Legislators say special session may be needed

Lieutenant governor confirmation, veto override may bring one more session

Posted: Thursday, July 09, 2009

Confirming Gov. Sarah Palin's choice to become the new lieutenant governor may require a special legislative session, and that may give legislators unhappy with Palin's veto of $28.6 million federal stimulus money an opportunity to override it as well.

When Palin announced her impending resignation last week, she said she wants Lt. Gen. Craig Campbell to take over for Lt. Gov. Sean Parnell when he becomes governor, instead of current designee Commissioner Joe Schmidt of the Department of Corrections.

"I believe there will have to be a special session to consider Craig Campbell," said Sen. Johnny Ellis, D-Anchorage and Senate Majority Leader.

Rep. Beth Kerttula, D-Juneau, and House Minority Leader said Wednesday she agreed it appeared a special session would be needed for Campbell to take office.

"It sure looks that way," she said.

Legislators were studying legal opinions issued by a legislative attorney Tuesday, and say it confirmed their views that while Schmidt has already been confirmed, Campbell would have to be confirmed before he could take office.

Sen. Dennis Egan, D-Juneau, requested one of the legal opinions.

"The people I've talked to read this opinion: 'For any official act to take place it would require the succession be confirmed by the Legislature,'" Egan said.

Under the Alaska Constitution and statutes, a majority of legislators, sitting in joint session, must vote to confirm top department heads.

Ellis said he could see no way to do that without a special session.

"We'd all hoped to finally get through a summer without one but there may be no way to avoid it," Kerttula said.

A second issue also arose Wednesday that may make a special session more likely.

Larry Persily, an aide to influential Rep. Mike Hawker, circulated a memo saying that a special session may be necessary to enable Alaska to receive $28.6 million in federal energy program money Palin blocked with a veto.

Without a special session, the next available time for the legislature to challenge the Palin veto would be Jan. 19, 2010, when the next regular session is scheduled to convene.

Persily said his conversations with U.S. Department of Energy officials indicated the department does not want to wait until January to receive Alaska's application for the money.

"Which will mean a special session if the Alaska Legislature wants to override the governor's veto of the funding," Persily wrote.

Ellis said that if the Legislature was to meet to confirm a lieutenant governor, they could also take the opportunity to get access to the energy money.

"If we are to get together for a special session we should take care of a couple of birds with one stone," said.

The new governor after July 26 may make the likelihood the money will be accepted following a veto override more likely, Ellis said.

"We still don't know how much of an anti-Obama partisan (Parnell) wants to be," he said.

Ellis suggested that Palin's veto may have been a political move by Palin to win favor with Republicans outside Alaska while positioning herself for a 2012 presidential run.

"It doesn't look like Sean Parnell is running for national office and we are hoping for that reason the interests of Alaskans will prevail," Ellis said.

• Contact reporter Pat Forgey at523-2250 or by e-mail at patrick.forgey@juneauempire.com.

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