Legislative leadership bucks Wasilla special session, pushes to meet in Juneau and Anchorage

The line outside the Anchorage Legislative Information Office to testify during the House Finance Committee's hearing on March 25, 2019. (Photo by House Majority Coalition/Twitter)

Legislative leadership today announced a push to split the upcoming special session between Juneau and Anchorage instead of the Wasilla special session called by Gov. Michael J. Dunleavy.

In a joint statement released by Senate President Cathy Giessel, R-Anchorage, and House Speaker Bryce Edgmon, I-Dillingham, they said the new locations would save money while still providing road system access to much of the proceedings. The special session is still planned for July 8.

The plan, which would keep floor sessions in Juneau and move committee work to the Anchorage Legislative Information Office, was previewed in cost estimates prepared by the Legislative Affairs Agency last week. The plan would come in nearly $500,000 below the $1.3 million estimate for a Wasilla special session in large part because most legislators would be expected to stay home.

The move to keep legislative activities in Legislature-controlled buildings would also ensure that legislators would have unfettered access to legislative networks and the teleconference system, neither of which were guaranteed at the Wasilla Middle School.

It would also allow for the complete and unfiltered video broadcasts and recordings of the proceedings, which was not currently possible at the Wasilla Middle School due to a number of technical difficulties and budget limitations.

“This approach would save hundreds of thousands of dollars and provide in-person access to Alaskans on the road system, while also utilizing facilities designed for legislative proceedings and providing Alaskans who are unable to attend in person the ability to participate and follow along as lawmakers consider these crucial issues,” explained the leadership in a joint statement.

The governor and Mat-Su area legislators have argued in favor of Wasilla as a central meeting place that would allow the 500,000 Alaskans that live on the road system to drive to the session.

That sort of access, however, wasn’t taken advantage of during the Legislature’s Permanent Fund Working Group’s meeting last week with an audience of about 30 to 40 people who were mostly legislative aides. Far more people watched online through the Alaska Legislature’s streaming service.

The plan would also add the capital budget to the call, which is currently largely unfunded thanks to division over the PFD. The failure to fully fund the capital budget before late July could jeopardize nearly $1 billion in federal highway funding.

The proposal still has its roadblocks.

The Legislature needs 40 total members to agree to a special session. It’s currently one short, a reality the leadership recognized in its letter.

“Although we are one vote short of the 40 vote threshold to call ourselves into our own special session agenda, the majority of legislators in both bodies considers it our right to determine the location and venue best equipped to conduct business on the governor’s special session call, while providing the most access to as many Alaskans as possible,” they wrote.

Previously, the Legislature has bucked the governor when it opted to meet in Anchorage over Gov. Bill Walker’s request for them to meet in Juneau. And though Dunleavy has requested legislators meet at the Wasilla Middle School, it’s ultimately up to the Legislature to choose a venue.

Earlier in the day, Mat-Su legislators released a statement urging legislators to stick to the Wasilla special session, arguing that the cost difference was only $200,000.

In addition to previous boasting of Wasilla’s fast-food options, the delegation also outlined Mat-Su as “the crown jewel of recreational offerings” with options for kayaking, hiking and fishing.

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