Legislature(1995 - 1996)

02/02/1995 08:00 AM STA

Audio Topic
* first hearing in first committee of referral
+ teleconferenced
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
txt
 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.                                                 

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