With the legislative session in overtime this year, it begs the question, why do we have a limit on how long the Legislature can meet in the first place?
The short answer is that framers of Alaska’s constitution envisioned a citizen legislature, and legislators’ primary occupations would be something other than “politicians.”
In this day and age that notion may seem quaint, but it’s also one most Alaskans tend to hang on to. Indeed, many legislators have other jobs when they’re not in Juneau, and the expectation is that they diligently tend to the people’s business, and then go home. What we don’t want to see is a Legislature that wastes time on proposals that don’t do anything to benefit the state of Alaska and the people who call it home.
That brings us back to the current session, which had been slated to end Sunday. But with a failure to hammer out a compromise on an education measure, the session was extended.
Education is one of the more complex issues under the Legislature’s purview, and certainly one of the most important, so if a few extra days are needed to put together the best legislation possible, so be it. That’s a reasonable use of legislators’ time, and an important piece of the people’s business. It’s much better to make such far-reaching decisions on a good night’s sleep, and not try to cram a bill through in the wee hours of the session.
On the other hand, if a legislative session runs long because legislators are spending valuable time in the final days of the session debating a resolution urging Congress to call a Constitutional Convention, that doesn’t seem like time well spent. Perhaps that’s a good debate for January or February, but when the calendar turns to April, such measures need to be put aside. Likewise, does it matter that Alaska has an official state bolt-action rifle if the budget isn’t done? Why are we commending Israel for its cordial relationship with the U.S. when funding for education has yet to be settled?
And is there anyone who doesn’t still chuckle a little when we celebrate Marmot Day?
According to its website, over the last two sessions, the 28th Legislature has introduced 743 bills and resolutions, and as of Thursday afternoon, 253 had been approved by the House and Senate — with a few notable pieces of legislation still on the table.
Without a doubt, the Legislature has important work to do, and a limited amount of time in which to get it done. We simply ask that legislators remember the reason for the limit. Focus on the issues that affect Alaskans first; take up those other debates when the priorities have been sufficiently addressed.