Juneau streets may be filled with suits and ties for fewer days each year if an initiative to limit legislative sessions makes it on the state ballot.
Sen. Gretchen Guess, D-Anchorage, and Sen. Tom Wagoner, R-Kenai, and Rep. Jay Ramras, R-Fairbanks, are sponsoring an initiative petition that would trim legislative sessions from 121 to 90 days. They need to collect 31,451 signatures to place the question on the 2006 ballot, following the state's certification of the initiative petition.
Some worry that a shorter session would mean that legislators have less time to get a handle on complex issues or that citizens would have less of a chance to participate in the public process.
But typically, the Alaska Legislature accomplishes little in the first month at the Capitol. Why should the state of Alaska pay legislators for the days in which very little gets done? A shorter session would force legislators to drop the dallying in the early days of the session and get down to business sooner.
And it would save the state about $828,000 a year, according to state figures.
Some may argue that yet another bill would be racked up each year because special sessions are such a regular part of the legislative landscape. They may say the session should not be cut when legislators don't get their work done in the time allotted now.
Special sessions are, however, not typically called by legislators trying to make up for what they didn't accomplish in their 121 days. Rather, those sessions are usually instigated by the governor to address specific topics after other political agendas have been set aside.
Shortening the session also could soften the cry to move the Capitol. Lawmakers would be away from family, jobs and constituents for fewer days each year. Cutting sessions by one-fourth could make the time away from home far more palatable to legislators.
Reducing that time away from family and other work also might encourage more people to run for office. Competition and choice only helps the democratic process and ultimately might boost the caliber of candidates.
Legislatures in at least 26 states manage to complete their business in fewer days than Alaska's. There's no reason that lawmakers in this state can't wrap up legislation in less time as well.
Fewer legislative days could take a toll on Juneau businesses that serve the Legislature, but Juneau needs to look out for more than its own economic interests and support what's right for the state, and in this case that's a shorter legislative session.