House Speaker wants special session, just not in Juneau

• Says Capitol construction would be disruptive • Staffer: 'This is not a capital creep thing'

House Speaker Rep. Mike Chenault intends to ask for a special legislative session in Anchorage this year if the governor doesn’t call one, a member of Nikiski Republican’s staff said Monday.

 

The session would center on the state’s gas line projects.

If the House speaker calls for a special session, it would take 40 of 60 legislators to approve it, including the location, for the session to happen. There are 21 legislators from the immediate Anchorage area and more who represent nearby communities. 

A senior staff member for Chenault, Tom Wright, said his boss is only advocating holding the session elsewhere to avoid noisy construction in the Capitol during the interim. 

The 80-year-old building is in the process of a structural overhaul to be completed in October 2016. Last year, temporary cubicles were put up in the adjacent Terry Miller Legislative Office Building’s gymnasium to house Capitol workers displaced by construction.

“The only reason we’re thinking Anchorage is because of what’s going on in the building here,” Wright said. “We’re not knocking Juneau. ... This is not a capital creep thing.”

He pointed out that there is currently no capital move legislation filed. Before the session, Sen. Bill Stoltze, R-Chugiak, talked about introducing a bill that would move the state’s legislative branch operations to Anchorage’s new legislative information office, but so far it has not been filed. 

“(That’s) something my boss isn’t interested in, even though there are some members who are,” Wright said.

The special gas line session would probably be held at the new LIO, he said.

Gov. Bill Walker spokeswoman Grace Jang wrote in an email “it’s a bit early” for the governor to commit to calling a special session.

If one does happen in Anchorage this year, it wouldn’t be the first time. Special sessions have taken place in the state’s population center twice before, both in recent years, and one went on the road for a tour of the state.

The first, on the Senior Benefits Payment Program, spanned one day in June 2007 and was called by the Legislature, according to a Legislative Research Services report. The state spent about $111,800 on the session.

The second was another one-day session called by the Legislature, this time to consider an override of Gov. Sarah Palin’s veto of federal energy stimulus funds and to confirm Craig Campbell as lieutenant governor, Palin’s second-in-line appointment after she resigned and Sean Parnell became governor. It was held in August 2009 and cost $76,592. The Legislature took the show on the road for a month in summer of 2008 at the request of Gov. Palin.

On average, according to numbers going back to 2003, one day of special session proceedings in Juneau costs the state about $32,900. The Legislature has met for a special session in the capital city 10 times since 2003. The Legislative Affairs Agency began keeping track of special session spending in 1997; since then, the Legislature has met for extra innings 21 times for a total of 258 days.

Sen. Dennis Egan, D-Juneau, is no longer a member of Legislative Council, the bicameral committee that oversees Capitol operations, having been replaced this session by Sen. Lyman Hoffman, D-Bethel, when Hoffman joined the Senate majority and Egan left it. (With a Republican-dominated Legislature, there must be at least one Democrat from each legislative body on the council — there’s nothing that says they need to be  minority members.) But Egan is a member of a group of legislators, state employees and construction industry players that meets every week to talk about the ongoing Capitol seismic retrofit project.

Project contractor Dawson Construction will begin working on the building again right after the session ends this year, Egan said. Once it finishes re-bricking the Main Street side, the company will go on to work on the back of the building, the Seward Street side, and, finally, the building’s face.

Egan said he expects Capitol construction to be louder this year during the interim than it was last year, and he is working on securing an alternative facility to hold a special session if it comes to that. 

• Contact reporter Katie Moritz at katherine.moritz@juneauempire.com. Follow her on Twitter @katecmoritz.

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