Legislators now get 30 days notice for special session

Law took effect this week without the governor's signature

Posted: Friday, June 01, 2007

Frustrated with numerous special legislative sessions last year, lawmakers decided to make the governor give more notice before calling them together.

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A law that took effect this week without Gov. Sarah Palin's signature requires 30 days notice of a special session rather than the previous 15.

House Speaker John Harris, R-Valdez, said he was unable to work as a teamster last year because then-Gov. Frank Murkowski called three special sessions of the Legislature.

"Special sessions have become the norm rather than the exception during my tenure as a legislator," Harris said.

The 15-day requirement made it difficult on legislators, their employers and families trying to schedule vacations and other activities, lawmakers said. House Bill 117 mandates what Harris said was a more reasonable 30 days.

"For 'citizen-legislators' who are trying to make a living outside their legislative duties, two weeks notice is insufficient and unfair to employers of legislators during the interim," Harris said.

HBO 117 moved easily through the legislative process, not unexpected with Harris as its sponsor. No one in the House or Senate voted against it.

The bill reached Palin's desk in May. She was less enthusiastic about a measure that would appear to limit her power.

The governor's ability to call special sessions is given to her by the Alaska Constitution, pointed out Press Secretary Megan Stapleton.

"Certainly the Constitution will trump this law," she said.

The governor, however, chose this week to let the bill become law without her signature, she said.

"Ultimately, this is a situation where she understands the intent of providing common courtesy to legislators and will always work to provide that," Stapleton said.

House Democratic Whip David Guttenberg, D-Fairbanks, said the changed law is a result of the special sessions called by Murkowski.

"I think it comes from the bad years of Murkowski," he said. "It wasn't a problem before, but we reacted to the special sessions the governor kept calling."

The Legislature can also call itself into special session, and the governor retains the ability to call a session on short notice in the event of an emergency, such as a natural disaster.

The law takes effect Aug. 26. Palin has already said she plans to call a special session in the fall to consider revisions to oil taxes.

In addition, House Speaker Harris said he'd like a special session even before that to discuss funding for SeniorCare and possibly legislation enabling pension obligation bonds. The Senate has not responded to that request yet.

• Pat Forgey can be reached at patrick.forgey@juneauempire.com.

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