Lawmaker asks to add abortion to debate

Posted: Sunday, April 20, 2008

Senate President Lyda Green has asked the governor to expand the upcoming special session to include two abortion bills that stalled in the regular session.

The Wasilla Republican sent a letter to Gov. Sarah Palin on Thursday formally requesting that bills on parental notification and partial birth abortion be added to the call to review a natural gas pipeline proposal from TransCanada Corp.

Green could not be reached for comment Friday.

Palin's spokeswoman Sharon Leighow said she did not know how the governor would respond. Palin, who gave birth to her fifth child early Friday morning, was not available for comment.

The two abortion measures passed the House during the recent legislative session. They were referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee but failed to have a hearing.

Sen. Fred Dyson, R-Anchorage, tried and failed near the end of the regular session to bypass the committee and bring the bill directly to the floor.

But Green would not allow the bill to be pulled from committee. She said allowing legislation to be pulled from committee would spell an immediate breakdown of a system ruled by decorum and civility.

Committee Chairman Sen. Hollis French, D-Anchorage, who learned of Green's request when her letter was forwarded to him from the majority press office, said he hopes that Palin will keep the focus on the gas line.

"Injecting hot button social topics into an already contentious gas line debate I don't think is going to help either subject," French said.

Lawmakers could call themselves into special session to consider the topic but it would require a two-thirds vote in both bodies. House Speaker John Harris, R-Valdez, said he believes that is too high a hurdle.

While Harris said he favors taking up the legislation, he doubts if the outcome would be any different "unless there's a philosophical change on how they (the Senate) handle legislation, or there's a structural change in the makeup of the body."

"Otherwise I don't see how they are going to get the bills to the floor and get the votes on them."

French said he would hold hearings on the abortion bills if they are added to the call but would not allow them to move unless "we can make them constitutional."

"Part of the problem is time and it all boils down to whether we have time to do that."

Both bills are modeled on past legislation that has been ruled unconstitutional in Alaska courts.

House Minority Leader Beth Kerttula, D-Juneau, said lawmakers need to put all their energy into moving the gas line forward.

"We need a gas line and we need it soon. It's a difficult issue, there's a lot of information we will have to deal with quickly and it's a real mistake to bring in divisive issues," Kerttula said.

The special session is scheduled for June 3 in Juneau. Palin issued the call last month to review TransCanada Corp.'s bid to build a gas pipeline from the North Slope to Alberta, Canada.

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