Alaska editorial: New session doesn't need to last full 121 days

Posted: Monday, January 15, 2007

The following editorial first appeared in the Voice of the Times:

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The first session of Alaska's 25th Legislature opens Tuesday, and it's scheduled to be a 121-day affair. The adjournment date already is set: May 16.

It need not be that long, of course. In fact, this new session will provide legislators with the opportunity to begin tailoring their work to fit into a 90-day framework. By the time the second session of this 25th Legislature convenes in January next year, a three-month limit will be mandated - so ordered by voters last November.

A majority of Alaska's voters said that legislators need to get their act more together - applying enough discipline to the task so that a whole month can be eliminated from the expense of keeping all the lawmakers in Juneau.

The effort to reduce the length of the annual sessions has been long in the works. But making it happen is not something the legislators themselves were anxious to do.

Privately, however, many would say that doing the job of making laws for a state of 600,000 people could well be done in 90 days or less. Much of the early weeks of each session, they confess, amount to wasted time.

Even while meeting for 120 days, many of the more important pieces of legislative business are put off to the last minute - resulting always in an end-of-session crush, midnight hours, and a whirl of votes that leave some puzzled about what exactly has been done.

The same thing happened in years past when legislative sessions actually were limited to 90 days. The same thing will happen next year, too - just because it's the nature of the lawmaking beast.

The sessions were put at 120 days in 1984, and the Supreme Court - in a bit of mysterious judicial wisdom - later ruled that the first day of each session didn't count (go figure) and that the limit really was 121 days.

The ballot measure approved last November was not cluttered by such oddball thinking. It was unambiguous, and included a direct poke at the Supreme Court's foolish decision:

"The Legislature shall adjourn from a regular session within 90 consecutive calendar days, including the day the Legislature first convenes in that regular session."

Simple. Clear. To the point.

Nothing in this, of course, will prevent the Legislature from calling a special session, or for the governor to call lawmakers back into action should there be crucial matter to be addressed after the regular session has adjourned.

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