Legislative Branch

Legislative Branch

The Legislative Branch is responsible for enacting the laws of the State of Alaska and appropriating the money necessary to operate the government. Alaska has a bicameral Legislature composed of the House of Representatives and the Senate. The House of Representatives is composed of 40 members elected from 40 election districts for two year terms. The Senate has 20 members elected from 20 senate districts for four year terms, with one half of the membership standing for election every two years. House and Senate election districts are determined on the basis of population. Under the State Constitution, redistricting is accomplished every 10 years after the reporting of the decennial federal census. An advisory reapportionment board is appointed by and assists the Governor in redistricting the state.

Qualification and Election

A member of the Legislature must be a qualified voter who has been residing in Alaska for no less than three years, and a resident of the district from which elected for one year immediately preceding filing for office. A senator must be at least 25 years old and a representative 21 years of age at the time the oath of office is taken. Each house is the final judge of the qualifications and election of its members and may expel a member with the concurrence of two-thirds of the membership of the house. A legislator formally becomes a member when the oath of office is taken and when seated at the convening of the next regular legislative session after the election. Provision is made for filling legislative vacancies by appointment or election.

Restrictions and Immunities

Members of the Legislature come under the general disqualification provisions of the State Constitution for officers of the state (ART. XII, Sec. 4) and in addition are subject to specific provisions of Art. II, Sec. 5 of the State Constitution which are as follows:

SECTION 5. No legislator may hold any other office or position of profit under the United States or the state. During the term for which elected and for one year thereafter, no legislator may be nominated, elected, or appointed to any other office or position of profit which has been created, or the salary or emoluments of which have been increased, while he was a member. This section shall not prevent any person from seeking or holding the office of Governor, Lieutenant Governor, or member of Congress. This section shall not apply to employment by or election to a constitutional convention.

Legislative membership also confers some immunities under the Constitution (Art. II, Sec. 6) which have been implemented by law (AS 24.40.010) and read as follows:

Sec. 24.40.010. IMMUNITIES. A legislator may not be held to answer before any other tribunal for any statement made in the exercise of his legislative duties while the Legislature is in session. A member attending, going to, or returning from legislative sessions is not subject to civil process and is privileged from arrest except for a felony or breach of the peace.

The immunities provided in this section extend to a legislator attending, going to, or returning from a meeting of an interim, standing, or special committee of the Legislature or which he is a member. For the purposes of going to and returning from a session or meeting, the immunities provided extend to a legislator for a period of five days immediately preceding and following his attendance at the session or meeting.

Standards of conduct for legislators and employees of the Legislature are dealt with under AS 24.60. A Select Committee on Legislative Ethics consisting of nine members (two House members, two Senate members, and five public members) implements these provisions.

Compensation

The State Constitution requires that legislators be paid an annual salary and provides that they may be paid a per diem and other allowances. Legislators' salaries are determined by legislation. Legislators receive an annual allowance for secretarial services, stationery and postage. Each member is entitled to moving expenses.

Sessions

A Legislature consists of two regular sessions which ordinarily convene annually on the third Tuesday in January. A Legislature must adjourn from a regular session no later than 90 consecutive calendar days from the day it convenes, except the session may be extended once for up to 10 days by a 2/3 vote of each house. Special sessions are called by the Governor or by the Legislature and are limited to 30 calendar days. The procedures for convening and organizing the first and second sessions of a Legislature are provided for by law and rule.

Uniform Rules

The Constitution requires that the Legislature operate under Uniform Rules of Procedure. Beginning with the First State Legislature in 1959, each Legislature has kept its rules uniform both as to procedure and operation. By law each Legislature, i.e., the Legislature convening for its first of two regular sessions on the odd-numbered years, adopts its own uniform rules. After a new Legislature convenes, the houses adopt permanent rules with the rules of the previous Legislature serving as its temporary rules by provision of law until permanent rules are adopted. The Uniform Rules are implemented and interpreted by the use of Mason's Manual of Legislative Procedure.

Organization

When each house convenes for the first of its two regular sessions, it elects its officers and selects its employees in accordance with the provisions of the Uniform Rules. The presiding officer of the Senate is called the President, and the presiding officer of the House of Representatives is called the Speaker. Each house elects a chief administrative clerk called the Secretary of the Senate and the Chief Clerk of the House, respectively. As part of the informal organization of each house, the major political parties elect their floor and caucus leaders in party caucus.

The Uniform Rules determine the temporary employees assigned to each house at the direction of the committee or legislator to which they are assigned. Many of the legislative services are centralized (payroll, purchasing, accounting, duplicating, distribution, mailing and enrolling), and the temporary employees assigned to these services work at the direction of the Legislative Affairs Agency.

Committees

When each house organizes, the presiding officer appoints a Committee on Committees to meet and report its nominations for assignments to the new standing committees in conformity with the Uniform Rules. The standing committees are: Community and Regional Affairs; Finance; Health, Education, and Social Services; Judiciary; Labor and Commerce; Resources; Rules; State Affairs; and Transportation. The membership on each committee must total an odd number and there must be at least one minority member on each committee. The nominating report of the Committee on Committees is placed before the House for adoption, and the adoption of the report constitutes the election of committee members and committee chairs.

Special committees are formed by the adoption of a simple resolution and members are appointed by the presiding officers. Joint committees are formed by adoption of a concurrent resolution and members appointed by the presiding officers of each house. Standing, special, and joint committees are governed generally by the provisions applying to them in the Uniform Rules.

The Rules Committee of each house schedules the order in which bills and resolutions will be placed and published on the daily calendar for second and third reading, considers parliamentary questions referred to it, and is responsible for the immediate supervision of the staff of the house.

Bill (Proposed Legislation)

The most important form of legislative expression is a bill--a proposed law. Most bills are introduced by members, acting individually or with others. A bill requested by a constituent or other person or organization but not necessarily having the personal endorsement of the member will carry the member's name followed by the note "by request." Standing, special, and joint committees often introduce bills or offer substitute bills for bills already introduced. Administration bills are introduced through the Rules Committee of either house with the note "Rules Committee at the Request of the Governor." Bills of permanent interim committees are also introduced through the Rules Committee. The Legislature expresses its wishes, opinions and decisions through the passage of resolutions or citations. The types, uses, and handling of resolutions and citations are covered in detail in the Uniform Rules. All legislative documents are prepared and processed in conformity with the Uniform Rules and the official legislative drafting manual of the Legislative Council, as prepared and published by the Legislative Affairs Agency.

Bills that are passed during the session and will become law, with or without the signature of the Governor, are printed in "slip law" form to make them readily available to the legislators and the public pending the publication of the laws in the annual cumulative supplement to the Alaska Statutes. The main pamphlets and supplement contain all the permanent general laws which constitute the Alaska Statutes. Alaska Statutes is the official code of the State of Alaska which was adopted as the law of the state in 1962, as amended, and supplements since that time. The main pamphlets and supplement are recognized as prima facie law of the state. The main pamphlets (in an even numbered year) and the supplement (in an odd numbered year) are usually available three months after the last bill has become law. The special or temporary laws (including appropriation and fund transfer laws) are published along with the resolve clauses of resolutions of the session in a separate pamphlet.

Bills introduced in the first legislative session may be acted upon in the second. No bills may be passed in the interim between sessions unless a special session is called.