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Stevens aide presents case for longer sessions

Posted: Friday, February 04, 2011

More legislators are reaching out to Juneau for support in expanding the legislative session. Legislative Aide Tim Lamkin from Sen. Gary Stevens’ office asked for support from the Juneau Chamber of Commerce on Thursday in pursuing Senate Bill 18 to expand the session from 90 days to 120.

MICHAEL PENN / Juneau Empire
MICHAEL PENN / Juneau Empire

He described the bill as a compromise in which, starting next year, there would be a two-year legislative term with the first session still at 90 days while the second would add an additional 30.

Lamkin challenged a set of reasons the administration observed that pushed voters to adopt the shorter session in 2006. He said 120 days would not only serve the state more effectively, but that the shorter session could actually be counterproductive.

“Many legislators would agree the best interests of Alaskans aren’t being served with 90 days,” he said.

The first argument was against the original idea that shorter sessions meant less administration costs during those times. He said legislative salaries and travel expenses have continued to accrue even with 90 days, saying there’s “no significant, if any, real cost savings by reducing it to 90.”

He said part of this is because there is more interim activity taking place because there are fewer days of actual legislation.

He said interim committees have increased steadily since 2006 with spikes in election years. He said there was an especially large increase for such in Anchorage during 2009.

As far as extra spending on Bill 18, he said a fiscal note was set aside so that the existing budget won’t be impacted.

Some legislators have disputed that claim.

The second reason was that the 90 days was also voted on because 27 other states have shorter sessions than here. He said this number can be misleading because it only counts legislative days and not always take calendar days, during which legislators can still work.

As an example, he said Tennessee has 90 legislative days, yet they work throughout more than 140 days, including all calendar days.

He added that 11 states have no limit on days, saying every state is unique and must decide its own reasons and needs for session duration. He described Alaska as a “do-it-yourself state” where more time for decisions is necessary.

The third argument was against the notion that bills have been introduced to expand the session several times, yet no action has been taken. He said this is normal, as legislation of all types is introduced all the time with little likelihood of passing in a single session. He said this has more to do with the workload and scheduling during the legislature than the actual bills.

He said that “too often” the Legislature is judged by how many bills are passed. “The only way to pass judgment on Legislature is to see what happens in there.”

Lamkin said many bills are reintroduced several times and should continue to be so even if they don’t pass.

He said that the amount of legislation that has passed since the decrease has been about the same, so 90 days has not proven to be more efficient that way.

The final claim he talked about was that it was originally believed that a shorter session was attractive because it would mean less time away from homes and families in other parts of the state, so it could encourage more legislative candidates.

He said there’s actually been a 20 percent decrease in those running for office since 2006.

Lamkin said other arguments against shorter sessions include limitations on due process on complex legislation, limitations on committee work for things not actively on the floor, and less time in the first month for gathering information.

“We have given a lot more power to the government with shorter sessions,” he said, saying that the less time sessions are allowed to convene allows more time for the Executive Branch to go “un-chaperoned.”

• Contact reporter Jonathan Grass at 523-2276 or jonathan.grass@juneauempire.com.



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