Prop would cut session to 90 days

State certifies petition so supporters can collect signatures on ballot initiative

Posted: Thursday, July 07, 2005

An initiative petition certified this week by Lt. Gov. Loren Leman calls for legislative sessions to be cut from 121 days to 90.

The citizen initiative was sponsored by Sen. Gretchen Guess, D-Anchorage, Sen. Tom Wagoner, R-Kenai, and Rep. Jay Ramras, R-Fairbanks.

Ramras said they expect to receive the signature books next week, which starts the clock running for collecting the 31,451 signatures needed to get the measure on the ballot for a statewide vote. Initiative sponsors have one year to collect the signatures for certification by the lieutenant governor. But they must have them collected and certified before the 2006 legislative session, which begins in January, to get the measure on the 2006 ballot.

Sponsors must collect the signatures from at least 7 percent of the voters in 30 of the 40 House districts in the state.

Those supporting the proposal say it will save the state about $1 million a year to cut the session length, but opponents argue that shorter sessions would take power from lawmakers and give it to lobbyists.

"For me, personally, I think we can get the same amount of work done in 90 days that we do in 120," Guess said.

She called the first 30 days of the session a "dead spot" where lawmakers get little work done. Under a 90-day session they would be more compelled to get their work done quickly, she said.

"Most people work best on deadlines," she said.

Initiative sponsor Ramras said many other states with larger populations and more lawmakers hold shorter sessions and Alaska should follow their lead. He also said less legislation would be better for Alaskans.

"We're going to pass fewer laws, which means we are going to pass fewer bad laws," he said. "More time on the playground leads to more mischief."

Sen. Kim Elton, D-Juneau, said he believes a 90-day session would make it easier for lobbyists to slow down bills they dislike. He said the process of sending bills through committees in both the House and Senate takes time, which gives those opposing the bills the upper hand in trying to stop them.

"A lot of lobbyists, their whole job is to slow things down," he said.

He said it makes more sense to limit the number of three-day weekends and breaks lawmakers are allowed.

"That kind of initiative makes more sense than setting an arbitrary deadline," he said.

The battle over session length is nothing new in Alaska. Twenty-four different bills and resolutions have been proposed in the Legislature since 1985 to limit sessions to 100 days or fewer, according to a report released in May by the state's Legislative Research Services.

No time limit was placed on sessions when the state constitution was written, and they typically lasted about 70 days in the years following statehood. But in the early 1980s it became common for sessions to last twice as long. In 1984, the state limited sessions to 121 days.

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