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Legislature’s special session lives in limbo without legislators

Most lawmakers head home as fourth special session prepares to end with a whimper

Speaker of the House Bryce Edgmon, D-Dillingham, center, leaves the House chambers with Rep. Sam Kito, D-Juneau, left, and Rep. Paul Seaton, R-Homer, after holding a short technical session at the Capitol on Monday, Nov. 13, 2017. The Alaska Senate on Friday approved a constitutionally problematic criminal justice reform bill, then adjourned the fourth special session of the 30th Alaska Legislature. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

The Alaska Legislature’s special session will continue — without most legislators.

 

On Monday, the Alaska House of Representatives failed to adjourn the ongoing fourth special session after the Alaska Senate did so on Friday. With the House refusing to quit, the Senate will be called back to work.

Sort of.

While the Alaska Constitution says both House and Senate must together agree to adjourn a special session (or have the governor chime in), it doesn’t say the two bodies have to work.

“It’s a very confusing mess for members that are in the House side,” said House Minority Leader Charisse Millett, R-Anchorage.

House and Senate have already passed Senate Bill 54, one of two items on the special session agenda. That bill is on its way to the desk of Gov. Bill Walker, who is expected to sign it. The other item on the agenda is a state payroll tax. The House passed an income tax bill earlier this year, then saw the Senate vote it down. With the Senate maintaining adamantine opposition to any new statewide tax, the House is unwilling to work on legislation it knows the Senate will reject.

At the same time, it doesn’t want to entirely close the door, just in case the Senate changes its mind on a tax or on SB 54, which is expected to face a constitutional challenge on one of its key provisions because of a Legislative error.

“I know the odds are slim that the Senate will return to Juneau, but we owe it to Alaskans to give our best effort until the very end. That’s what we intend to do,” Speaker of the House Bryce Edgmon, D-Dillingham, said in a prepared statement.

Both the House and Senate are expected to hold technical sessions that will keep the special session active until its 30-day constitutional limit arrives on Nov. 21. The House held the first of those sessions Monday, but fewer than half of the Representatives were present. Most have already left Juneau, and only Juneau’s delegation (plus one member from the Republican minority) are expected to remain in the Capitol.

While away from Juneau, lawmakers are not expected to apply for per diem expense payments, saving the state a few thousand dollars.

In the Senate, Rules Chairman Kevin Meyer, R-Anchorage, is expected to conduct technical sessions attended only by Sen. Dennis Egan, D-Juneau.

“It’s just a messy way to end the special session,” said House Minority Leader Charisse Millett, R-Anchorage. “It just adds to the underlying tones that the Legislature can’t get its work done, and that’s just not true.”

“As long as there is hope that politicians can become statesmen and challenges can become solutions, the House will stay in session,” Rep. Paul Seaton, R-Homer, said in a prepared statement from the House Majority.

Seaton, after holding a farewell party for a departing staffer, was expected to leave for Homer on Monday evening or Tuesday morning.

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Article II, Section 10 of the Alaska Constitution: “Neither house may adjourn or recess for longer than three days unless the other concurs. If the two houses cannot agree on the time of adjournment and either house certifies the disagreement to the governor, he may adjourn the legislature.”


• Contact reporter James Brooks at james.k.brooks@juneauempire.com or call 523-2258.


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