I would like in this week's message to attempt to explain some of the legislative process.
Once a bill is introduced and assigned to various committees, the process begins. The chairperson of the committee will schedule a committee hearing. During the committee process the bill will be presented by the sponsor, discussed and public testimony presented.
As a sponsor of a specific piece of legislation, you may do either a formal or informal request for a hearing of your bill. The chairperson does not have to hear the bill. That is their prerogative or within their privilege to do so, although I think all bills should be heard.
There is no limit on the number of bills a legislator can introduce per session or a pre-file out of session as long as they are filed prior to 45 days of the second half of the legislative session. If you have any other legislation you want introduced, you would have to have a committee chairperson or a committee introduce it as a committee bill.
In a normal year, there are in the area of 350 personal pieces of legislation introduced that are going through the legislative hearing process, which can be from one to four committees for discussion and then on to the floor for debate.
With a new administration being elected in November, we need to look at our laws and see if we cannot eliminate duplicate or unwarranted laws. Then we need to limit bill filings.
Once a bill goes through the committee process in the House and Senate it is sent to the governor for signature and becomes law. If the governor does not sign the bill, it automatically becomes law in 45 days. If the governor vetoes the bill, it can be returned to the Legislature for a veto override. Once the second session of the Legislature is complete, all bills are dead and the process begins over.
Next, the budget legislation.
The governor has to, by law, present the Legislature with a recommended operating budget for the following year by mid-December of the preceding year. The Finance Committee then with each of the 11 members in the House and nine members in the Senate are assigned to chair one or more subcommittees of the departments. They work through their assigned subcommittee process with the departments they have been assigned and come up with the next year's available income and expenditure consideration for the full Finance Committee presentation.
At this point, when budget cuts are recommended the governor and his commissioners determine where those cuts will be made, i.e. parks, Denali Kid Care, highway maintenance, troopers, etc.
My biggest frustration is that the Legislature does not fund or authorize jobs or positions. That is up to the commissioner. They can use their allocated funds as they see fit within their budget request amount.
Once the Finance Committee has had the discussion and moves the budget to the floor for the full House or Senate to debate, vote and pass to the other body. Ultimately, the budget will be passed onto the governor to sign and use for perimeters to operate this great state for the ensuing year.
While the Operating Budget is being worked on by, typically the House first, the Senate is working on the Capital Budget. Once both budgets are complete, and assuming there is not 100 percent agreement, the budgets are referred to a Conference Committee (three from each body).
The Conference Committee is appointed by the president of the Senate and the speaker of the House. The six legislators will work together to come to consensus and ultimately come to agreement for passage of the budget that will be submitted to the governor. This happens in the final days or hours of the session.
Somewhere in and amongst this process there is a supplemental budget, which briefly is the shortfall in funding experienced during the previous year from the budget that was passed.
Another item of interest: While all of the budget discussion is going on, at the same time there is an average of nine visits daily (constituents and lobbyists), e-mails, public opinion messages, telephone calls and committee meetings.
I hope this gives you some idea of the life in a session of the legislator. If you have questions, ideas, concerns, thoughts, my office would appreciate hearing from you. Remember our toll-free number: 1-800-463-2693.
Ken Lancaster is a first-term Republican from Soldotna.
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