Legislature(2005 - 2006)CAPITOL 106
02/09/2006 08:00 AM STATE AFFAIRS
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* first hearing in first committee of referral
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
HB 349-COMMISSION ON LEG. COMP. & ALLOWANCES 9:18:53 AM VICE CHAIR GATTO announced that the last order of business was HOUSE BILL NO. 349, "An Act relating to legislator salary and benefits; establishing the Citizens' Commission on Legislative Salary and Benefits and defining its powers and duties and abolishing the State Officers Compensation Commission; and providing for an effective date by repealing secs. 9 and 12, ch. 124, SLA 1986." 9:19:31 AM JACQUELINE TUPOU, Staff to Representative Bruce Weyhrauch, Alaska State Legislature, on behalf of Representative Weyhrauch, sponsor of HB 349, told the committee that the suggestions from the committee at the last bill hearing were incorporated into a committee substitute. 9:19:51 AM REPRESENTATIVE GARDNER moved to adopt the proposed committee substitute (CS) for HB 349, Version 24-LS1391\X, Wayne, 2/8/06, as a work draft. There being no objections, Version X was before the committee. 9:20:18 AM MS. TUPOU said the sponsor, in response to a request from Representative Gruenberg at the prior bill hearing, [reinstated] language pertaining to the date by which the Alaska Legislative Council would have to submit its final report to the legislature, as shown on page 4, line 13, as follows: during the first 30  days of a legislative session. MS. TUPOU, regarding another change made, directed attention to [page 4, beginning on line 16], which read: The Alaska Legislative Council shall publish the final report made available under AS 39.23.240(d) MS. TUPOU explained that previously the language had been permissive and read "may" instead of "shall". 9:21:15 AM VICE CHAIR GATTO, after ascertaining that there was no one to testify, closed public testimony. 9:21:43 AM REPRESENTATIVE GARDNER cited AS 39.23.240(a), which read: Sec. 39.23.240. Duties of the commission. (a) The commission shall review the salaries, benefits, and allowances of members of the legislature and prepare a report on its findings at least once every two years, but not more frequently than every year. The commission shall notify the legislature that the report is available. REPRESENTATIVE GARDNER asked if what the committee is doing now is working to "separate out who decides salaries from benefits and allowances." MS. TUPOU responded, "If you're referring to the current statutes, the current statutes are not being implemented because they're unconstitutional." REPRESENTATIVE GARDNER said she understands that. VICE CHAIR GATTO asked Ms. Tupou, "Could you tell us what the current statute that's unconstitutional is?" 9:22:38 AM MS. TUPOU answered, "Yeah, the current statute provides for a similar program in the way that it's a commission, but it has members of the executive branch in there, and so, that sort of violates the separation of powers. And so, it's unconstitutional, and so, without a constitutional amendment, it's never been implemented since it got on the books in 1986." 9:23:06 AM REPRESENTATIVE GARDNER offered her understanding that under the proposed bill the salary of the legislators would still ultimately be determined by the Alaska Legislative Council. 9:23:23 AM MS. TUPOU confirmed that is correct. She said the legislature has to have authority over its salary; "any other change to that would be unconstitutional." 9:23:36 AM REPRESENTATIVE GARDNER proffered, "Except that [the President of the Senate] and the Speaker of House would be getting this additional 'bump' that's not ... considered and responded by the [Alaska Legislative Council]." 9:23:56 AM MS. TUPOU answered that's correct. She said the reason for that is that, under the Alaska State Constitution, the aforementioned two positions are separated to receive additional compensation. REPRESENTATIVE GARDNER asked, "And under the constitution, then, it ... needs to be determined differently from other salary matters?" MS. TUPOU directed attention to page 1, [line 14] of Version X, which shows that the amount that the President of the Senate and the House Speaker has been changed from $500 a year to $500 a month. 