Democrats want to know who opposes session

Posted: Sunday, July 27, 2003

Legislative Democrats say the public should know who voted against a special session on preserving the state's senior citizen Longevity Bonus Program.

House Speaker Pete Kott, an Eagle River Republican, announced last week that there were not enough votes to call a special session to override a Gov. Frank Murkowski veto of the program, which is slated to end in August.

A two-thirds vote would be needed to force a special session. Kott said 21 of the state's 60 lawmakers opposed the session, meaning it would not take place. He did not name those in favor or opposed. Not all lawmakers had been reached by Thursday's announcement by Kott.

House Minority Leader Ethan Berkowitz, an Anchorage Democrat, said names of lawmakers opposing and supporting the special session should be released.

He said he asked the Division of Legal and Research Services whether such a roll call vote must be made public under the law. The agency said it is unclear in Alaska law whether Republican leaders can be forced to disclose the names.

"The law is not clear, and legitimate arguments can be made on both sides, but I believe that the better position is that the votes are public," the agency's Pam Finley said in a July 18 memo.

Alaska law makes legislative votes a public record but shields some internal workings of the Legislature from disclosure. It is not clear which category this survey falls into, the agency said.

Senate President Gene Therriault, a North Pole Republican, said he has no plans of releasing results of the survey unless a two-thirds vote is achieved. Kott said the same.

"It's a little bit different than an officially sanctioned vote," he said.

But Democrats, angry that Republican lawmakers have acquiesced to the Murkowski veto, said voters should know the results from the special session poll.

"People have to be on the record if they are going to take this drastic measure to cut 18,000 seniors off of the program," said Minority Whip Beth Kerttula, a Juneau Democrat. "A vote is a vote - it should be in the public."

Kerttula would not say whether Democrats plan to take the matter to court.

Therriault characterized the Democratic drive for a special session as little more than "great political theater" meant to embarrass Republicans. Since three-fourths of lawmakers would be needed to override a veto anyway, the prospects of saving the longevity bonus were unlikely, lawmakers observed.

"I am sure they know there's absolutely no chance of success," Therriault said.

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