Back in Session

Alaska Legislature convenes for 2009 session

Posted: Wednesday, January 21, 2009

JUNEAU - Lawmakers sporting blue and yellow boutonnieres bestowed hugs and smiles on their colleagues and promised big things to come as the 26th Alaska State Legislature convened on Tuesday.

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Michael Penn /Juneau Empire
Michael Penn /Juneau Empire

Newly elected House Speaker Mike Chenault, R-Nikiski, pledged to return "pride, integrity and respect back to this institution," a veiled reference to the corruption scandals that continue to shake Alaska's political world.

Taking up the gavel in the Senate, Senate President Gary Stevens, R-Kodiak, talked of the challenging economic times - both for the state and the nation.

"This Senate stands ready with ideas and solutions to problems that seem so overwhelming," said Stevens.

The state is facing a fiscal squeeze as oil prices continue to hover in the $34 range, compared to $140 a barrel last year. Meanwhile Alaska residents, especially in rural areas, continue to face staggering energy costs.

Lt. Gov. Sean Parnell, on hand to swear in newly elected legislators, said he and Gov. Sarah Palin are ready to work with the legislature.

"It really is a time in my estimation to lay down our swords and pull together for all Alaskans," said Parnell.

Lawmakers were sworn in as groups of four while family, friends and staff filed in and out of the small public galleries in back to witness the event.

The House convened first Tuesday afternoon, followed by the Senate about an hour later.

After the Senate floor session, the 16-member Senate bipartisan majority laid out its goals for the two-year session, pledging to work carefully to extend the state's savings and take advantage of the federal economic stimulus plan being touted by newly elected President Barack Obama.

Lawmakers also plan to focus on reining in energy costs and bringing affordable renewable energy to Alaska communities.

The group said no bills will go to the floor without the backing of at least 11 caucus members. The bipartisan coalition, formed two years ago, now has a veto proof majority. Senate Majority Leader Johnny Ellis, D-Anchorage, said the group held together despite many predictions that it would fail.

"It worked well, amazingly well, and Alaskans got their money's worth," Ellis said. "Our group was strong and it's gotten stronger."

The Senate minority now consists of four Republicans, all political veterans who have held positions of power in the past.

On the House side, four Democrats from Western Alaska are now part of House majority, boosting its ranks to 26 members.

A few contentious issues popped up in legislation filed last week. A bill to reinstitute the death penalty, limits on abortion and left over issues from the Troopergate scandal involving Palin's firing of her public safety commissioner were among those filed.

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