Legislature(1995 - 1996)
02/02/1995 08:00 AM STA
* first hearing in first committee of referral
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
HSTA - 02/02/95 HJR 5 - LIMITING TERMS OF STATE LEGISLATORS Number 010 REPRESENTATIVE GENE THERRIAULT, SPONSOR OF HJR 5, stated he had a short sponsor statement to read into the record, and then he would be pleased to answer questions. He said that since the resolution had been introduced, he had had somewhat of a change of heart, and he would like to speak about his proposed committee substitute. REPRESENTATIVE THERRIAULT said that the blank CS #9-LS0226/F, dated 1-24-95, proposes to limit the terms of legislators in relation to regular sessions, as opposed to limiting them in relation to calendar years, as suggested by the original draft of HJR 5, as prefiled. He said the work draft proposes that a legislator may not serve more than 12 full consecutive regular sessions. He stated that a person may not again serve in the legislature, either by election or appointment, until at least two consecutive regular sessions have elapsed. He said that special session would not count, or would time served filling a vacancy by appointment. REPRESENTATIVE THERRIAULT stated that Alaska's voters have overwhelmingly chosen to support term limits with regards to the U.S. Congress with 1994s ballot measure #4, which passed with 62 percent of the votes. He further stated that Alaskans have demonstrated their support for term limits on the municipal level, with several communities adopting some form of term limits for local elected officials. He said HJR 5 will give voters the chance to change the state Constitution, to limit the terms of state legislators. He said that term limits are a positive legislative reform, guaranteeing a flow of new legislators and new ideas. He said the popularity of term limits demonstrates that career politicians are not desirable. He said term limits will also level the playing field for challengers facing incumbents whose power is derived mainly from seniority. He said that placing a constitutional amendment limiting the terms of state legislators on the ballot was long overdue in his judgment. REPRESENTATIVE THERRIAULT said the changes proposed in the committee substitute are an attempt to try and go from limiting the number of calendar years that you can serve, to something more clear, the number of sessions that a legislator can serve. He said that going with calendar years created a problem, because the first year of legislative service is not a full calendar year, as legislators are sworn into office after the first of the year. With this in mind, the question arose as to when to start counting years in office. Did the first year count or not? He said that was why he decided to count sessions, as that was the time that legislators spent in the capital drafting legislation. REPRESENTATIVE THERRIAULT said he didn't count special sessions, because legislators could end up expiring their terms faster, if we had more than one session per year. REPRESENTATIVE THERRIAULT explained that if a legislator is appointed to fill a vacant seat, this does not count as one of the allowed twelve sessions. He said that according to this resolution, if a legislator switches from the House of Representatives to the Senate and is in the middle of his/her Senate term upon reaching the twelve session limit, then they would have to leave office at the end of that term. He said that by putting the limit on the number of terms served, it prevented a legislator from bouncing back and forth between the House and Senate, and to thus avoid expiring their term in either body. He said any combination that adds up to twelve consecutive sessions, would be the limit allowed. Once reaching that limit, a legislator would only have to step out for two consecutive terms before being allowed to run again. He said his main purpose in proposing this resolution, was to break the incumbent's advantage by showing the public that other people could do the job effectively. He said if the incumbent sits out for the required two sessions, runs for office again and gets elected, then that was fine. Number 125 REPRESENTATIVE CAREN ROBINSON asked for verification that what was considered a full regular session was just that 120 day period, and not the 19th legislature, as an example. She further asked if he thought it was good idea for someone who had run some combination of House and Senate seats, be required to quit in the middle of a term. She said she thought that it would place a disadvantage on this legislator to be able to get elected, as the public would know that they would not be able to complete their term. REPRESENTATIVE THERRIAULT said he had picked 12 years, because it was divisible by both two years and four years. He said a person who is elected to the Senate or the House and serves their career in the same body, will not experience any difficulty with this legislation. He said that a legislator, who chooses to switch between the House and the Senate will know that this could lead to a situation where they might end up only being able to serve a partial Senate term. He further stated he didn't believe that it would end up being that much of a disadvantage, as a person who runs for the House knows they are only going to serve for two years. He said that a person who runs for the Senate and knows they will only serve for two years, will not be any worse off than if he ran for the House. He also stated that the Senate is reorganized every two years anyway, and so it really would not be a disadvantage to a Senator who was only serving two years. CHAIR JAMES stated she assumed that someone else would run for the remaining time of the term, and that it would be in a different legislature, and so not be a problem. REPRESENTATIVE THERRIAULT stated that it would be the same as if someone was appointed to serve the remainder of a Senate term. REPRESENTATIVE ROBINSON stated she was not opposed to this bill, but she was curious if there really was a problem with turnover in the legislature. She explained that a few days earlier, former Senator Arliss Sturgelewski, while speaking to the legislature, had said that she hardly recognized any one of the current legislators. Thus, Representative Robinson was questioning whether there really was a problem. She said she was curious if he had done any research on this issue. REPRESENTATIVE THERRIAULT responded that he had looked at how others were handling this issue, and had found that it was actually very mixed. He said that some of them allowed 8 years in the House and 8 years in the Senate, for a total of 16 years. Others only allowed a total of 8 years, and that there was considerable controversy over whether 8 or 16 years was more desirable. Thus, he had opted to go with 12 years, which