By Naomi Klouda
Alaska legislators say 90 days is not enough time to do their work. In fact, the majority of them responded in a recent survey that they feel they are now communicating less well with their constituents.
Rep. Paul Seaton, R-Homer, headed a committee tasked with researching the matter, and released the findings of a 40-question survey that gathered input from 31 state representatives and 47 non-Juneau Alaska House staff. The 90-day Session Review Committee also released a report recommending that a legislative remedy be sought to restore the 120-day session.
“The Legislative Council was asked to make recommendations to the legislature, before the start of the 2010 session, of potential changes to staff and the general effect of 90-day sessions,” Seaton said.
Seaton, serving as chairman of the subcommittee, was joined by Reps. Bryce Edgmon and Max Gruenberg. “We decided we wanted more data – instead of just personal feelings,” Seaton said, speaking of the survey.
Highlights of the survey:
- 79 percent said they did not travel as much in their district during the session
- 85 percent felt the shorter session is “detrimental” to their legislative effectiveness.
- 97 percent felt there is less public testimony and more time constraints on public testimony
- 90 percent believe there was not enough scrutiny of their legislation
- 83 percent said they believed they communicated less well with their constituents.
- 20 representatives said they would prefer the session to be 120 days while four thought it should remain 90 days and four others thought two 45-day sessions with a 30-day break would be the answer.
Seaton said he felt the 90 days short-thrifted too much of the public process.
“I felt there were many legislative hearings where testimony was constrained to two or three minutes,” he explained. “There used to be more of a give and take between committees and people testifying. There were many more bills moved with one hearing committee, and that didn’t give constituents the time for a hearing from people affected by legislation.”
The 90-session was instituted after a public vote in 2006, with the proponents of it contending a shorter session would save state money and force legislators to not waste time.
The measure passed by a narrow margin, with District 35 voters going against it. Seaton said he had shared the view with his constituents; that it would cut down on public participation.
Mayor Jim Hornaday, who has regularly traveled to Juneau in the past few years, was able to observe some of the process. He agreed that the 90-session idea doesn’t seem to be working out. However, he found the shift of power toward the governor and the executive branch more troubling.
“Alaska already has one of the strongest governors of any state in terms of the power he can use,” Hornaday said. “The other side is that there was a lot of horsing around, whether its 90 or 120 days, it gets down to the final days. Still, it is better to have the 120. Otherwise, it basically gives more power to executive branch and takes it away from the legislature.”
The subcommittee used an online survey provider called “Survey Monkey” to deliver the questionnaire.
Another set of questions sought input on how it impacts their relationships with constituents, with public participation and the committee process, along with miscellaneous aspects to the legislative process. Those results can be found at www.reppaulseaton.com.