'When' special session is called may decide 'where'

Juneau delegation says Capitol can host expected special session

When the special session is called to discuss Alaska’s liquified natural gasline project will be a deciding factor in where it takes place.

 

Sen. Dennis Egan, D-Juneau, said if the special session is scheduled to begin Oct. 1, renovations to the Capitol and a lack of hotel rooms may move it to Anchorage. The Alaska Travel Industry Association convention will be held in the capital city Oct. 5-8, and hotels are already booked, he said.

“What we’re trying to do is push the session back at least a couple of weeks,” Egan told the Empire on Wednesday. “We’re going to have a horrible time here” because of renovation work and a lack of housing.

The senator said a Nov. 1 start date “is not a problem at all. I just wish they’d delay it and then we’d be fine.”

The special session is intended to move along plans for a large-scale LNG project and liquefaction plant to bring Alaska’s abundant supply of natural gas to market and help offset a sharp drop in revenue due to slumping oil prices.

A request for information from Gov. Bill Walker’s office offered little insight. “It’s too soon to say,” responded a Walker spokeswoman when asked for details. The Juneau legislative delegation is also awaiting information, but all three said Juneau makes sense logistically and economically. The two special sessions held in Anchorage in early summer cost more than $886,000, the Associated Press reported Aug. 4.

Egan said renovations to the Capitol are on schedule to be complete in October. Several phone calls to Legislative Affairs asking about the status of renovations were not returned as of press time.

Some offices and meeting spaces are still under construction, “but by October many of the committee rooms will be available,” said Cathy Muñoz, R-Juneau, noting work to the Senate Chambers and House Finance Committee room is complete. The Terry Miller building next door also could be used for working space.

Muñoz, who like the rest of the Juneau delegation works out of the Capitol year-round, said the boisterous noise at the beginning of summer has died down. If an October special session were held in Juneau, some lawmakers may have to share office space, but that would be no different than when the last two special sessions were held at the Anchorage legislative information office building. Only Anchorage lawmakers have designated offices there.

“Certainly there are not offices for 60 legislators there,” she said. “Most of us were sharing office space.”

Sam Kito III, D-Juneau, said Juneau will be ready to host the special session regardless of Capitol construction work.

“Even if the Capitol isn’t completely ready, it will be mostly ready and there’s other places in Juneau,” he said. “By Oct. 1, (contractors) will be wrapping things up. There may be a need to use the JACC or Centennial Hall for some committee meetings, ... but Juneau is completely ready.”

Kito added that lawmakers don’t typically travel with their full staffs during special sessions, so less office space is required. Muñoz backed that statement and said she also traveled solo to Anchorage for the previous special sessions.

The Juneau delegation had a list of other reasons why hosting a special session outside of Juneau wouldn’t work: the Anchorage LIO isn’t set up to accommodate Gavel-to-Gavel coverage; legislative support staff would need to relocate to Anchorage, and there was no increase in constituent attendance at meetings and hearings in Alaska’s most populated city.

“We were in the largest city in the state and we didn’t have more participation … than at the Capitol in Juneau,” Kito said.

Egan said delaying the special session until Nov. 1 would make little difference in regard to Alaska’s pipeline plans.

“They’re making good progress,” he said of the construction work. “They’re on schedule.”

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