Legislature(2015 - 2016)BUTROVICH 205

03/29/2016 09:00 AM Senate STATE AFFAIRS

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* first hearing in first committee of referral
+ teleconferenced
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
Moved SJR 12 Out of Committee
-- Public Testimony --
Moved SCS HB 128(STA) Out of Committee
-- Public Testimony --
+ Bills Previously Heard/Scheduled TELECONFERENCED
           SJR 12-CONST. AM: ELECTED ATTORNEY GENERAL                                                                       
9:01:36 AM                                                                                                                    
CHAIR STOLTZE  announced the  consideration of  SJR 12.  He noted                                                               
that the  resolution was  heard during  the previous  session and                                                               
public testimony was left open.                                                                                                 
SENATOR COGHILL  remarked that electing  an attorney  general was                                                               
something that the  people of Alaska could and  should decide. He                                                               
said he was  in agreement with the forward motion  on electing an                                                               
attorney  general  and  noted  that   the  legislation  had  been                                                               
proposed  in the  past  by Republicans  and  Democrats alike.  He                                                               
declared that the  state has a very  strong gubernatorial office,                                                               
but  remarked  that  quite  often a  tension  exists  between  an                                                               
advocate  for  the people  of  Alaska  and  an advocate  for  the                                                               
governor. He  said his  understanding was  that under  the Alaska                                                               
Constitution, the attorney general would  be both an advocate for                                                               
the people  of Alaska as well  as the governor. He  remarked that                                                               
tensions had  clearly occurred  in the  past between  the general                                                               
population and what the governor  wanted. He opined that electing                                                               
an attorney  general was one good  way of a check  and balance, a                                                               
concept that  the government was  built upon. He  summarized that                                                               
he  supported  SJR  12  and   noted  that  the  21st  Legislature                                                               
initially proposed voting for an attorney general.                                                                              
9:03:27 AM                                                                                                                    
CHAIR STOLTZE  shared a  quote from November  7, 1955  by Senator                                                               
William Egan of  Valdez, territorial senator and  chairman of the                                                               
Constitutional Convention as follows:                                                                                           
     I  am  in  favor  of   a  strong  executive  branch  of                                                                    
     government in  order that the  people might be  able to                                                                    
     place  the  finger   of  responsibility  without  buck-                                                                    
     passing.  There should  be a  minimum of  other elected                                                                    
     officials.  One office  I  feel  should most  certainly                                                                    
     remain elective  is that of state  attorney general. It                                                                    
     would seem  to me that  this would provide  a safeguard                                                                    
     against a  strong chief  executive usurping  the powers                                                                    
     of his office.                                                                                                             
He   noted  that   the  attorney   general  was   elected  during                                                               
territorial days.                                                                                                               
He remarked  that Governor Egan  was certainly a  visionary given                                                               
that  he  was  the  state's  first  governor.  He  remarked  that                                                               
Governor  Egan certainly  believed in  a strong  executive branch                                                               
and  opined that  a strong  executive branch  has largely  served                                                               
Alaska well.  He said  as one of  the state's  founders, Governor                                                               
Egan  predicted many  of the  things that  did happen,  but added                                                               
that he did not know if  Governor Egan's position changed when he                                                               
was appointed attorney general.                                                                                                 
SENATOR COGHILL asserted that one  of the things that people felt                                                               
very  strongly about  was  being  able to  have  their voice.  He                                                               
remarked  that  voting for  an  attorney  general may  place  the                                                               
position into a political area,  but electing an attorney general                                                               
was more about the people of  Alaska getting their voice. He said                                                               
his experience throughout  the years has been that  the office of                                                               
the  attorney general  has been  highly political  based on  what                                                               
governors want. He  said SJR 12 may be a  better approach to find                                                               
out what the people of Alaska want.                                                                                             
9:05:21 AM                                                                                                                    
SENATOR WIELECHOWSKI joined the committee meeting.                                                                              
CHAIR  STOLTZE announced  that the  committee  would hear  public                                                               
9:06:36 AM                                                                                                                    
STUART   THOMPSON,   representing   himself,   Wasilla,   Alaska,                                                               
testified in opposition  of SJR 12. He said there  was no need to                                                               
reinvent the wheel  and suggested that the  materials reviewed by                                                               
the  framers during  the Constitutional  Convention be  looked at                                                               
first.  He summarized  that having  the  people vote  was a  very                                                               
standard  idea,  but noted  that  he  was  concerned as  to  what                                                               
happens  if the  attorney general  position was  made an  elected                                                               
office and its effect on people trying to get elected.                                                                          
9:08:29 AM                                                                                                                    
SENATOR MCGUIRE joined the committee meeting.                                                                                   
9:10:34 AM                                                                                                                    
At ease.                                                                                                                        
9:10:58 AM                                                                                                                    
CHAIR STOLTZE called the committee back to order.                                                                               
9:11:31 AM                                                                                                                    
LAURA  BONNER, representing  herself,  Anchorage, Alaska,  stated                                                               
that she opposed SJR 12  for the following reasons: removal would                                                               
require a  recall, current confirmation  process provided  a more                                                               
thorough  vetting  process,  politicizing  the  attorney  general                                                               
position may  result in  legal positions  being swayed  by public                                                               
pressure,  and a  possible issue  due to  campaign contributions.                                                               
She noted that  running for office costs a lot  of money. She set                                                               
forth  that  she  preferred the  arms-length  distance  from  the                                                               
political process for the selection of the attorney general.                                                                    
9:13:57 AM                                                                                                                    
SENATOR MCGUIRE noted that she  has heard previous testimony that                                                               
