Anchorage special session considered

Gathering would be a historic first; local officials say it's unlikely

Posted: Sunday, May 13, 2001

Republican lawmakers frustrated with the governor for calling a special session floated the idea of resisting his plan by calling their own in Anchorage. That would be a first for Alaska.

"I think we should look at our options," Senate President Rick Halford, a Chugiak Republican, said last week after hearing of the May 21 special session on cruise ship legislation. "We're looking at the options and we'll see."

The GOP could call its own special session outside Juneau if two thirds of the House and Senate approved it. If the Republican leadership mustered the support, it would mark the first time in state history the Legislature convened outside the capital city.

Although Juneau fights perennial efforts to move legislative sessions to Southcentral Alaska, Juneau Republican Rep. Bill Hudson was not too concerned about the precedent set if the GOP succeeded in convening the special session in Anchorage. Hudson would be worried if the session spanned a month, but he expects it to last only three or four days.

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"I don't think it would set a precedent of any major proportions that I would be concerned with," said Hudson, who doubted Republicans would follow through with the idea. "I'm not supporting it, but I am not shaking in my boots."

Capital-move opponent Win Gruening said he'd be concerned if lawmakers convened in Anchorage for the special session but, like Hudson, he didn't consider it likely.

"I don't see how they would have the infrastructure or the ability to hold a session in a place somewhere else in less than two weeks notice. I'd say the chances of doing that are pretty slim," said Gruening, chairman of the Alaska Committee, formed to keep the capital in Juneau.

The state does not own a legislative hall in Anchorage, but the 60 lawmakers conceivably could use four conference rooms in a state-owned building there, said Pam Varni, executive director of the Legislative Affairs Agency. Although two of the rooms are small, the other two probably are large enough to accommodate Senate and House floor sessions, she said.

"It is conceivable, but it would be tight," said Varni, adding the Republican majority has not told her it wants the special session in Anchorage.

Varni said an Anchorage special session would cost slightly more overall. An agency study shows the state pays $50,000 in round-trip travel for lawmakers when a special session is in Juneau, plus $10,000 a day for per diem. That would drop to $30,000 and $7,420 respectively if the session is in Anchorage, home to 21 lawmakers. However, the state would have to send Juneau-based legislative-support staff to Anchorage for the special session, costing an extra $27,000 in travel and per diem, according to an estimate by the agency. Even though travel and per diem costs for lawmakers would go down, the cost overall would go up.

Also, the state could rack up an additional $153,900 in one-time costs for equipment, including a voting system, security cameras and a sound system, according to the estimate.

Juneau Mayor Sally Smith was concerned about the precedent set by an Anchorage session but said the hassle of such a move might persuade some lawmakers the sessions should stay in Juneau.

"The systems are set up here physically," Smith said. "I think they'd find (an Anchorage session) wasn't such a smooth operation ... maybe it would bring about an awareness that's important to have."

Since statehood, lawmakers have met in special session 32 times - all but two of those were called by the governor. The Legislature convened its own special sessions in 1985 and 1992 in Juneau. Only three of the 32 special sessions have lasted a month and 26 lasted less than 10 days.

Kathy Dye can be reached at kdye@juneauempire.com.



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