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Teacher's Guide

Regional History
Governing Alaska
The Legislative Branch

Every state except Nebraska has a two body legislative system, made up of two chambers that act as a check and balance against each other. Alaska operates with this arrangement.

The Alaska legislature is the second smallest in the United States. It makes laws that set policy for the state. Since 1965 the members of both the 40-person House of Representatives and the 20-person Senate have been chosen from districts that formed along population lines.

The constitution called for representation in the house based on population and representation in the senate based on population and geography. That senate idea allowed more representation for rural areas, but decisions by the U.S. Supreme Court mandated "one person, one vote" districts which required that all representation be based on population.

The increasing number of residents in the Anchorage area has led to a growing concentration of political power in that part of the state.

Every ten years when the federal census is completed, the legislature is re-apportioned by a board appointed by the governor, legislature and state Supreme Court. Each house district is supposed to contain, as nearly as possible, one-fortieth of the state population. Each senate district is to include one-twentieth of the population.

The boundaries can be drawn in many ways and the process has usually sparked accusations of partisanship by opponents of the party in power. The stakes are high because the positioning of the district boundaries has an influence on what type of candidate is likely to win office in a given area.

The legislature meets every year in Juneau for a session that is limited by a 1984 constitutional amendment to no more than 120 days.

Members of the House have to be at least 21 years old and members of the Senate at least 25. All legislators must be qualified voters and residents of Alaska for at least three years and of their individual districts for at least one year. Members of the House serve two-year terms.Senators run for four-year terms. It takes a majority vote in both chambers to enact a law. The legislature also considers resolutions, which are not binding - they are statements expressing the opinion of either the House, the Senate or both.

Resolutions don't go to the governor for approval, but bills do. The governor can veto a bill or reduce or eliminate items in any bill that appropriates money for a specific purpose. The legislature can override a veto with a two-thirds vote in each chamber. If the veto is of an appropriation or tax measure, it requires a three-quarters vote in each chamber to override the governor.

Unlike some states, the governor of Alaska does not have the power of "pocket veto," which means to let a bill die by not signing it. In Alaska, a bill becomes law even if the governor does not sign it.


  • Look up a law or a bill

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