the  idea  of   electing  an  attorney  general   would  be  more                                                               
political. She noted that a  governor was politically elected and                                                               
asked how  the act of  a governor selecting the  attorney general                                                               
was not political.                                                                                                              
9:15:00 AM                                                                                                                    
MS.  BONNER concurred  that the  governor selecting  the attorney                                                               
general  was political.  She specified  that the  Legislature has                                                               
its  own legal  counsel  and  the governor  should  have a  close                                                               
relationship  with  the  attorney  general  as  his  or  her  own                                                               
counsel.  She  said  she  was  mostly  concerned  about  campaign                                                               
contributions and how an attorney  general may be swayed, just as                                                               
judges should never be elected as well.                                                                                         
SENATOR MCGUIRE  replied that Ms.  Bonner's argument  held weight                                                               
where  having  an  attorney  general  and  governor  on  opposite                                                               
philosophical or  political positions  would not be  desired. She                                                               
opined  that she  was concerned  that Alaska's  attorney generals                                                               
have been  acting less as  the attorney  general and more  as the                                                               
legal counsel  for the  governor. She asked  if Ms.  Bonner would                                                               
consider allowing a governor to have their own legal counsel.                                                                   
MS. BONNNER  replied that Senator  McGuire's proposal  would cost                                                               
the state more and she remained opposed to SJR 12.                                                                              
9:18:33 AM                                                                                                                    
CHAIR STOLTZE closed public testimony on SJR 12.                                                                                
He related that  in the past, constitutional  amendments have had                                                               
a standard $1500  fiscal note for election  pamphlet printing. He                                                               
revealed that  the resolution's  fiscal note  was zeroed  out and                                                               
the administration  stated that  they would  absorb the  cost. He                                                               
remarked  that he  did not  mind if  the resolution  proceeded to                                                               
Senate Finance with a zero fiscal  note, but pointed out that the                                                               
procedure was a change in policy within the administration.                                                                     
SENATOR MCGUIRE asked Chair Stoltze  if he had considered putting                                                               
language  in the  election pamphlet  that said  the governor  was                                                               
entitled to legal  counsel on his/her cabinet  that could replace                                                               
another cabinet position.                                                                                                       
9:20:00 AM                                                                                                                    
CHAIR STOLTZE  replied that  he thought the  governor has  all of                                                               
the ability to hire legal counsel  and the act was probably being                                                               
done already.                                                                                                                   
SENATOR MCGUIRE responded that she  would not hold the resolution                                                               
up, but added that she would continue to contemplate the topic.                                                                 
CHAIR STOLTZE pointed  out that the next  committee of assignment                                                               
for SJR  12 was  Senate Judiciary and  remarked that  he welcomed                                                               
Senator McGuire to do what she  liked as Chair for the committee.                                                               
He admitted  that SJR  12 had a  deliberative journey,  but noted                                                               
that only  20 days remained in  the session. He pointed  out that                                                               
hearing  the  resolution  was  delayed  due  to  the  committee's                                                               
deference to larger bills. He  said Senator McGuire's proposition                                                               
was  a good  discussion  point that  had to  be  fleshed out  and                                                               
formalized.  He  reiterated  that  he thought  the  governor  was                                                               
currently entitled to legal counsel.                                                                                            
SENATOR  MCGUIRE  replied  that  she  considers  the  number  one                                                               
complaint  would  be  from  Alaskans   saying  that  electing  an                                                               
attorney general  would be  too political  and that  the governor                                                               
should be entitled  to legal counsel. She asked  if Chair Stoltze                                                               
had looked at other joint  resolutions that were further along in                                                               
the process. She remarked that  SJR 12 addressed legislation that                                                               
was  ripe  for  consideration  and  she  was  troubled  that  the                                                               
resolution was so late in the session coming forward.                                                                           
9:22:28 AM                                                                                                                    
CHAIR STOLTZE  noted that the  House's version  had 18 or  20 co-                                                               
sponsors and  that a lot of  support was present in  both bodies.                                                               
He  conceded that  getting  two-thirds vote  in  both bodies  was                                                               
always a  big hurdle.  He facetiously remarked  that he  was glad                                                               
that there were  no politics in the  attorney general's position,                                                               
that the current attorney general  was not a major contributor to                                                               
the governor,  was not the  governor's business partner,  and was                                                               
not  a  political  operative  in   the  governor's  campaign.  He                                                               
declared  that  the  attorney  general was  his  friend  and  the                                                               
information he previously recited was factual.                                                                                  
SENATOR HUGGINS remarked that Chair  Stoltze's comment was a good                                                               
point.  He noted  that a  district attorney  based in  Nome, June                                                               
Stein,  was recently  fired by  the governor  and added  that the                                                               
attorney  general was  unaware  of  the firing.  He  asked if  an                                                               
elected  attorney general  would have  changed the  dynamic where                                                               
the governor fires a district attorney.                                                                                         
CHAIR  STOLTZE responded  that what  Senator Huggins  pointed out                                                               
would be an  enabling statute as well. He  surmised that creating                                                               
a third constitutional officer would  put the attorney general on                                                               
par with the  lieutenant governor and governor.  He detailed that                                                               
the attorney  general would have  the same  constitutional powers                                                               
and  autonomy  that both  the  lieutenant  governor and  governor                                                               
have. He  specified that  a constitutional  officer could  not be                                                               
fired or hired.                                                                                                                 
9:25:18 AM                                                                                                                    
SENATOR  HUGGINS  moved to  report  SJR  12, [29-LS0095\W],  from                                                               
committee  with individual  recommendations  and attached  fiscal                                                               
9:25:25 AM                                                                                                                    
CHAIR STOLTZE announced  that hearing no objection,  SJR 12 moved                                                               
out of committee.