Juneau legislators blast shorter sessions

Kerttula, Egan suggest return to previous 120-day session limits

Posted: Thursday, January 27, 2011

Juneau legislators say the shortened Legislative sessions, reduced by voters from 120 to 90 days in 2006, are not working.

MICHAEL PENN / Juneau Empire
MICHAEL PENN / Juneau Empire

Rep. Beth Kerttula and Sen. Dennis Egan spoke to the Central Council of Tlingit-Haida Indians at Alaska’s Native Issues Forum at the Alaska Native Brotherhood Hall on Wednesday.

The two said they hoped to see the Legislature go back to the longer sessions, hoping to see more time for public involvement and a less rushed, more contemplative process.

“The people who really get hurt the most in the shorter session are all of you, the public gets very little chance to say anything,” Kerttula said.

“People are just not spending the time and effort thinking about legislation that it deserves,” she said.

In 2006, three legislators, unable to persuade their colleagues to shorten the 120-day sessions, went to the initiative process and the voters imposed in law a 90-day session. The Alaska Constitution calls for a maximum session of 120 days, but the courts have said that is not in conflict with the shorter session created in statute.

Kerttula, daughter of prominent legislator Jay Kerttula, said the shorter sessions have also been detrimental to the process in other ways, ranging from legislators’ health to increased political divisiveness.

Egan said his day on Wednesday began at 7:30 a.m. and he expected it would go to 8 p.m., and that was an improvement over the previous day that began at 7 a.m. and ended at 9 p.m.

“That’s not the way to solve the issues of Alaskans,” he said, “We need more time.”

The longer sessions Kerttula is supporting would help, he said.

“She’s on the right track,” Egan said.

Kerttula said allowing legislators more time to interact with each other would also pay dividends. With 120-day sessions, legislators are more likely to bring their families and stay in the capital over weekends than they are now, she said.

“I think more than anything the 90-day session ruins that,” she said. “It means we don’t get a chance to know each other, and it makes it easier for us to demonize each other,” she said.

It wasn’t always that way, she said.

“I grew up close, close friends with the Tillions, the Stevenses and the Hammonds,” Kertulla, a Democrat, said of the families of legendary lawmakers Clem Tillion, Ted Stevens and Jay Hammond, all Republicans.

The 90-day session measure passed narrowly statewide, but was rejected strongly in Juneau.

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

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