House leader shuns law in special session call

Kerttula: 'Many of us disagreed, but did want a special session'

Posted: Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Legislative leaders pushing for a special session Aug. 10 ignored a state law in order to hold the session in Anchorage, instead of the capital.

House Speaker Mike Chenault, R-Nikiski, pushed for the Anchorage location, legislators said, and avoided polling members about the location, as called for in state law.

The statute controlling operations of the Legislature allows for special session to be held outside Juneau, but requires a poll of members to be conducted.

If a special session "is to be convened at a location other than at the capital, the presiding officers shall agree to and designate the location in the poll conducted of the members of both houses," according to Alaska Statutes.

Legislators in the House of Representatives, including Juneau Republican Cathy Muñoz, say that didn't happen.

Instead, they were asked to chose between July 25 and Aug. 10, with no mention of Anchorage. Gov. Sarah Palin has said she will resign July 26.

Senate President Gary Stevens, R-Kodiak, said his members preferred Juneau, but deferred to Chenault's wishes.

Muñoz, one of the members of the Republican-controlled House Majority that elected Chenault as speaker, said she urged him to hold the session in Juneau but he wanted it in Anchorage.

The single-day session is scheduled to vote on confirmation of Lt. Gen. Craig Campbell as the new lieutenant governor, and to vote on an energy stimulus veto override.

Several other issues have been suggested for the session, including other overrides, an office building for Juneau's subport property and a suspension of the motor fuel tax, but top legislators have said they don't expect they'll make the cut.

"The speaker wanted to get the session done in a very short time," Muñoz said. "He did give me the assurance that if it goes beyond the two issues, if another issue were added, it would be held in Juneau," she said.

Rep. Beth Kerttula, D-Juneau, House Minority Leader, said most of her members wanted the session held in Juneau. She said she conveyed that to Chenault and received the same assurance that if it went longer than one day, the session would definitely be in Juneau.

"He said it was going to be in Anchorage if it was one day," she said.

While the law says legislators should be polled about the location, Kerttula said she doubted there was support in the Legislature for a challenge that might prevent the session, or at least a successful override.

"Many of us disagreed, but did want a special session," she said.

Chenault was unavailable for comment Tuesday, but recently told Juneau's KINY radio that Juneau was the state capital "right now."

He later said he wanted to "clarify" his views, and he did not want the people of Juneau to feel that he wanted to move the capital, the station reported.

Two years ago, the state Legislature met for the first time ever outside Juneau, when it held a one-day session in Anchorage after failing to approve a senior benefits program during the regular session.

"Obviously, that was a really bad precedent," Muñoz said.

Kerttula said it shouldn't be considered a precedent.

"One time doesn't make a precedent," she said. "Unfortunately, I think it may have opened the door to having a one-day special session somewhere other than the capital," Kerttula said.

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



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