a Senator, not to prepare for "the unthinkable." REPRESENTATIVE OGAN surmised that most of those in the committee room grew up during the Cold War and the Cuban Missile Crisis, when the general philosophy was that there would be nothing left to govern after a nuclear war; therefore, the issue had not been addressed in the [U.S.] Constitution. He stated that he believes now that terrorists have access to "weapons of mass destruction." It is imperative that [the nation] makes certain that all three branches of its government continue to function and sends a message to terrorists that what they do to the nation will not bring the Republic down. Number 1959 REPRESENTATIVE OGAN referred to an earlier version [of the resolution] in which the [U.S.] Senate would temporarily assume the power of a unicameral body until a House could be elected. He explained that the House Special Committee on Military and Veterans' Affairs had deleted that language after lengthy debate. Representative Ogan told the committee that there is a bill in the U.S. House that says if two-thirds of the House members are incapacitated, the states would be allowed to appoint House members; he said that is a large number to appoint and suggested it would be better to allow the [U.S.] Senate to become a temporary unicameral body until a special election could be held. REPRESENTATIVE OGAN [suggested he was amenable to changes in the language of his resolution]; his main concern was to see that the issue was brought before Congress. Number 1839 CHAIR COGHILL referred to [page one of a December 25, 2001 article in The New York Times, provided by Representative Ogan and included in the committee packet], which says President Bush signed executive orders to establish a line of succession. He asked if that was parallel to Representative Ogan's thinking or conformed to the bill before Congress. REPRESENTATIVE OGAN said he believed President Bush recognized the threat to the nation; Vice President Cheney is only now coming out from a sequestered state. Representative Ogan clarified that [HJR 31] deals with the legislative branch, rather than the executive branch. CHAIR COGHILL asked Representative Ogan why he'd singled out Congress, when there are three branches of government. He indicated Congress would [be the one with the power to] declare war. He added that there are "several major heads" that could be in the executive branch. REPRESENTATIVE OGAN responded that even though he is comfortable with the motives of [President Bush], "power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely." He said he would like to see a plan in place so that the legislative branch would be reappointed quickly. The power to declare war is with the Senate. If [the nation loses a majority of its Senate members], he said, the country would be run by martial law at that point. REPRESENTATIVE OGAN posited that the President has the best interests of the country in mind, but said he would prefer to make certain that the third branch of government would be around to appropriate the money to do whatever is necessary to defend the country and to provide the checks and balances provided for in the [U.S.] Constitution - having the power come from the people. Number 1674 CHAIR COGHILL said Representative Ogan's last remark brought the discussion closer to a point he was attempting to make: This [system of appointment] would perhaps be the most representative of the people; furthermore, the executive branch could become very powerful, with police powers, and would need the check. Number 1654 REPRESENTATIVE STEVENS said he appreciated the chance to think about how the succession works in government. He said he believes the succession of the presidency was as follows: First the Vice President, followed by the Speaker of the House, then the cabinet members in the order they were appointed, but not including all cabinet members. He added that the benefit is knowing in advance what the succession would be. He asked Representative Ogan if it is possible to know in advance the succession [of Congress]. He noted that [the process of reappointment] would be lengthy. Number 1602 REPRESENTATIVE OGAN replied that he had attempted to address that in an earlier version of the [resolution]; he mentioned a rhetorical debate [in the House Special Committee on Military and Veterans' Affairs]. He said the Seventeenth Amendment is silent in regard to the House of Representatives. He surmised that it had been assumed in the past that someone might get sick, die of natural causes, or be assassinated, but since there were over 400 members, the risk of losing more than 200 - thereby losing the quorum - by those means was minimal. REPRESENTATIVE OGAN, regarding the 100 [U.S.] Senate members, told the committee he'd suggested in an earlier version of the [resolution] that within ten days, new Senators would be appointed by the [state] legislatures. He noted that prior to the Seventeenth Amendment, the legislatures appointed the [U.S.] Senators; therefore, he surmised, the Senators were perhaps more accountable to the legislatures than they are now. REPRESENTATIVE OGAN expressed his belief that it is more efficient to give temporary unicameral power to the [U.S.] Senate to declare war, to appropriate money, and to look over the executive branch during a national emergency, than to hold an election, or try to appoint an entire [U.S.] House of Representatives. He reiterated that a bill in Congress would allow the states to appoint "representative members." He said the House Special Committee on Military and Veterans' Affairs had debated the issue and, in its wisdom, decided it was best to raise the issue before Congress and let Congress decide the best course of action. Number 1453 REPRESENTATIVE WILSON said September 11, 2001, made the country aware that "something like this" could happen. She offered her belief that this issue needs to be brought to the forefront and that a plan needs to be made; consequently, it is wise to urge Congress to make decisions regarding the issue. Number 1399 REPRESENTATIVE HAYES moved to report CSHJR 31(MLV) out of committee with individual recommendations and the accompanying fiscal notes. There being no objection, CSHJR 31(MLV) was moved out of the House State Affairs Standing Committee.