If Scott Ogan can't move the Legislature, he'll try to move the governor.
Ogan, a Republican representative from Palmer, has introduced what he calls a "move it or lose it" bill to bring the entire Capitol under legislative management, with the goal of evicting Democratic Gov. Tony Knowles and Lt. Gov. Fran Ulmer from the third floor of the six-floor building. Current law assigns management of the third floor to the governor.
Ogan previously introduced a bill that would allow the Legislature to meet outside of Southeast in the second year of each two-year session, which Juneau leaders see as a likely prelude to a full capital move.
In a news release Thursday, Ogan called the legislative move bill "a long shot," but said if it doesn't pass, the 60 legislators and their staff need more space than the 70-year-old building now affords.
"If the Legislature stays in Juneau, the people who travel here should be able to participate in the process," he said. "Our committee rooms are woefully undersized and poorly ventilated, and they're smaller than most school classrooms. Our staffers are crammed into spaces that violate
national workplace standards, and at least two staffers work in old bank vaults instead of modern offices."
The public also suffers because of the small galleries from which to observe House and Senate floor action, Ogan said.
"When high-profile bills or issues come to the floor, the galleries are packed like sardine cans and members of the public don't have a chance competing against professional lobbyists or government functionaries to get a seat," he said.
Although the Legislature moved the attorney general out of the Capitol in 1993, this is the first time during the Knowles administration that moving the governor has been proposed, said Claire Richardson, deputy press secretary for Knowles.
"The governor's office has been in the Capitol since statehood. I can say at this point we're happy where we are," she said.
Sen. Kim Elton, a Juneau Democrat, said Ogan's bill is polarizing.
"I think it's another instance in which we try to put wedges between the three branches of government," Elton said. "I guess I'd be stunned if a great number of Alaskans think one of the best things this Legislature can do is build new offices for themselves."
Win Gruening, chairman of the Alaska Committee, the nonprofit group that promotes Juneau's status as the capital, said he hopes to address space concerns at the Capitol. The committee decided this week to approach the Juneau Assembly about vacating Fifth Street to allow the expansion of the parking lot behind the Capitol, and a building addition is another possible use of the extra space, he said.
"I'm encouraged we've got people talking about some different alternatives; that's the positive part of this," Gruening said of Ogan's bill. "To the extent we can address their concerns, we'll do that."
Bill McAllister can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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