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Legislators return to Juneau

Change to 90-day sessions still controversial among those convening

Posted: January 18, 2012 - 12:01am
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Sen. Dennis Egan, D-Juneau, right, gives Sen. Joe Paskvan, D-Fairbanks, a greeting pat on the shoulder as he enters the Senate Chambers minutes before the opening gavel for the second session of the 27th Alaska Legislature on Tuesday.  Michael Penn/Juneau Empire
Michael Penn/Juneau Empire
Sen. Dennis Egan, D-Juneau, right, gives Sen. Joe Paskvan, D-Fairbanks, a greeting pat on the shoulder as he enters the Senate Chambers minutes before the opening gavel for the second session of the 27th Alaska Legislature on Tuesday.

Legislators convened formal sessions of Alaska’s House of Representatives and then the Senate Tuesday, but before the gavels even sounded there were dueling press conferences as the partisans tried to boost their agendas.

Advocates of oil tax reductions and defined-benefit pension plans were among those pushing their spin on the hot-button issues, and getting airtime.

There were also early indications that the legislators would be hard-pressed to complete their work in the 90 days provided by statute.

To some, that was okay.

“I personally think that 90 days is too short,” said Rep. Beth Kerttula, D-Juneau.

She prefers the constitutionally mandated maximum 120-day session. That limit remained in place after voters approved a 90-session limit in 2006.

Since then the sessions have always gone beyond that deadline, with frequent specials sessions necessary to complete required items.

That’s despite a number of changes to legislative rules intended to speed up the process.

Despite the failure to complete work in 90 days, some legislators said they were still advocates of the shorter sessions.

“I want to be out of town 91 days from today,” said Rep. Craig Johnson, R-Anchorage, and chairman of the House Rules Committee, before the session began Tuesday.

That may be tough, as this is the second year of the two-year legislative session, and so far 455 bills have been introduced, with only 40 having made it through the process so far. During the last two-year session, 183 bills were passed.

Johnson said he was still hoping for a 90-day session, but seemed to acknowledge there was a chance that wouldn’t happen.

“Anything beyond that will not make me happy, but I’m not happy some of the time anyways,” he said.

Kerttula didn’t appear concerned about Johnson’s happiness, but said the state benefits from more attention to the issues it is facing.

“I’m really supportive of the return to the 120-day sessions,” she said.

The Alaska Youth Choir sings the Alaska Flag Song during opening day ceremonies of the Alaska Legislature.

The advocates of shorter sessions were three legislators who were unable to muster the votes to amend the Alaska Constitution’s 120-day maximum session length, or even to pass a bill shortening the sessions statutorily.

They then went to the initiative process, and in 2005 nearly 51 percent of Alaskans voted for the shorter sessions.

Voter-adopted measures are statutes that can be changed by legislators after two years, and Kerttula has said that’s what she thinks should be done.

She said the multiple special sessions since the 2005 initiative are due to shorter 90-day process, and the legislative body needs more time to deal with weighty matters.

She said that the legislators need more time to consider the big issued they’re facing.

“We are basically sitting as the board of directors for the state,” she said.

Some bills pass with just a single public hearing, and the shortened deadlines to pass bills in a 90-day session don’t’ allow time for adequate public input on legislative actions, she said.

Johnson, however, said the House leadership was behind the shorter sessions that were adopted by the voters.

“The House is committed to the 90-day session,” he said.

• Contact reporter Pat Forgey at 523-2250 or patrick.forgey@juneauempire.com.

 

 

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