Last year the Alaska Legislature spent months debating Gov. Frank Murkowski's gas line proposal without approving it.
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This year, Gov. Sarah Palin is going about winning a gas line deal in a much different manner.
One change: The Legislature would not be asked to approve the eventual deal. It would only have the authority to nix an agreement.
Under Palin's Alaska Gasline Inducement Act, being debated in committee this week, the governor is asking the Legislature to give up some of its power.
That raises a question of separation of powers for Rep. Beth Kerttula, D-Juneau, the House minority leader.
Palin's AGIA bill would give the Legislature 30 days to discuss the issue and then the option of disapproving the deal by a joint resolution.
Kerttula said while Palin is asking for the additional power, it will be up to the Legislature to decide whether to grant that authority.
"We will bring that up in committee. You can count on that," she said.
Legislators say that switching from power to approve to power to disapprove significantly change the dynamics of the debate.
"That is a big difference" said Rep. Lindsey Holmes, D-Anchorage. "I'm sure we'll have a lot of discussion about that."
Holmes also said the Legislature could amend the act to give itself more time to study the bill. Last year, the Legislature spent more than six months in session without approving a deal.
Palin administration officials say the eventual deal will be made public well before it goes formally to the Legislature, providing adequate time for review.
There could be good reasons to have the Legislature say yes, rather than simply declining to say no, to such a big deal, said Sen. Charlie Huggins, R-Wasilla.
One reason, he said, is that litigation of some sort is likely, and a judge might give more weight to a deal approved by the Legislature.
"It may well help protect (the deal) from challenge," he said.
Huggins chairs the Senate Resources Committee, which is reviewing AGIA. He's more comfortable with having the Legislature being asked to approve rather than fail to reject the deal.
"We do understand the difference between approval and disapproval," he said.
The next committee of referral in the Senate is the Judiciary Committee, where Chairman Hollis French, D-Anchorage, will be looking at several legal aspects of the bill.
"We'd like to hire an outside legal expert to review this for us," he said. "Somebody who doesn't have ties to the debate.
French said he's already put out feelers to the legal community, but the actual hiring of outside counsel would be done by the Legislative Budget and Audit Committee.
Pat Forgey can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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