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Stuck in Juneau, lawmakers look for things to do

Posted: April 20, 2011 - 9:27pm

JUNEAU — In between floor sessions in the chambers of the Alaska House, Rep. Chris Tuck, D-Anchorage, could be found on in the parking lot behind the Capitol, sunglasses on and shirt untucked, barbecuing shrimp on a charcoal grill perched on a truck’s tailgate.

Elsewhere in the building, Sen. Bill Wielechowski, D-Anchorage, spent Tuesday morning writing his newsletter and answering emails from constituents. As a worker packed up a staffer’s computer, the senator worried that his machine could be next.

“That’ll hurt if I lose my computer,” Wielechowski said.

Since the Legislature began its special session Monday, some lawmakers, hamstrung by Gov. Sean Parnell’s proclamation limiting what bills they can work on, have been looking for ways to pass time normally filled with committee meetings and other legislative business.

In calling the special session, necessitated by an impasse between the House and Senate over the size and shape of the budget, Parnell restricted lawmakers’ attentions to 10 bills that deal with the budget and issues like college scholarship funding.

Some of the bills simply required concurrence between the two legislative bodies, while others are the subject of behind-closed-door negotiations. Not all legislators will be involved in the shaping of the bills, but all are presumed to stick around to vote on the final versions.

“We’re all in neutral gear, waiting,” said Sen. Tom Wagoner, R-Kenai. “No matter what you do, how many days you meet, it all comes down to hurry up and wait.”

Meanwhile, the Capitol is slowly being vacated. Offices are being packed up, computers are being hauled away and many staffers are preparing for Thursday, their last day on the job.

While it’s unclear if committees could meet to consider — but not move — bills, some lawmakers are content to stick around to ensure the capital budget will contain money for their districts.

Rep. Max Gruenberg, D-Anchorage, has been keeping an eye on the capital budget to make sure his district gets money for sewer and water system upgrades.

“The governor’s been very good to me and my district,” Gruenberg said. “There’s some things put in to (the budget) that I’d like to see pass.”

When the budget will pass is the subject of speculation, leaving legislators like Tuck to pass their time planning interim committee meetings and working on bills for next year. Lawmakers are trapped in Juneau at least until the operating budget is sent to Parnell, and House Speaker Mike Chenault said he is willing to work through the Easter weekend.

With the lease on his housing ending in a few days, Wielechowski said he may have to move into a hotel or maybe one of the couches in his office.

Not that either of those would be worse than where he slept during the 2007 special session.

“During (that session) I slept on an air mattress on a kitchen floor,” Wielechowski said. “I actually helped draft some of the legislation on the kitchen floor.”

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