Legislature(2017 - 2018)GRUENBERG 120
04/04/2017 03:00 PM House STATE AFFAIRS
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HJR 3-CONST. AM: 90 DAY REGULAR SESSION 4:49:56 PM CHAIR KREISS-TOMKINS announced that the final order of business would be HOUSE JOINT RESOLUTION NO. 3, Proposing amendments to the Constitution of the State of Alaska relating to the duration of regular sessions of the legislature. 4:50:11 PM REPRESENTATIVE MATT CLAMAN, Alaska State Legislature, as prime sponsor of HJR 3, stated that it has been over ten years since Alaska voters passed a ballot initiative to limit the legislative session to 90 days. He maintained that since the implementation of the initiative in 2008, the legislature has exceeded the 90-day limit five times. He asserted that as elected officials, it is the duty of legislators to listen to the people of Alaska. The current pattern of extending the session to 120 days shows voters that the legislature is neither performing its job nor performing its job in the length of time expected by the public. REPRESENTATIVE CLAMAN relayed that HJR 3 would allow voters to decide once and for all on the length of the regular session of the legislature by voting on an amendment to the Alaska State Constitution. He offered that if the amendment is passed by the voters, the length of the regular session would be changed from 120 days to 90 days in the state constitution. He noted that if the amendment failed, he would support legislation to change the Alaska Statutes to reflect 120 days, which would be consistent with the public's intent. REPRESENTATIVE CLAMAN emphasized that the public elected legislators to make tough choices and to make these choices on time and under budget. He asserted that the legislature needs to maintain public confidence in the elective system. 4:51:29 PM SARA PERMAN, Staff, Representative Matt Claman, Alaska State Legislature, on behalf of Representative Claman, prime sponsor of HJR 3, stated that HJR 3 would put a proposed constitutional amendment on the ballot to change the length of the legislative session from 120 days to 90 days. She reiterated that Alaska voted in November 2006 to shorten the duration of the regular legislative session to 90 days; since the initiative took effect, the legislature has exceeded the 90-day limit five times, costing Alaskans more than $900,000. MS. PERMAN explained that currently the Alaska State Constitution and the Alaska Statutes are inconsistent regarding legislative session duration. She cited AS 24.05.150(b), which read: "The Legislature shall adjourn from a regular session within 90 consecutive calendar days, including the day the legislature first convenes in that regular session." She referred to Article II, Section 8, of the Alaska State Constitution, which read: "The legislature shall adjourn from regular session no later than one hundred twenty consecutive calendar days from the date it convenes". MS. PERMAN asserted that HJR 3 would update the state constitution by changing 120 days to 90 days, if the public votes in favor of the constitutional amendment. She said that Section 1 of HJR 3 would amend Article II, Section 8, to state "not later than ninety days". Section 2 of HJR 3 would amend [Article XV] to state that the amendment to Article II, Section 8, would apply during the first regular session of the Thirty- First Alaska State Legislature, [2019-2020], and thereafter. She said that Section 3 of HJR 3 states that the proposed amendments would be placed on the ballot in the next general election. MS. PERMAN relayed that in 1984 the Alaska State Constitution was amended from an undefined session length to 120 days after legislators were racking up costs (indisc.) oil tax structures. She said that in 1981, session lasted 165 days. She explained that the framers of the state constitution did not initially set a limit for the length of session, but she added that clearly without session duration limits, the legislature does not resolve business in a timely and cost-effective manner. MS. PERMAN related that last year's extended session lasted 121 days and cost the state $698,772, which does not include the later special sessions. She maintained that the legislature should eliminate the inconsistencies between the Alaska State Constitution and the Alaska Statutes and demonstrate to Alaskans that legislators are "here to do the job they elected us to do in the time they have designated." MS. PERMAN noted that the proposed amendment would not remove the legislature's ability to extend session one time by ten days by a two-thirds majority vote; that allowance will remain in Article II, Section 8, of the state constitution. She also mentioned that the Office of the Governor has assigned a zero- fiscal note. 4:54:08 PM REPRESENTATIVE KNOPP stated that he agrees in concept and has no doubt that if put on the ballot, Alaskans will vote for a 90-day session limit. He said that his concern is that the legislature has only been successful in limiting the session to the 90 days two times. He opined that he is not sure the legislature can get its work done in 90 days. He offered that the legislature may have to consider how it conducts business, and he suggested that there would be