9:24:39 AM VICE CHAIR GATTO asked if the constitution directs the legislature to address the question of the salaries of the President of the Senate and the House Speaker, or "somehow we interpreted that." 9:24:55 AM MS. TUPOU conjectured that since there is specific reference in the Alaska State Constitution that the aforementioned will receive compensation, while "other legislators" are not mentioned specifically, "that's why it would be initially in the statute." She added, "And then we've amended it in our bill because it was in the original statute." 9:25:20 AM VICE CHAIR GATTO asked Ms. Tupou if she is saying that the only people entitled to any kind of compensation are the President of the Senate and the House Speaker, and the rest of the legislators are "subject to [the Alaska] Legislative Council's desires." MS. TUPOU deferred the question to Dan Wayne. 9:25:29 AM DAN WAYNE, Attorney, Legislative Legal and Research Services, referred to Article 2, Section 7, of the Alaska State Constitution, which read as follows: SECTION 7. Salary and Expenses.Legislators shall receive annual salaries. They may receive a per diem allowance for expenses while in session and are entitled to travel expenses going to and from sessions. Presiding officers may receive additional compensation. 9:26:24 AM REPRESENTATIVE GARDNER asked Mr. Wayne if there would be any problem legally in having the additional compensation of the presiding officers handled in the same way "that we're proposing salaries be handled going through the commission and then through [Legislative] Council." 9:26:42 AM MR. WAYNE answered no, because ultimately it is the Alaska Legislative Council that is making the decision about what the salary and benefits will be. He stated, "Inserting the commission into that process, with respect to salary and benefits, ... allows a citizens' group to study it, make recommendations, and so forth, which become effective if the [Alaska] Legislative Council and the legislature decide not to ... make any changes to them." Mr. Wayne indicated that the decision not to do anything is, in essence, "an act." 9:27:35 AM REPRESENTATIVE GARDNER opined that in the interest of full disclosure and public participation, all the salaries, including "any additional," should go through the same process of a citizens' commission and be possibly amended then confirmed by the Alaska Legislative Council. She asked Ms. Tupou what the sponsor's response would be to an amendment that would delete the provision related to additional salary for the President of the Senate and the House Speaker. 9:28:31 AM MS. TUPOU said that she could not support or oppose any amendments proposed during the meeting because the bill sponsor would not have had a chance to consider them ahead of time. The committee took an at-ease from 9:28:41 AM to 9:28:46 AM. 9:30:16 AM VICE CHAIR GATTO, in response to a request from Representative Gruenberg, recapped Representative Gardner's amendment idea. 9:30:45 AM REPRESENTATIVE GARDNER clarified that she has no objection to the aforementioned positions receiving an increase in salary, but she doesn't know that they should be handled differently than the other issues. 9:30:51 AM REPRESENTATIVE GARDNER asked Mr. Wayne for suggested language to use in an amendment that would require that the salaries of the President of the Senate and the House Speaker would be determined in the same manner as other salary adjustments, which would be through the commission's recommendations and through the Alaska Legislative Council. 9:31:32 AM MR. WAYNE suggested deleting the sentence [beginning on page 1, line 13, through page 2, line 1], which read as follows: The president of the senate and the speaker of the house of representatives are each entitled to an additional $500 a month [YEAR] during tenure of office. MR. WAYNE also suggested adding language under Section 4 so that it would be another duty of the Alaska Legislative Council to set the amount. Alternatively, he suggested that language could be added under Section 10 to charge the commission with the task of determining whether additional compensation is paid to the President of the Senate and the House Speaker, and, if so, how much it would be. 9:32:41 AM VICE CHAIR GATTO directed attention to the sentence beginning on page 1, line 13 [text provided previously], and suggested changing language within the sentence to read: may each be entitled, at the discretion of Legislative Council to an additional salary of 9:32:58 AM MR. WAYNE responded that Vice Chair Gatto's suggestion would accomplish the same thing as striking the sentence and "putting a sentence under Section 4," but it would still leave the commission out of the decision, leaving it up to the Alaska Legislative Council. He said, "I suppose it just depends on whether or not it's the will of the legislature to have ... the commission study it and make recommendations to the council and then have the council act, or to just have the council handle it (indisc. -- paper shuffling) from that." He said he thinks one issue is whether additional compensation, as shown in Article 2, Section 7, is meant to be the same as salary, or if it is an allowance. He said that as he was drafting the bill, he was thinking of additional compensation as allowance. 9:34:23 AM VICE CHAIR GATTO suggested that the term "allowance" should only apply during session, because that is the only time when [the President of the Senate and the House Speaker] serve in an official capacity "on the podium." 9:34:49 AM REPRESENTATIVE ELKINS disagreed with Vice Chair Gatto's remark. He said the work load of the President of the Senate and the House Speaker doesn't diminish that much during interim, and may even increase. 9:35:14 AM REPRESENTATIVE GARDNER moved Conceptual Amendment 1, to make the allowance be considered by the commission and ultimately determined by the Alaska Legislative Council. 9:35:35 AM REPRESENTATIVE ELKINS objected to Conceptual Amendment 1. He explained: I think it's pretty obvious by the salary of $2001 a month that this legislature is not overpaid, and it's been that way for a number of years. And as far as public participation goes, if a pay raise would have to come through in a bill, there's plenty of time for all kinds of public input. ... Whether the public likes it or [doesn't] like it, they have an opportunity at us every two years in the House. And I'm not in favor of setting up a commission outside of this body to ... recommend our pay at all. I think that's our job; I think that's what we were elected to do, and then stand before the people and see if they accept it. 9:36:29 AM REPRESENTATIVE GARDNER reiterated that the question really is not whether [certain members of the body] should get more or less, but whether that decision should be handled any differently than the decisions for the salary benefits and allowances "for the rest of us." 9:37:14 AM REPRESENTATIVE ELKINS reemphasized that his point is that "the decision should be handled in this body and only in this body." 9:37:23 AM VICE CHAIR GATTO said that's a separate question. He suggested that Representative Elkins is really saying that "we shouldn't even have this bill." 9:37:40 AM REPRESENTATIVE ELKINS responded, "Basically, yes." VICE CHAIR GATTO said allowing the legislature to establish its own salaries would look inherently unfair to the public, thus, he said he thinks having a recommendation from a separate ground is a good idea. He said Representative Gardner is proposing that that separate group not only make a recommendation for the legislature's salaries, but also for "any bump for the speaker and the president." REPRESENTATIVE GARDNER concurred with Vice Chair Gatto's estimation of the intent of Conceptual Amendment 1. VICE CHAIR GATTO asked if there were any other objections to Conceptual Amendment 1. REPRESENTATIVE LYNN objected, then removed his objection [when it was clarified that Representative Elkins still objected.] 9:38:53 AM A roll call vote was taken. Representatives Gardner and Gatto voted in favor of Conceptual Amendment 1. Representatives Lynn and Elkins voted against it. Therefore, Conceptual Amendment 1 failed to be adopted by a vote of 2-2. 9:39:52 AM REPRESENTATIVE GARDNER restated her concern regarding full disclosure and public participation, even bearing in mind the previous remarks from Representative Elkins. She said she would like the final report from the citizens' commission on legislative benefits described in Section 12, line 13 [under the old bill]. REPRESENTATIVE GARDNER indicated that she would like to offer an amendment that would require that the report the commission makes available to the Alaska Legislative Council be simultaneously made available to the public. 9:41:29 AM MR. WAYNE suggested: On page 4, line 10: Between "to" and "the Alaska Legislative Council" Insert "the public and" 9:41:44 AM VICE CHAIR GATTO asked Representative Gardner if that would be sufficient. REPRESENTATIVE GARDNER answered, "That's great." [Conceptual Amendment 2 was considered moved for adoption.] 