Rules hold up session

Initiatives delay adjournment

Posted: Monday, April 17, 2000

It'll be at least eight more days before the final gavel falls on this Legislature.

Leaders of the Republican majorities of the House and Senate had been aiming for a pre-Easter adjournment. But the Alaska constitution, in concert with marijuana supporters and property tax cutters, appears to have stymied those plans.

The constitution says initiative propositions have to be put on the first statewide election to be held 120 days after the Legislature adjourns. If lawmakers left town on Thursday, a goal set by GOP leaders, those two initiatives would appear on the primary ballot. The primary, which usually has a lower voter turnout than the general election, is set for Aug. 22.

Two initiatives - one legalizing marijuana and the other capping property taxes at 10 mills - would be on the primary ballot if adjournment happened before April 25. The technical deadline for the 121-day legislative session, barring a vote to extend the session, is May 9.

Though a pre-Easter adjournment was the goal, GOP leaders decided to wait, so that the two initiatives will be on the ballot for the Nov. 7 general election, said Senate President Drue Pearce.

``We don't want to be accused of manipulating those issues by sticking them on a primary ballot,'' the Anchorage Republican said.

Sen. Kim Elton doesn't buy Pearce's explanation.

The Juneau Democrat said the GOP isn't moving its adjournment date back because of the constitution. Rather, it is making a purely political decision. Elton said it's pretty obvious to him that Republicans think having the two initiatives on the general election ballot is good for the GOP cause.

``It's not a constitutional problem, it's a political problem,'' Elton said. ``They can leave whenever they want to.

``It doesn't matter to me when the people vote on the initiatives.''

Another reason to not adjourn early, Pearce also, is three bills the Republicans support that may get a veto from Gov. Tony Knowles, a Democrat. If lawmakers leave in a week, they can take on those vetoes right away, she said.

Pearce also announced that she plans a deadline for when bills will go to the Senate floor - Thursday. Any later than that, and procedural rules - such as holding over a bill for a day on reconsideration - could be used by any lawmaker to kill a particular bill.

``We don't want bills to die just because any one person stands up and reconsiders,'' Pearce said.

Speaker of the House Brian Porter heard of the 120-day initiative rule on Saturday, just a couple of hours after confirming Thursday's projected adjournment date to a reporter.

``We had a constitutional glitch in our plans,'' the Anchorage Republican said. ``Rather than worry about what the (public) perception would or would not be . . . we just said: `Let's not do it.'''

There had been some discussion about holding a technical session to officially end the session. That could have been accomplished in the House with just Juneau's representatives - Republican Bill Hudson and Democrat Beth Kerttula - and Porter.

That would have let 37 of the 38 members who don't call Juneau home leave town, Porter noted with some amusement.

``I would have been stuck,'' Porter said.

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