unending special sessions. REPRESENTATIVE CLAMAN answered that when the initiative for 90 days passed, the legislature should have changed the way it did business. He noted the length of time legislators spent in budget sub-committees. He said, "I'm not pointing the finger at anyone, it's part of the process." He offered the scenario of legislators recognizing that budget sub-committees must be concluded within 30 days. He said, "We would be in much better shape in terms of debating budget issues if we ... realized there was a meaningful deadline that we needed to meet to get finished in 90 days." He asserted that he agrees that the legislature needs to change the structure of how business is done. He relayed that when he is in his home district, he is asked, "What's taking so long?" When the answer is, "We're just not very good at getting our work done," the response is, "You just need to get better." He reiterated that legislators are not hired to delay but to figure out ways to do their work efficiently. REPRESENTATIVE KNOPP asked if there is any suggestion for how to limit the [number of] special sessions through constitutional amendment; a special session may be necessary once or twice but should not be called endlessly "to get your way." REPRESENTATIVE CLAMAN responded that he would not have a problem with trying to limit the authority allowing for repeated special sessions. He maintained that a special session is called for a specific purpose or limited items. For example, a special session was called in October 2015 for oil and gas tax related issues; it was for a specific purpose; and the work was completed in seven to ten days. He mentioned that last summer's special session had a limited number of items on the agenda. He asserted that since the constitution allows 120 days for session, "everything is still on the table" past the 90-day point; therefore, legislators may continue to pretend that it is "business as usual" for the next 30 days. He stated that the proposed joint resolution addresses the extension of the regular session beyond 90 days. He offered that he is open to consideration of the question of calling special sessions, but he said he does not believe the two issues to be linked. He asserted that the governor's authority in the constitution to call special sessions is separate from the section that HJR 3 proposes to amend. 4:58:50 PM REPRESENTATIVE WOOL stated that when the legislative session was unlimited [in length], legislators had no staff; a legislator did all his/her own work. He mentioned that in films of old floor sessions, there was one person next to the Speaker of the House; now there is a "small army up there." He attested that some legislators have as many as seven staffers. He maintained that rather than legislators not getting their work done, they are taking on much more work; because they are introducing so many bills, they run out of time. He asserted that in conjunction with the 90-day limit, there should be a limit on the number of bills that are introduced and processed. He maintained that the work of the legislature is not a 90-day job. He said that even if the legislative session ended after 90 days, it has "such machinery in place that ... promulgates so much more work than can be started and stopped in 90 days." REPRESENTATIVE WOOL maintained that he is not against a very part-time legislature that meets for 90 days, but he stated that he believes that the legislature would need to "take apart some of the machinery" that is in place for inherently creating more work than can be done in 90 days. He said that he applauds Representative Claman's effort; he does not feel 120, 150, or 180 days should be the norm; but the legislature needs to take on less work. He conceded that currently there is a great deal going on in the state regarding the budget and revenue that is unprecedented. He asked if Representative Claman foresees a time when the legislature has a smaller mountain of work to do and can do it in 90 days, and there are not hundreds of bills to be processed. REPRESENTATIVE CLAMAN answered that if the public knew the details of all the bills that individual legislators chose to introduce, it would be disappointed. He maintained that Alaska has functioned "pretty well" over the last 58 years. He asserted that there are still problems to be fixed, but many of the bills that are introduced have no chance of passing both bodies of the legislature. It is generally recognized that those bills are "not going to go anywhere." He said that the question is: "Why are people continuing to bring forward bills that they don't see any chance of them going anywhere?" He maintained that the public is asking that question; it is a question regarding legislators exercising proper restraint. He relayed that in other states - many with shorter legislative sessions than Alaska - one of the appeals of the shorter session is that it is harder to file more bills. He asserted that he is 100 percent certain, for the reasons articulated by Representative Wool, if the legislature reverted to a 120-day session, there would not be a reduction in the bills filed, but an increase, and the legislature would be in session even longer. [HJR 3 was held over.]