9:42:11 AM REPRESENTATIVE ELKINS offered his understanding that once the report is distributed to the Alaska Legislative Council it is available to the public already. 9:42:19 AM VICE CHAIR GATTO said he doesn't think that is necessarily true. He explained that the Alaska Legislative Council has information on other things that are discussed and are under contract, thus, information given to the council can be public document, but in some instances is not. He said Representative Gardner wants to delineate that question by specifying that "this document - not all documents - ... be available to the public." REPRESENTATIVE ELKINS replied, "I think this document would be anyway because it's not proprietary and the other one is." 9:42:46 AM REPRESENTATIVE GARDNER relayed her concern is to ensure the public knows exactly what the commission recommends and ultimately what the Alaska Legislative Council goes with, and she wants both those elements "to be available without question." 9:42:58 AM VICE CHAIR GATTO stated his agreement with Representative Elkins' remark that the Alaska Legislative Council "would not hold this as discretionary information anyway," thus, [Conceptual Amendment 2] would not add any measure of accountability to the bill. 9:43:39 AM REPRESENTATIVE GARDNER responded: You may very well be right [Vice Chair Gatto], but as you explained earlier, it's very ... difficult for legislators to make recommendations regarding their own salary and benefits, and we're introducing this bill, in part, to address that and have a process that is open and allows input from other people, so that ultimately what happens is clear and open. And I just want to ensure that every part of that is clear and open, so that afterwards we can't be accused of trying to hide any part of the process. 9:44:12 AM REPRESENTATIVE LYNN recommended erring on the side of public disclosure. 9:44:18 AM VICE CHAIR GATTO reviewed Conceptual Amendment 2 and asked if there was any objection. 9:44:36 AM REPRESENTATIVE ELKINS objected for discussion purposes. He admitted, "Sometimes I gristle when public disclosure comes up because ... it ... implies ... we would do something illegal, and I don't believe we would do anything illegal." He said, "I do not believe for a minute that this item would be held ... not for public discretion by the [Alaska] Legislative Council." He said he has a problem with [Conceptual Amendment 2]. 9:45:20 AM REPRESENTATIVE GARDNER said she does not intend to imply that the Alaska Legislative Council would be anything less than honorable at any step of the way, but she wants to ensure the public that "we are making every effort to be open about the entire process of discussing possible raises, salaries, and benefits." 9:46:30 AM REPRESENTATIVE GRUENBERG indicated that [Conceptual Amendment 2] may not be technically be necessary, but it would certainly offer some assurance to the public. He told Representative Elkins he hopes he will reconsider his objection, because the bill is not controversial, will do no harm, and will offer confidence to the public. 9:47:17 AM REPRESENTATIVE ELKINS removed his objection. VICE CHAIR GATTO asked if there was any further objection to Conceptual Amendment 2. There being none, it was so ordered. 9:47:47 AM REPRESENTATIVE GARDNER, in response to a request from Representative Gruenberg, reviewed the subject of the failed Conceptual Amendment 1. REPRESENTATIVE GRUENBERG, after ascertaining that the vote on Conceptual Amendment 1 had been 2-2, asked if any committee member would be willing to ask for a reconsideration so he could vote. 9:48:14 AM REPRESENTATIVE GARDNER asked for reconsideration to Conceptual Amendment 1. [Discussion took place regarding the rules of reconsideration, which members had actually been present during the roll call vote on Conceptual Amendment 1, and the timing of holding the bill versus moving it through committee.] 9:50:48 AM A roll call vote was taken. Representatives Gruenberg, Gatto, and Gardner voted in favor of Conceptual Amendment 1. Representatives Elkins and Lynn voted against it. Therefore, Conceptual Amendment 1 was adopted by a vote of 3-2. 9:51:42 AM REPRESENTATIVE GRUENBERG moved to report CSHB 349, Version 24- LS1391\X, Wayne, 2/8/06, as amended, out of committee with individual recommendations. There being no objection, CSHB 349(STA) was reported out of the House State Affairs Standing Committee.