Session length bill passes key committee

Senate Finance Committee calls for longer sessions, but delays implementation

Posted: Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Alaska’s legislative sessions would be longer in some years, but not until 2014, under a bill passed out of the Senate Finance Committee Monday.

Senate President Gary Stevens, R-Kodiak, has proposed Senate Bill 18, changing state law so that legislative sessions could go to 120 days, instead of the current 90, in the second year of each two-year legislative session.

The finance committee, however, delayed for two years when the Legislature would begin the longer sessions.

“If we do this next year, that would be a little bit too early,” said Sen. Lyman Hoffman, D-Bethel. “I’d suggest that we do this two years from next year.”

Because next year would be the second year of a two-year legislative session, a single year’s delay in the bill taking effect means the Legislature will not see the longer sessions called for until 2014.

Hoffman said he wanted the bill to take effect “after reapportionment, so there’s additional time for the general public and Legislature to understand what we’re doing.”

Hoffman did not say publicly what effect the reapportionment process, in which legislative district boundaries are redrawn adjust to population growth around Alaska, might have in relation to longer sessions.

He did not return a phone call to his office seeking further information.

Sen. Dennis Egan, D-Juneau, a member of the committee, said he did not know why Hoffman wanted the delay, but was willing to agree to win the influential Bethel senator’s support.

“It’s a good bill, and I’ll probably go along with it,” he said.

The bill also changes the start date of the session during the 120-day sessions to the second Tuesday in January.

The 90-day sessions would remain the third Tuesday in January.

Tim Lamkin, an aide to Stevens, said the earlier start was to avoid the session conflicting with the early tourist season.

“The later in May we allow ourselves to go, it gets problematic,” he said.

In the past as sessions have gone late, some legislators and staff have lost housing that was already committed for the summer.

The bill also has a new “fiscal note,” the official cost estimate of its impact. Previous versions of the bill had been criticized as unrealistically low, but the new estimate is $863,000, including $413,000 in personnel costs and $450,000 in other costs.

That money wouldn’t be additional spending as it is already appropriated and is now being used for interim legislative meetings. Those are mostly in Anchorage, but may be held elsewhere in the state as well.

“There’s no new spending, it’s already in the budget,” Lamkin said.

Senate Bill 18 now awaits action by the full Senate.

• Contact reporter Pat Forgey at 586-4816 or Patrick.forgey@juneauempire.com.



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