House mulls moving some hearings north

Resources and Judiciary committees may meet in Anchorage during session

Posted: Thursday, May 25, 2006

House lawmakers are considering holding some committee hearings in Anchorage during the special legislative session.

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The House Resources and Judiciary committees may begin looking at changes to the Alaska Stranded Gas Development Act outside the capital to allow the public to attend hearings in the state's largest city and give northern lawmakers more time at home.

It doesn't mean the House leadership likes the idea of some representatives being 550 miles away from Juneau.

"It's a real possibility, and we have agreed to disagree," said House Majority Leader John Coghill, R-North Pole. "I want them staying here."

The regular session ended May 9. Legislators have been meeting since Gov. Frank Murkowski called them into special session on May 10 to consider new oil taxes and contract terms negotiated between the governor and BP PLC, ConocoPhillips and Exxon Mobil Corp. for a proposed natural gas pipeline from the North Slope.

House Resources Co-Chairman Ralph Samuels, R-Anchorage, said frustration is mounting as the process drags on in Juneau.

"It starts to affect policy decisions and that's bad," he said.

Coghill said he understands the complaint from legislators who are not members of either committee and have nothing to do until those committees wind up their work.

"You have 26 people sitting around waiting for 14 people to do something. And that can get exasperating when you have work at home you could be doing," he said.

But Coghill noted that the Senate, the administration and the legislative legal staff are all in Juneau. "We are better off if we are all together in one place," he said.

Samuels and Coghill said a final decision on where to hold the House committee hearings will be made once they have seen the Stranded Gas Act amendments and can gauge how much work it will entail.

The governor has said he will introduce the legislation next week.

Samuels said the committees may be able to move quickly through the amendments in Juneau while waiting for the House Finance Committee to finish up its work on an oil production tax bill.

At the governor's insistence, lawmakers last week took up the oil tax bill that foundered at the end of the regular session. Murkowski says the measure to tax the net profits of energy companies is a necessary inclusion in the gas contract.

The Senate passed its version of the bill on Tuesday. The House is expected to take it up next week after legislators return from a six-day break over the Memorial Day weekend.

"We will play it by ear," said Samuels. "And we will use anytime we have free to work on the subjects that are dropped in our laps."

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