Legislature to call special session - in Anchorage

Kerttula: 'I completely disagree with it being held outside Juneau'

Posted: Thursday, July 16, 2009

The Alaska Legislature will meet in special session outside the capital to override Gov. Sarah Palin's veto of energy stimulus money and to confirm her appointment of a new lieutenant governor, legislators said Wednesday.

Michael Penn / Juneau Empire
Michael Penn / Juneau Empire

House Speaker Mike Chenault, R-Nikiski, said the session likely won't be formally called until today, but it will "more than likely" be Aug. 10 in Anchorage.

Other legislators and legislative staff began announcing the one-day special session Wednesday, and some weren't happy with the location.

"I completely disagree with it being held outside Juneau," said Rep. Beth Kerttula, D-Juneau, House minority leader.

Kerttula said she told Chenault of her "extreme displeasure at it being held outside Juneau."

Legislative leadership surveyed their members about preferences for dates, suggesting July 25 and Aug. 10, and had more legislators support the August date, Chenault said.

Kerttula said the survey included only dates, not locations.

Chenault said he had "conversations with other members" about the location, but made the decision himself for the House.

"Anchorage is more convenient for members from all across the state," he said.

A session in Juneau would require most members to fly in the day before the session and stay overnight.

"And if we didn't get done by 5 p.m. we'd have to stay the night again, because of the plane situation," he said.

Members would have preferred Juneau for a longer session, he said, but for a single day Anchorage is best, he said.

Senate President Gary Stevens did not return phone calls Wednesday.

This will be the second time in the state's history a session of the Legislature has been held outside the capital. Two years ago a one-day special session was held in Anchorage to approve benefits for seniors after the legislature inexplicably failed to continue the program in regular session.

Palin earlier this year vetoed $28.6 million in federal energy stimulus funds, claiming there were "strings" attached that would challenge the state's sovereignty. Legislators disputed that.

It takes a three quarters vote of the full membership of the Legislature, or 45 votes, to override a budget veto. Kerttula said she did not expect it would be difficult to come up with the votes. Absences are the equivalent of "no" votes, however.

"I don't think it will be as easy as everyone might think," Chenault cautioned.

Palin has said she will resign July 26, turning the governorship over to Lt. Gov. Sean Parnell, who said publicly he will accept the money if the veto is overridden.

Parnell's move up will open up the lieutenant governor position, which Palin wants Lt. Gen. Craig Campbell, commissioner of the Department of Military and Veterans Affairs, to have.

Attorney General Dan Sullivan said Campbell can become lieutenant governor without legislative approval, but the legislature's top lawyers say confirmation is required.

A special session will enable the body to confirm Campbell and prevent a possible succession crisis, Kerttula said.

"I'm glad that we're going to be able to vote on the confirmation, I believe it is the legislature's duty to vote on confirmation," she said.

Confirmation requires a simple majority of 31 votes in a joint session.

The need for a confirmation special session drives the need for a veto override, Chenault said.

"By law we have to take up the override," he said. "If we chose not to, we lose the opportunity."

Approval of a new office building on Juneau's subport property, a topic Rep. Cathy Muñoz, R-Juneau, had advocated be added to the special session agenda, will not be considered, Chenault said.

• Contact reporter Pat Forgey at 523-2250 or patrick.forgey@juneauempire.com.

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