On the issue of where to hold the special session later this year, I have given this topic much thought and wanted to share why Juneau is the better venue.
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Did more people actually attend the one day special session recently conducted in Anchorage? No! As a matter of fact, there were fewer people attending the floor session and/or committee hearings in Anchorage than attend similar meetings in Juneau.
Let's explore this phenomenon a bit deeper. The population of Juneau is roughly 30,000 people. On any given day of the regular session at least 100 different people a day show up for the floor sessions or bill hearings. Conservatively, let's say half of these folks flew into Juneau. They might by constituents, lobbyists, municipal leaders, members of the executive branch. The list goes on.
Now, let's consider Anchorage. You'll still have folks that will fly into Anchorage for a session. This will include constituents, lobbyists, municipal leaders, members of the executive branch, and the list goes on. Arguably you might have quite a few more people from the executive branch required to travel since the seat of government is in Juneau. Undoubtedly you'll also have to provide travel to a substantial legislative support staff from the Legislative Affairs Agency as well, since most of them are stationed in Juneau.
If the argument holds true that more people will have access to their government because they can drive there, then you can expect to see grand numbers of people attending the floor sessions and/or bill hearings. Percentage wise as compared to Juneau, you would expect upwards of 1,000 people or more to attend meetings held in Anchorage or Fairbanks because of the population that can drive to the legislative sessions.
Is there a big enough meeting place for all of those people? Where will all those people park? Are there enough bathrooms in one place to service that many people? Where will most legislators conduct business outside of the floor session and/or hearings since most of them do not have an Anchorage office? There are actually more offices staffed in Juneau during this interim than staffed in Anchorage.
In addition, all legislators currently have an office in Juneau with all the infrastructure in place, even if they don't bring down staff for the special session. This will allow each legislator a haven to go to and meet with folks in private, besides having a working telephone number.
One of the last questions is: How will folks contact those legislators who don't have published phone numbers in Anchorage if the special session is held in that city?
Were more people able to watch the proceedings during the one-day special session in Anchorage? The answer again is a profound - no! Matter of fact, folks all around Alaska couldn't see what was going on. At best, they could listen in. With "Gavel to Gavel" being broadcast from Juneau, most Alaskans can watch what their legislators are doing in the comfort of their homes.
They can then contact that legislator by phone, fax, e-mail or letter should they have a concern. Most people in the world have accepted the fact that this is how you communicate in the 21st century.
I recently requested and received a breakdown of costs associated with a 30-day special session in Anchorage versus a 30-day special session in Juneau from the Legislative Affairs Agency. It is projected to cost $400,000 more to hold the special session in Anchorage.
Given the increased costs and the fact that a substantial number of Alaskans would have limited accessibility to their legislators for a subject of the utmost importance to this state, the path is clear to a special session being conducted in Juneau.
Rep. Peggy Wilson is a Wrangell Republican.