Voters could have say in shortening session

Posted: Tuesday, February 21, 2006

ANCHORAGE - Voters may get to decide on legislation that would shorten Alaska's regular legislative session from four months to three.

Lawmakers who support a shorter session said they're prepared to put the idea before voters this fall if their colleagues refuse to pass the legislation.

The question of how long lawmakers should take to do their work may end up on the November ballot, after election officials clear signatures on a citizen-driven petition for a 90-day session, supporters say.

Rep. Jay Ramras, a Fairbanks Republican finishing his first term, is sponsoring the initiative, which is currently stalled in committee.

Ramras said he turned in 45,300 signatures to the Division of Elections, which must validate at least 31,451 of them for the issue to get on the ballot.

"I have 100 percent confidence that we will satisfy the requirements," he said. Election officials have until March 6 to finish certifying the ballot petition.

Ramras and other supporters of a shorter session contend that many lawmakers tend to dawdle and the Legislature gets little work done during the first month of the four-month session in Juneau.

"There are members ... who think we've done an enormous amount of work in the first month we were here, and others who think we weren't particularly productive," Ramras said. "I happen to be in the latter group. There are so many people who are working four-day weeks."

Opponents say the shorter session would make it easier to stifle initiatives because time runs out on lawmakers.

"The concern that I have about a 90-day session is not that we can't get our jobs done," said Sen. Kim Elton, D-Juneau. "My concern is that it hands power to the executive branch."

But Ramras said taxpayers might have a different perspective about the proposal than lawmakers. He said if the initiative passed it could save the state close to $1 million per year.

"Can you imagine that the Legislature would yield power to the governor? It's not going to happen," he said.

The initiative is co-sponsored by state Sens. Gretchen Guess, D-Anchorage, and Tom Wagoner, R-Kenai.

Over the past 15 years, there have been two dozen attempts to shorten the 121-day Alaska legislative session.

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