Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Constitutional Amendment to Enlarge Leg - House and Senate Versions Differ

Constitutional Amendments aren't offered as a 'bill.'  They're offered as a  'joint resolution' or 'JR.'
SJR (Senate Joint Resolution) 21, sponsored by the Senate Community and Regional Affairs Committee, has now made it through the Senate State Affairs, Senate Judiciary, and Senate Finance committees to the Senate Rules Committee. (You can see the history of the resolution here.)  I've only been to one of the hearings and I'm not completely sure of this, but I think it is relatively intact.  It's still called SJR 21, not CS(Committee Substitute)JR 38.  What I do know is that it still calls for increasing the House by eight members and the Senate by four members.  And it's made it all the way to the Rules Committee, the last step before going to the Senate floor. 

SJR 21
03/15/10    1823    (S)    REFERRED TO RULES

Meanwhile, the House version, sponsored by Peggy Wilson of Wrangell, has been changed from HB 38 to CSHB 38 and would now only increase the House by four members and the Senate by two members.  That happened in its first committee - State Affairs - when Rep. Seaton proposed the change and sponsor Rep. Wilson accepted it.  It's now made it through House Judiciary and is in House Finance.

03/15/10    1737    (H)    REFERRED TO FINANCE

Whichever version passes on the chamber floor - the Senate floor or the House floor - will become the version that moves on.  That isn't very clear is it?  I'll try again.  If the Senate Joint Resolution passes on the Senate floor before the House Joint Resolution passes on the House floor, from then on it will be called SJR 21 and CSHJR 38 will disappear.  At least that's how I understand it.

Basically, if the resolution passes, a Constitutional Amendment "shall be placed before the voters of the state at the next general election..." to increase the size of the legislature.

The rural legislators want this bad.  The 2010 census data is expected to show increased population in Matsu, Anchorage, Kenai, and Fairbanks and decreased population in rural Alaska.  These will certainly be in the more urban districts required.  Without raising the number of legislators, some rural districts will be merged and they will get geographically bigger.  One Senate district is already the largest in the US and getting around to visit constituents requires expensive travel.  Meanwhile urban legislators can walk across their districts in a few hours.

The urban legislators aren't particularly excited, and it means there will be first year expenses for remodeling the Capitol to accommodate the additional legislators plus their regular annual expenses:  $6 million the first year (would include the remodeling) and $4 million every year after for the Senate version, and half that for the House version since they cut the number of new legislators in half.  (You can click the links to see the fiscal notes for the House and Senate.)

The people I've asked about this don't think it has a chance.  Neither the Senate nor the House versions have passed either full body yet, and then they will have to reconcile the different numbers of members to be increased. 

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