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Wasilla lawmaker aims to halt legislative rule-breaking by changing the rule

  • Author: Nathaniel Herz
  • Updated: December 2, 2017
  • Published February 7, 2017

JUNEAU — Freshman Alaska Rep. David Eastman, R-Wasilla, wants to fix a longstanding discrepancy between one of the Legislature's rules and the failure of lawmakers to follow it.

Rep. David Eastman, R-Wasilla, in the House Chambers last month (Marc Lester / Alaska Dispatch News)

Rather than force lawmakers to abide by the existing rule, which requires them to give 24 hours' notice before meetings late in the legislative session, Eastman wants to change the rule to accommodate the current practice — in which meetings are often announced the evening before the hearing with less than 24 hours' notice.

Eastman on Monday introduced the legislation, House Concurrent Resolution 4. In an interview, Eastman said he's trying to enhance the public's confidence in the Legislature by bringing its behavior in line with its rules.

"I don't care which way it goes," he said. "If the practice changes to match what was agreed on in the rules previously, that's great."

And if the rule changes because it's not practical to follow, he added, "I'm fine with that too."

Eastman's legislation affects what's known in Juneau as the "24-hour rule," or, officially, a part of Rule 23 of the Legislature's Uniform Rules.

The rule doesn't kick in until late in the session, after the House and the Senate have each passed their own versions of the budget and a committee has been appointed to hash out differences between the two plans.

Earlier in the session, committee leaders have to give at least four days' notice before they hold meetings.

The 24-hour rule gives lawmakers more flexibility as they negotiate session-ending deals on the budget and other issues, and as they go through the procedural steps needed to carry out compromises between the House, the Senate and the governor's office.

But in the rush to move legislation through committees and to the floor, the 24-hour rule is often brushed aside, as long as hearings are announced at some point during the day — or night — before the meeting.

Last year, a morning round of public testimony on oil taxes was announced at a 7 p.m. hearing the preceding night in which Anchorage Republican Sen. Cathy Giessel unveiled a 43-page bill — to the consternation of one member of the Senate Resources Committee that Giessel chairs, Anchorage Democrat Bill Wielechowski.

Wielechowski said in an interview Tuesday that he's glad Eastman is starting a discussion about the rules. But he said he doesn't support Eastman's fix.

"It should be 24 hours — you should give people a day," Wielechowski said. "Don't wait until the last minute to do all your work."

Eastman's legislation was referred to the House State Affairs Committee first, followed by the judiciary committee. Rep. Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins, D-Sitka, the state affairs committee chair, said he needed to learn more about Eastman's proposal before venturing an opinion.

Kreiss-Tomkins added that he likes "public process," and said Eastman's legislation "might be a vehicle" to improve it.

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