SitNews - Stories in the News - Ketchikan, Alaska


Special session: myths vs. reality
By Sen. Kim Elton



June 15, 2007
Friday PM

The most damaging misstatements are made by those who believe the misstatements actually are true. So it is as we listen to those rationalizing the June 26th special session of the legislature in Anchorage.

It's cheaper," say some. "It's more convenient," say others. "And the skies are not cloudy all day," say still others.

Let's not spend a lot of time disabusing 'em about these notions. We'll simply observe:

Cost--the professionals who actually make sure the gears mesh and the special session machine runs say a special session in Juneau has a start-up cost of $50,000 and ongoing costs of $25,000/day. Anchorage start-up costs are estimated to be $85,000 and run $46,000/day. A two-page memo from the Legislative Affairs Agency director June 1 outlined the cost rationales following a canvas of the staff who run the floors, preserve the historical debate and voting records, give legal advice, and do the data processing.

Convenience--sure, it is more convenient for legislators who live in the Anchorage bowl and the handful of folks who may show up to watch. It is far less convenient for those who track events on Gavel-to-Gavel because the big, unblinking eye of this public service network will be absent. It's also less convenient for non-Anchorage solons because there is no office space where visitors can find you, or phone for constituents to easily give you a call, or regular computer to receive an email. Meet in Juneau and we all have offices and phones. Meet in Anchorage and good luck tracking your non-Anchorage legislator down.
Cloudy skies--well, you got me on this one. The odds makers favor Anchorage.

As misguided as some of the reasons for a special session in Anchorage are, there is a legal basis for meeting outside Juneau. AS 24.05.100(b) does make clear the right to have a special session away from the Capitol. That provision of law says a "special session may be held at any location in the state." Further along in this section of the statute is an important qualifier, a requirement that the presiding officers of each body "shall agree to and designate the location in the poll conducted of both houses."

An aside here: the poll of the house members by its presiding officer was not conducted after an agreement with the senate presiding officer regarding location--he simply polled his members about a special session "on a date and at a location yet to be determined." He also did not confer with the senate presiding officer on a location, he simply asked the senate presiding officer to poll her members after he polled his members without designating a specific location.

Despite this breach of a statutory recipe, some legal beagles suggest courts could rule the procedural violation as either "non-justiciable" (that's not my word, I don't talk that way) or potentially could find that the house presiding officer's non-specific location notice provided a heads-up that the session would be elsewhere, so he was in "substantial compliance". Courts traditionally give the legislature a ton of deference in matters involving the conduct of its business. I'd just note that many Alaskans, charged with a violation of state statutes, might not get the same latitudes the legislature gets, but . . .

It's clear AS 24.05.100(b) provides the legal foundation for the legislature to meet outside the capital. It's not clear the presiding officer of the house followed the law. It's not clear how a court would rule on his procedural violation.

So, if the June 26th Anchorage special session is equivalent to a shakedown cruise for a bad idea, the ship of state is already bouncing off the bottom--and we won't even untie from the dock for another 10 days.

Sen. Kim Elton
Member of the Alaska State Senate (D)
Juneau, AK

Received June 15, 2007 - Published June 15, 2007



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