Cast vote for less posturing, shorter Legislative sessions

Posted: Wednesday, June 08, 2005

With one legislative gathering down and another yet to come, it's time again to say changes are needed in the way Alaska handles its lawmaking needs.

What has become customary is bad — sessions that are too long, too tiresome, too filled with acrimony, too dominated by political divisiveness. Alaska needs:

n Shorter sessions — 90 days at the most, 75 days as a compromise, 60 days in reality.

n Biennial sessions — every other year for regular sessions, with a special session if needed during the off year.

n An absolute commitment by every person elected to the House and Senate to act in expeditious and disciplined ways. No dilly-dallying, no days and weeks wasted, no slow-motion tactics to hold back some legislation as a means to barter for others, no excessive political gamesmanship.

n Turn off the TV cameras. The well-meaning ''Gavel to Gavel'' programming was created as a tool by the Juneau establishment, arguing that there is no need to move the capital because the Legislature could be seen on live TV. In truth, we suspect, the daily telecasts have little statewide viewership. Even so, a handful of legislators rise before the cameras every day to speak on every issue, posturing in apparent hopes there are some viewers who will later rally in support of their candidacies for governor or Congress.

The long sessions, in the isolated atmosphere of Juneau, guarantee that nerves will be rubbed raw, that egos will be bruised, and that pressures will build that act against getting the job done in orderly fashion.

The truth is simple: There is no excuse for legislators in a state our size to spend 121 days in a regular session and then immediately afterward to argue for 15 more days about business they should have taken care of in the first place, weeks and weeks earlier.

The lawmaking needs of Alaska are not that huge. There is no logical need for a four-month-long session as an annual thing, year after year after year.

All told, legislators met this year for more than 4 1/2 months before finally adjourning.

They'll be back again this summer or fall for another special session still to be called by Gov. Frank Murkowski, primarily to say yea or nay to a natural gas pipeline contract. That's a legitimate reason for a special session, to take up a matter of importance that was not on the table during the regular session.

But it surely will be brief, not a repeat of the dragged-out agony of what Alaskans had to endure earlier in the year.

And let's again raise another absolute fact: If the Legislature met in a location closer to the population center of the state, the lawmaking job would be easier, more disciplined, and more responsive to the public.

— The Voice of the Times,

June 1

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