Alaska editorial Shorter legislative session benefits all

Posted: Thursday, July 14, 2005

This editorial first appeared in the Voice of the Times:

The legislators, collectively, wouldn't join together to do the job. So three of them alone are trying to fix the dysfunctional way that Alaska goes about doing its lawmaking business.

Sens. Gretchen Guess, an Anchorage Democrat, and Thomas Wagoner, a Republican from Kenai, joined with Republican Rep. Jay Ramras of Fairbanks in sponsoring an initiative that, if enacted, would impose a 90-day limit on the length of the state's annual legislative sessions. The limit now is 120 days, except that an oddball court ruling a few years ago held that the first day of each session doesn't count - meaning that our legislators actually gather annually for 121 days. Go figure.

No matter, the Guess-Wagoner-Ramras proposal is to put before the voters an initiative that would reduce the state's lawmaking sessions to three months each year, rather than four.

It's a worthy cause, which was advanced the other day when Lt. Gov. Loren Leman certified the initiative application.

However, to bring it to the ballot - at which voters, not legislators, would enact into law a 90-day limit - the sponsors face a formidable task. They need to collect at least 31,451 signatures from registered voters - 10 percent of the 314,502 votes that were cast in last year's general election. In addition, at least 7 percent of those signatures must come from at least 30 of the state's 40 House districts.

They have a year to collect the signatures.

The sheer magnitude of the project raises a lot of hurdles. But it can be done, and we wish the sponsors well in the effort.

There is no doubt in our mind that if the initiative reaches the ballot, voters will approve it by a wide margin.

It simply makes no reasonable sense for Alaska legislators to spend one-third of every year in session. States with populations far in excess of that in Alaska manage their lawmaking affairs in much less time and with much less expense. A number of states, in fact, have legislative sessions that are convened only every other year - rather than annually.

A 90-day limit would in no way impair the ability of the Legislature to call itself into special session to meet specific needs. The governor, likewise, would retain the power to call for a special session - as happened this year, and which resulted in 15 days tacked onto the regular session.

Moreover, a 90-day limit would force legislators to attend more quickly to business, and would impose the need to act more efficiently and expeditiously.

It's a win-win deal. If you're presented with a petition in support of this initiative, please sign up.

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