Editorial: Vote 'no' on 90-day legislative session limit

Posted: Sunday, November 05, 2006

This editorial first appeared in the Anchorage Daily News:

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Yes, it's tempting. Ladies and gentlemen of the Alaska Legislature, you've got 90 days. Get the people's business done and go home.

It has that satisfying, no-nonsense ring of stern marching orders to a Legislature that seems to mill around for three months and go mad for one, always closing in a red-eye rush to midnight adjournment on the very last day.

Proponents of Ballot Measure 1 say a 90-day session limit is the answer.

Trouble is, it won't work.

We won't get any better legislation with a 90-day limit than we do with a 121-day limit. Lawmakers can always extend the session. Lawmakers and the governor both have the authority to call special sessions. Difficult and complex legislation may require time that doesn't fit neatly into a prescribed limit.

And a shorter calendar won't change human nature. As Anchorage Sen. Con Bunde pointed out, those lawmakers who waste time during a 121-day session will find ways to waste time in a 90-day session.

Here's another fact: 121 days of solid, honest work will give the people of Alaska far better service than a 90-day session that has the look of efficiency but little else. Yes, you made deadline. But with what?

The issue isn't the length of the session. The issue is the quality of work in the session.

Lawmakers - especially Senate and House leaders and their majorities and minorities - already have all the power they need to conduct the people's business with dispatch. It's just a matter of will.

What the Legislature needs are leaders who will tell their colleagues that all 60 lawmakers had better be prepared to get down to business from Day One, leaders who will set agendas that include full and fair hearings for legislation but no nonsense or needless delays.

What the Legislature needs are lawmakers who never lose sight of the fact that they hold a public trust not to waste Alaskans' time or treasure.

Lawmakers themselves complain of the disruption of special or extended sessions that take them from homes and families. But they can look in a mirror and see much of the problem and much of the answer.

Work faster and smarter, and the disruptions will be fewer and shorter.

Former State Sen. Al Adams of Kotzebue once remarked that lawmakers spend the first three months of the session slapping each other on the back and then get down to the deals in the last 30 days. What the Legislature needs are members who are walking briskly from the opening of the session - and leaders with the backbone to slap any slackers to a swifter pace.

In the end, the 90-day limit is a false solution to a problem of character, habit and calculation. Honest work, with sufficient time budgeted for study and hearings on legislation, is what the people of Alaska need and expect. Our lawmakers' job is to meet that standard.

Vote no on Ballot Measure 1.

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