Constitutional change proposed to limit session length

JUNEAU — A Democratic state representative has proposed a constitutional amendment to limit regular legislative sessions to 90 days.

The proposal, from Anchorage Rep. Matt Claman, was released Friday in the last batch of bills filed before the start of the upcoming session on Tuesday.

Currently, the constitution allows for the Legislature to meet for up to 121 days, with an option to extend for up to 10 days.

But state law limits regular sessions to 90 days — the product of a voter initiative. Claman’s proposal, which includes a 10-day option to extend, would have to be approved by two-thirds of each the House and Senate to go before voters.

Legislators in recent years have tried to honor the 90-day limit but in some cases have blown past it to finish their work or been called into special sessions. A bill has been introduced for this session by another Democrat, Rep. Sam Kito III, to abolish the 90-day limit.

Claman noted that 2016 will mark 10 years since the voter initiative passed. “My thought is if the voters really want a 90-day session, we need to amend the constitution. So let’s let the voters tell us what they want,” he said.

Other bills released Friday include:

—A proposal from Rep. Bob Lynn, R-Anchorage, related to Alaska Permanent Fund dividends for those with overturned convictions.

—A proposal from Rep. Adam Wool, D-Fairbanks, intended to better inform the public about proposed health insurance rate increases.

HB 243, from Lynn, would allow someone who was ineligible for a dividend due to a conviction to receive one for each year of ineligibility if the conviction is overturned and the charges are later dismissed; the person is found not guilty at a retrial or the person is pardoned. The dividend payment would include interest.

In a release, Lynn said the bill is about “righting wrongs.”

No one should lose a dividend because the state made a mistake and sent an innocent person to jail, he said.

“That would be unconscionable,” he added.

Dividends are expected to be a hot topic this session. Gov. Bill Walker has proposed changes to how the dividend is calculated as part of his budget proposal.

HB 239, from Wool, calls for public investigatory hearings if an insurer seeks to increase the premium rate for health insurance plans by 10 percent or more.

Wool, in a release, said the first time that most Alaskans heard that insurance companies planned to raise rates by more than 30 percent was in the news, after the rates were approved.

In an interview, Wool said there should be a transparent process, and he is hoping this will be part of a larger discussion about high health care costs in the state.

Last year, the Division of Insurance approved average rate increases of nearly 40 percent for two companies offering individual health insurance policies in Alaska. One of the companies, Premera Blue Cross Blue Shield, has reported losses and cited a small pool for spreading costs of members with significant medical needs.

Division director Lori Wing-Heier said the division is as transparent as it can be but cannot release or discuss a rate filing until it becomes effective.

The division has provided average increases for all filings before the rates become effective but never an exact figure for each tier, age group or locations because that’s in the rate filing, she said.

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