Lawmakers settle in for another session

Posted: Friday, January 05, 2001

JUNEAU - There's not much winter in Alaska this year, but Steven Menard found some as he traveled to Juneau for the opening of the Legislature's session.

It's between Haines Junction and Haines.

Menard, a new aide for Rep. Scott Ogan, a Palmer Republican, was rushing to catch a Dec. 31 ferry in Haines to Juneau for the legislative session that starts Monday and ignored warnings not to travel the highway.

He found himself driving through a blizzard. "You couldn't see in front of your vehicle," Menard said Thursday. "It took me five hours to go 159 miles."

He was the exception, though, among the legislators and aides trickling into Juneau for the legislative session. Some were delayed Wednesday when high winds kept planes from landing in Juneau during the morning. But there weren't many of the winter driving horror stories that lawmakers and aides have brought with them to Juneau in previous years.

"The weather was the nicest I've ever seen it because we're not even having winter this year," said Hans Neidig, an aide to Sen. Lyda Green, a Wasilla Republican. He arrived early, on Dec. 23.

He and other aides were busy Thursday with the annual unpacking of boxes and lining up of office supplies and furniture. Filing cabinets still sat in the entrance to the Capitol and piles of cardboard and bubble wrap lay against a marble sculpture of Alaska otters that greets the public as they enter the building.

A phone, fax machine and files lay on the floor in Anchorage Democrat Rep. Ethan Berkowitz's office, and the moose antlers hadn't yet been mounted on the wall in Ogan's office.

Ogan's staff have the extra challenge this year of trying to make sure desks and equipment will be accessible for him. He is recovering from a broken kneecap and will be using a combination of crutches and a wheelchair for a while, an aide, Dave Stancliff, said.

Freshmen lawmakers and new aides spent part of the day Thursday in training sessions.

Freshman Sen. Donny Olson, a Nome Democrat, said the training, which included instruction on ethics, discrimination law and hiring competent staff, was mostly about "how to stay out of trouble."

Rep. Lesil McGuire, a freshman legislator from Anchorage, was already familiar with some of the training, such as how to run a committee because she has worked in the Legislature as an aide.

She was still not used to some aspects of being a lawmaker. When the phone rang in her office, she automatically picked up an aide's line.

"She said, 'You know you can use the phone in your office,' " McGuire said.

Legislators and aides are also moving into temporary housing for the session, but most said they weren't having as many problems as in earlier years finding places to stay in Juneau's often tight housing market.

"I was surprised with the housing this year," said Sue Stancliff, an aide in McGuire's office. "There's so many places available."

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