House panel on hold for maternity leave

Posted: Tuesday, February 28, 2006

While Alaska Republican lawmakers Lesil McGuire and Tom Anderson are in Anchorage awaiting the birth of their first child, the House Judiciary Committee is on maternity leave - for now at least.

McGuire and Anderson, who wed last year, serve as chairwoman and vice chairman of the committee.

The House leadership says it is looking to fill the void in their absence, but McGuire hopes it won't come to that.

"I would prefer not to have my committee chaired by someone else," she said by telephone Monday. "I'm very particular about how things are done."

McGuire said the committee hit the ground running this year in anticipation of her March 7 due date.

Members began meeting the first week of session in January, well before many other committees got started. McGuire says they often met three times a week and tacked on a few Saturday meetings as well.

That way, the committee was able to "clear out our inventory," she said.

Things moved a little too fast for Rep. Max Gruenberg, D-Anchorage. For example, he thought a complicated licensing bill for dentists should have had a more thorough vetting before it was moved out of committee on Friday.

But House Majority Leader John Coghill, R-North Pole, said McGuire has been working diligently to cover the bases and he's ready to step in as chairman if it's necessary to move any new bills along.

That may require adding new members to the committee temporarily if Anderson is still needed by his wife's side. The House Committee on Committees would make the appointments, said Coghill.

"It's a temporary move until the two members come back so that we have the bodies there legally," he said.

Coghill said House Republicans are sending him their priority bills this week - bills that he says will be guaranteed a hearing, though not necessarily a vote.

One of his own priorities is a constitutional amendment that would overturn a recent court ruling that granted benefits for same-sex partners of state employees. The first referral for the joint resolution is the Judiciary Committee.

Although a similar resolution is already being heard in the Senate, Coghill would like to see his own measure move, but he will likely wait until the chairwoman returns.

"I don't want it to appear that I'm hijacking the committee just to hear my bills," he said.

House Speaker John Harris says the Legislature will make do until the new parents can return to legislative business.

"I just hope it's a successful birth and mother and child come out fine," he said. "However long it takes for that to happen is fine with me because that's the most important thing."

McGuire says she hopes to be back at work within a couple of weeks. She says all signs indicate the baby will be early.

In the meantime, she says she is staying busy as she waits attending a leadership meeting on oil taxes and the Republican caucus by teleconference.

And televised coverage of the legislature doesn't hurt, either.

"Gavel to Gavel makes it nice. So it's not like I'm just sitting here eating bonbons and watching Oprah," she said.

"Although I wish I was," she added with a laugh.

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