was divisible by both 2 and 4, as a compromise between 8 years and 12 years. He also said this would affect very few Alaskan legislators, as most of them leave elected office before they serve 12 years. He said when he had gotten elected, approximately 50 percent of the House was brand new. He said that it was designed mainly for the exception to the rule. He said he felt this was good public policy because it allowed the constituents to see that someone else could fill the position and do an adequate job. He also thought that elected officials should step out of office, because it was easy to lose your focus after serving too long. REPRESENTATIVE ROBINSON verified that Representative Therriault had not done any research as to whether there was an Alaskan problem with term limits. REPRESENTATIVE THERRIAULT replied that he had not. REPRESENTATIVE ROBINSON asked if this created a disadvantage to minority groups. REPRESENTATIVE THERRIAULT replied that he hadn't done any research on this question, but he couldn't see how it would be. REPRESENTATIVE BRIAN PORTER asked if someone who ran for the Senate, and because of term-limits was unable to finish their term, whether this vacancy would be filled by appointment or election. REPRESENTATIVE THERRIAULT responded that he had envisioned an election, but he really was not sure. REPRESENTATIVE PORTER replied he thought that legally, this vacancy would have to be filled by appointment. REPRESENTATIVE THERRIAULT explained that currently, if a Senator leaves office, then this seat is filled by election. REPRESENTATIVE PORTER stated that technically this seat would be retained by the Senator until their term expired at the end of the year, which would be after the election. CHAIR JAMES said that currently we hold an election for an office, which continues to be held by its former occupant after the election, until their term expires at the end of the year. REPRESENTATIVE PORTER agreed, but said he thought that they might have to specifically say that this was the intent of this bill. Number 295 REPRESENTATIVE ED WILLIS stated that he agreed with the concept of term limits, and this was a strong desire of his constituents. He said he had made a campaign promise to support legislation for term limits. He said though, that he was concerned with the idea of eliminating someone from office before they had finished their term. He thought that this could really disadvantage this person at election time, as his opponent could use it against him. He also wondered how Representative Therriault felt about having it apply to those who were already in the legislature. REPRESENTATIVE THERRIAULT responded that the problem with that concept was there could be a situation where someone might get elected on the same ballot where this was approved, and then be ineligible to serve. Because of this, he felt it was cleaner to start from scratch. REPRESENTATIVE WILLIS commented at least one state makes an exception for someone who gets elected as a write-in candidate. He wondered whether it would be possible to make that exception if this passed. REPRESENTATIVE THERRIAULT said that it was not, because this bill required a legislator to sit out for two consecutive sessions, upon reaching the 12-year limit. REPRESENTATIVE ROBINSON stated she was concerned whether the benefits of term limits would outweigh the loss of institutional memory that would occur as legislators were forced to retire. She also stated that sometimes she thought that the legislature wrote laws and changed the constitution when there really was not a problem. REPRESENTATIVE THERRIAULT replied there had just been a poll on that issue, in that in the last election, the voters voted 62 percent in favor of term limits, even though that placed the state of Alaska at a distinct disadvantage due to our loss of seniority. REPRESENTATIVE ROBINSON asked what other states had experienced, as they lost there more seasoned legislators, due to term limits. She said that all new legislators turn to their more senior members for advice. REPRESENTATIVE THERRIAULT responded he also was concerned about this, and that was one of the reasons he had settled on 12 years. He said he agreed that the learning curve of new legislators was steep and long. He said though, he thought that with as much rotation as there was in the legislature over 12 years, he didn't think there would be that much loss of institutional knowledge. He further pointed out that a legislator was only required to sit out for two years, and he didn't think there would be that much problem over such a short period of time. Number 394 REPRESENTATIVE SCOTT OGAN thought this was a very good bill, and he thought that a legislator who wished to switch from the House to the Senate would plan their strategy to be able to serve a full term in the Senate by sitting out at an earlier time. REPRESENTATIVE THERRIAULT said this was a good point, that any time a legislator sits out for two years, the clock is reset, allowing them another 12 years to expire. CHAIR JAMES said she has some reservations about term limits as to their effectiveness, but the people were really in support of the concept. She said the question was whether legislators were there to serve the will of the people or their own personal agenda, and she thought they should serve the will of the people. She said her biggest concern was that when she was a freshman legislator, she looked for support from those longer term legislators for historical knowledge. She pointed out though, that the Legislative Research agency was there to answer those types of questions, and the legislature was thus able to overcome this loss of institutional knowledge. She said she thought that 12 years was plenty long enough for anyone to serve in the legislature, and she planned to support this resolution. REPRESENTATIVE THERRIAULT pointed out there was a revised fiscal note on this resolution which recognized that this would take effect in 1997, not 1996. He also said this had additional referrals to the Judiciary and Finance committees. REPRESENTATIVE PORTER moved that the committee pass this resolution unanimously, with individual recommendations. CHAIR JAMES asked if there was any objection. REPRESENTATIVE THERRIAULT asked whether the committee had officially adopted the workdraft for the committee substitute. REPRESENTATIVE PORTER withdrew his previous motion and asked that the committee adopt the committee substitute for HJR 5, version F, dated 1-24-95, as the working document. CHAIR JAMES asked if there was any objection. Hearing no objection, the motion carried. Number 452 REPRESENTATIVE PORTER moved to pass the committee substitute for HJR 5, version F, with individual recommendations. CHAIR JAMES asked if there was any objection. Hearing none, CS HJR 5 moved out of committee.