Fall session may bypass Juneau

Palin says success of past meeting will figure into decision

Posted: Monday, July 02, 2007

ANCHORAGE - A special legislative session confirmed Gov. Sarah Palin's belief that having legislators gather on the road system would increase access for Alaskans, her spokeswoman said.

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That success may figure into her decision on another special session planned for the fall.

Palin says she will call a fall special session outside of the capital to revisit the oil tax, which legislators wrote last summer. The tax is at the center of a political corruption and bribery scandal and Palin said the measure should be revisited.

"The governor's belief in a special session on the road system was only strengthened with this week's special session," Meghan Stapleton, Palin's spokeswoman, said Thursday. "It showed that not only can it work, but that it provides more Alaskans with greater access and the opportunity to participate."

The Legislature on Tuesday took over the lower level of Anchorage's Egan Center to debate aid to low-income seniors. Lawmakers adjourned in the regular session without extending SeniorCare, an aid program.

In the shortest special session in state history, lawmakers extended the program in one day.

"For one day, it's no big deal," said Rep. Gabrielle LeDoux, R-Kodiak, about holding the session in Anchorage. "But for anything longer than that, you need it in Juneau and in one building. We can't be running back and forth from the Egan Center to the Legislative Information Office all day long again."

The full House and Senate met in the same room within the Egan Center. When the House recessed, the Senate moved in. Committee hearings were held about three blocks away in the legislative offices on Fourth Avenue.

The Legislative Affairs Agency is calculating the cost of the Anchorage session.

Many lawmakers said they liked that the Anchorage session let more of the public see them work. About 50 people sat in the public gallery Tuesday.

"Watching the process happening earns respect for what we do here," said House Majority Leader Ralph Samuels, R-Anchorage. "People came out who never would have if it meant going to the LIO (legislative information office) to listen into a teleconference."

Sen. Bill Wielechowski, D-Anchorage, said constituents watching the meetings was a big change from hearings during the regular session on oil and gas issues, when "you'd look back in the room and 90 percent of those seated were representatives from the industry."

House Minority Leader Beth Kerttula, D-Juneau, said it is important for Alaskans to be more involved in state government. However, there were technical difficulties last week, she said.

The Legislature was forced to vote verbally on bills instead of using electronic voting found in the Capitol. At least twice, names of legislators were left off the roll call.

Staffing for the session was largely done by volunteers because of the expense of relocating aides, she said.

"This is no offense to Anchorage ... because I have friends here and my family lived in Palmer. But having a legislative session in a convention center basement isn't the same as having it in our chambers in the Capitol. It matters. We should be treating ourselves with the respect that the voters did when they elected us," Kerttula said.

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