Lawmakers may be in town longer than many predicted

Posted: Monday, April 24, 2000

The walls are getting pretty bare inside legislative offices at the Capitol, but it may be premature to plan for an early end to the session.

Rep. Ethan Berkowitz, the Anchorage Democrat, said it wasn't his idea to take down the pictures that used to adorn his walls. He doesn't think the Legislature will be leaving anytime soon.

``I don't,'' Berkowitz said. ``My staff does.

``I have a ferry reservation for Friday. I think I'll make one for Saturday and Sunday and Monday as well.''

It turns out, legislative leaders were being overly optimistic when they said lawmakers would finish their business before Easter. Tomorrow, a second target date for adjournment will go by the wayside.

Alaska's constitution allows for the session to go 121 days - until May 9.

Sen. Sean Parnell, an Anchorage Republican, isn't as optimistic as Berkowitz's staff or Berkowitz about an early adjournment. He has told his landlord he will be out by May 15. He's thinking Gov. Tony Knowles may call for a special legislative session. During Parnell's eight years at the Capitol, a special session is pretty much an annual event.

``Special sessions aren't special when they happen every year,'' he said.

The Legislature's two presiding officers - Senate President Drue Pearce and Speaker of the House Brian Porter - used to talk about specific dates when asked about adjournment. Now, the Anchorage Republicans talk about issues that need to be resolved, without referring to a calendar.

Pearce said the Senate has been cruising though bills. If the House sends them a public works budget bill, her gavel could fall fast.

``My target date (for adjournment) is when they send us a capital budget,'' Pearce said today. ``I'm ready. We plan to be very orderly today and be ready to leave.''

The capital budget, once passed by the House, needs to sit with the Senate for a full day.

But the capital budget isn't the only hurdle separating legislators from their homes, though that spending plan and competing bond packages are keys to adjournment. Power Cost Equalization, funding for the University of Alaska and paying for state employee contracts are also unresolved.

Berkowitz said the House minority has told the GOP majority what's needed for them to be satisfied with the session.

``We know what we need to get out of here,'' he said. ``We've explained it to the (House) majority and they, generally, agree with us.''

Porter said he wants to go home, but he's not going to hurry up just to leave. He wants to leave with issues resolved.

``I would certainly like to get out of here,'' he said. ``But with a good package. As soon as we can.''

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