The Capitol couldn’t have handled the most recent special session because of construction, but it will be ready to host the one expected to take place this fall, Rep. Cathy Muñoz said Thursday.
“It was very noisy, there was a lot of construction work,” she said at Thursday’s Juneau Chamber of Commerce luncheon. “But now that that’s done I have confidence that the special session can be held in Juneau.”
The 80-year-old building is in the process of a structural overhaul to be completed in October 2016. Construction resumed soon after the regular legislative session was scheduled to end in April, but legislators weren’t done meeting.
They ended up packing up and moving the show to the new legislative information office in downtown Anchorage, a building that caught negative attention this year when it was revealed that the Legislature will spend $3.4 million in rent on the building per year while cheaper options are available, for a second special session.
Rep. Sam Kito, D-Juneau, said the Legislature is planning for another special session about the state gas line project in late October or early November.
“If there is a special session that occurs earlier than that, there are spaces available (in Juneau other than the Capitol) that we can use,” Kito said.
Muñoz said in her presentation that the special session at the Anchorage LIO was host to “a lot of issues.”
“The microphone systems weren’t functioning properly, we didn’t have Gavel to Gavel coverage, there isn’t enough space to meet for more than one committee at a time,” she said.
The Anchorage LIO is “just not set up for legislative session the way Juneau is,” she said.
“We’ve developed a very nice working campus,” Muñoz said. “When legislators are (in Juneau), they’re there to do the work. You have the feeling in Anchorage that they came in and people left immediately, they were only there for the necessary time that they had to be and then they were gone. You don’t have that feeling of kind of a captured audience.”
Kito said after the presentation that he felt the same way about the work culture in Anchorage.
“When we were not in session, many of the people were not around or available in the Anchorage LIO,” he said. “The process could have gone faster if people were... in conversation about trying to get us out of the special session.”
Muñoz also shared her take on the session and the special sessions. She said she thought the year got off to a rough start with Gov. Bill Walker’s administration taking charge and replacing many of the upper level executive branch officials. With that, she said, came uncertainty about projects that some Alaskans had long been pushing for, including the Juneau Access Improvement Project, known colloquially as the Juneau Road.
In December, Walker ordered that work on several large state projects, including the Road, be stopped.
She said she thinks “many of those issues (with the Walker administration) are working themselves out,” and pointed to the governor’s recent decision to finish the environmental impact study for the Road project as proof.
The Walker administration has said that it will re-evaluate the Road once the EIS is complete but that the governor has not lifted his order that halted the project.
Also at the meeting, Muñoz presented former Juneau Chamber of Commerce CEO Cathie Roemmich with a legislative citation on behalf of the Alaska State Legislature for her leadership and volunteer work in the community and her advocacy for the local economy.
Roemmich received a standing ovation and called the citation “the most incredible honor.”
• Contact reporter Katie Moritz at 523-2294 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @katecmoritz.