Alaska editorial: Message to lawmakers - Work the days you're paid

Posted: Thursday, March 15, 2007

This editorial appeared in the Mat-Su Valley Frontiersman:

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Remember the admonition about being careful what you wish for?

Members of the Alaska Legislature are now grappling with the unintended consequences of what one lawmaker, with the support of many others, asked Alaska voters to do in the last election - approve a reduction in the length of the Legislature's second session from 120 to 90 days.

After years of failed attempts by a host of lawmakers to legislate the change, Fairbanks Rep. Jay Ramras spearheaded a drive to get the question on the statewide ballot last fall. It passed, narrowly, and is set to go into effect next year.

But, in preparation for the change, legislators returned to Juneau in January vowing to get business done this year in 90 days. It was a nice idea, but the follow-through has been less than vigorous. Now, it is becoming apparent to many in Juneau that maybe the 90-day session isn't such a great idea after all.

Last week, the Senate State Affairs Committee began work on finding ways to streamline the process in an effort to cram 120 days of work into 90. Ramras was called to testify before the committee and offer suggestions for how to do business differently. He had none, leaving committee members scrambling for a viable course of action.

It may be just a bit too obvious, but lawmakers should remember that the 120-day session refers to calendar days. Perhaps cracking down on the three- and four-day weekends, which have become the norm in recent years, could be part of the solution.

We understand in-district constituent service, but no one flies home every weekend for this reason.

Consider this: A few weeks ago, only seven of 20 senators showed up for Friday business, so business was canceled for the day - but only after the conscientious seven voted to let the record show that all their colleagues were present.

Who's kidding who?

The math is simple. A 120-day session has 17 weekends. If business is conducted only five days a week, that amounts to 34 days lost that legislators are paid for and can collect a per diem on. When no business is conducted on Fridays, too, as is often the case, and light work loads are scheduled on Mondays, the lost time really piles up.

While we were not strong advocates of the 90-day session to begin with, we humbly offer a single suggestion to lawmakers concerned about taking care of business in 90 days: Work the days you are paid to work, and stop coddling your colleagues who don't.

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