90-day session advocates short on ideas

Lawmakers struggle to figure out how to meet new limits

Posted: Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Alaska voters told the Legislature last year they wanted the body to complete its work in 90 days, but legislative advocates of the shorter sessions still haven't persuaded colleagues it's a good idea.

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Rep. Jay Ramras, R-Fairbanks, appeared before the Senate's State Affairs Committee on Tuesday and found powerful senators skeptical it would improve things. Ramras was the chief backer of the initiative passed last fall.

Ramras, a second-term representative, told the committee members it was up to them to figure out how to implement the ballot measure.

Senate President Lyda Green, R-Wasilla, said she had expected Ramras to bring some ideas when he appeared before the committee.

"I was very surprised to learn you had not done that," she said.

Ramras said he thought the committee, with its experienced membership, would have a better idea of how to do that than he would. The committee, chaired by Sen. Lesil McGuire, R-Anchorage, also includes Rules Committee Chairman John Cowdery, R-Anchorage, and Majority Leader Gary Stevens, R-Kodiak.

"We waste a lot of time down here, and it frustrates me," Ramras said.

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Sometimes when you tip over an apple cart, you find the apples fit into it more efficiently than they'd done before, he said.

Ramras said he was "delighted to help assist the people of Alaska in tipping over the apple cart."

Sen. Tom Wagoner, R-Kenai, another sponsor of the measure, said the Legislature could get its work done more quickly if it simply worked harder. For example, he said, legislative committees rarely meet on weekends, while he frequently worked seven days a week when he operated a small business.

One of the suggestions for moving bills more quickly was to hold fewer hearings.

House Minority Leader Beth Kerttula said, D-Juneau, after the hearing she was concerned a rushed session would exclude the public.

Late in the session, bills require only 24 hours notice. That makes it difficult, if not impossible, for people concerned with the legislation to find out about it and tell their representatives what they think.

A 90-day session "is going to limit the ability to have the public involved," said Kerttula.

House Finance Committee Co-Chairman Mike Chenault, R-Nikiski, said House leaders are trying to complete the body's work in 90 days this year, although the measure doesn't take effect until next year.

Even members of the leadership are subtly acknowledging that they're not going to meet the self-imposed deadline.

"We're looking at what issues may have to change to meet the 90-day schedule next year," Chenault said.

Sen. Kim Elton, D-Juneau, has urged McGuire to consider such issues as having committees meet tighter deadlines by working in the interim, and to consider the impact shorter work years might have on staff.

McGuire said the committee would find ways to implement the law, whether individual members liked it or not.

"We want to make sure that it doesn't look like we're thwarting the will of the people," she said.

• Pat Forgey can be reached at patrick.forgey@juneauempire.com.



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