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PUBLISHED: 5:13 PM on Wednesday, May 9, 2007
Sorry but 90 days is not enough time

A wise man once said (or should have said) "Neither man nor beast is safe while the Legislature is in session."

That's why most states - including Alaska - set brief legislative sessions each year, in hopes the elected officials will not do too much damage in that brief term.

In general, less is more with elected officials.

I think the elected would mostly agree too.

But when is less too little?

Looks like for Alaska it will be somewhere at about 90 days.

The voters' decision to trim a quarter of the regular session will reduce neither the cost nor inefficiency of state politics.

Witness the 2007 session as a forecast of things to come.

In the first 90 days of this year's session, just a handful of bills have reached a vote.

The biggies - the gas pipeline, ethics reform, health care, the budget - have generated lots of heat, but little light as of this writing.

So one solution would be that we'll just have a special session to tackle each unresolved issue.

Clearly the solons are already expecting one or more special sessions.

As to timing, the plan to start in mid-February instead of mid-January also does not make sense. And not just because it pushes the sessions into the beginning of the tourism season, when limited housing becomes even more dear.

You might argue that in February the weather is getting better, so it's easier to get in and out of Juneau.

But the point is to get here, stay here and get the work done, right?

A later session also cuts into critical spring working and fishing seasons for those legislators who are not full-time politicians. Hence a shorter, later session can discourage the citizen representation that's so important.

Even the 90-day bill's sponsor has said emphatically he never imagined the session starting later than mid-January. Wish he'd thought to spell that out.

Lt. Governor Sean Parnell told local business leaders at a Juneau Chamber of Commerce lunch recently that the work could be done in 90 days, if committees got right to work, and if leadership of both houses agreed quickly and stuck to a firm agenda.

He might have added, if pigs fly, which is probably more likely than the first two.

Lt. Gov. Parnell spoke eloquently about changes in government. But we just don't agree on this one. So if you can't get it done in 120 days, the solution is to cut your time?

Although Parnell spoke eloquently about changes in government, I just don't agree with him on this issue. If they can't get the work done in 120 days, why was the solution to cut the time?

One of the state's premier realtors, who often lobbies on behalf of the state's real estate industry, made another interesting observation the other day. With less time, the elected officials are less open to new ideas or even comment from their constituents.

They just don't have the time to listen. And they sure don't have the time to consider new legislation.

When the realtors visited Juneau in early March, the general response from legislators seemed to be: "Glad to see you, but don't ask me to consider anything new."

Those same busy legislators are going to be even more dependent on outside sources of information-their own staff, and paid vendors (i.e. lobbyists) for information.

And special sessions are not cheaper. It's like buying in bulk-120 at once is cheaper than four 30s, every time.

So let's tally - less real work done, more special sessions, less response to constituents, more reliance on lobbyists, and probably no savings at all.

Time will tell.

Leschper is general manager of the Capital City Weekly. Email him at lee.leschper@juneauempire.com.


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