SitNews - Stories in the News - Ketchikan, Alaska

House & Senate Leadership Announces 2nd Special Session to Meet in Juneau; Governor Says Negating the Special Session in Wasilla Has No Legal Basis



June 24, 2019
Monday PM

(SitNews) Ketchikan, Alaska - This afternoon, Alaska House and Senate leadership announced their intention to return to Juneau for the second special session set to begin on July 8th. In a news release from the House Speaker Bryce Edgmon (I-Dillingham) and Senate President Cathy Giessel (R-Anchorage), legislative leaders stated that they planned to ignore the location on the governor’s call to meet in Wasilla and instead convene away from the Mat-Su Valley. 

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The House Speaker and Senate President announced the Alaska Legislature will convene in Juneau on July 8th for the 2nd special session, with the majority of meetings to be held in Anchorage. Legislative leadership appears to have made this decision without garnering the approval of two-thirds of the legislature according to a statement from the Alaska House Republicans.

Governor Michael J. Dunleavy responded to the legislature’s to thwart the special session in Wasilla.

In a statement released this afternoon, Governor Dunleavy said:

“Our focus has been on bringing the people and legislature together on the PFD. But instead of convening in Wasilla, legislative leadership is attempting to retreat back to Juneau. This move to negate the special session in Wasilla has no legal basis. A governor is clearly empowered to call a special session in a location of their choosing (AS 24.05.100),” said Governor Dunleavy.

Governor Dunleavy said, “The Senate President and Speaker of the House admit they lack the votes to change the venue or call a special session of their own, yet they are committed to thwarting the law and the voice of the Alaskan people. This is all part of why Alaskans have lost trust in their lawmakers. How can we with a straight face expect people to follow the law when the legislative leadership ignores, breaks, and skirts the law at every turn?”

“The fact that legislative leadership plans to run away from the Mat-Su Valley back to their hiding places in Juneau is extremely illuminating,” said Rep. Lance Pruitt (R-Anchorage), House Minority Leader. “The legislative leadership has already tried to have these conversations on the budget, PFD, and education in the dark back rooms of far-away Alaska; they haven’t found answers. Now, we should be having these conversations in full view of the public.”

“This is a slap to the face of every Alaskan who lives on the road belt, and especially those in the Mat-Su Valley who have prepared their lives and businesses to accommodate the legislature,” said Rep. Colleen Sullivan-Leonard (R-Wasilla). “Escaping to Juneau to deny a vast majority of Alaskans the opportunity to engage in the process in-person is unacceptable.”

In a joint statement released today, House Speaker Edgmonand Senate President Giessel said:

“Funding the 2019 Permanent Fund dividend is critical to Alaskans. However, the long-term issues about the sustainability and future of the Permanent Fund must also be addressed. Unfortunately, the Governor’s special session proclamation restricts discussion solely to the amount of this year’s PFD.

“Funding the 2019 Permanent Fund dividend is critical to Alaskans. However, the long-term issues about the sustainability and future of the Permanent Fund must also be addressed. Unfortunately, the Governor’s special session proclamation restricts discussion solely to the amount of this year’s PFD.

“Importantly, the Governor’s proclamation also fails to include the Fiscal Year 2020 capital budget. If the capital budget is not finalized in July, Alaska’s private sector industries could be devastated by forfeiting nearly $1 billion in federal highway and aviation projects because required state matching dollars were not provided.

“For the reasons outlined, we believe the Legislature should call itself into session. We intend to hold floor sessions in Juneau, the seat of government established in the Alaska Constitution, and hold most committee hearings in the Anchorage Legislative Information Office. 

“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.

“Although we are one vote short of the forty 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 possible. 

“We respectfully urge the Governor to add to his call the capital budget and long-term issues relating to the future of the Permanent Fund.”

In a letter released this afternoon, the Mat-Su Delegation asserted that the presiding officers' decision to move the location of the special session from Wasilla to Juneau is in clear violation of the law. Members of the delegation listed are Senators Shelley Hughes, David Wilson, and Mike Shower; Representatives Colleen Sullivan-Leonard, Mark Neuman, George Rauscher, David Eastman, Delena Johnson, and Cathy Tilton.

Co-Chair of the delegation, Senator Shelley Hughes (Palmer/Chugiak) stated, "I find it fascinating that legislative leaders would rather visit a courtroom than visit the Mat-Su."

Because five months of efforts on the PFD issue in Juneau failed, the delegation firmly believes that Alaskans should have the opportunity for an in-person voice in Mat-Su. Attempts to deny affordable access to more than a half million Alaskans comes with great risk of litigation, stated the letter.

The work to provide that access has been in full gear. "Wasilla is a friendly community that's been busy in recent weeks preparing to welcome the legislature. An unlawful attempt to subvert the legally determined location is beyond troubling," added Co-Chair Representative Colleen Sullivan-Leonard.

Quoting the letter, "The Constitution requires a 2/3 agreement (40 votes) in a poll of the joint House and Senate for the legislature to call itself back into a special session, and statutes require that same poll to determine the location. The presiding officers had only 39 votes to call the legislature into its own special session in Juneau. The statutes clearly state that when the governor issues the call for a special session, the governor determines the location."

Senator Hughes concluded, "On behalf of the Mat-Su Delegation, my co-chair and I welcome the Alaska State Legislature to Wasilla on July 8, 2019."

According to the Alaska Department of Labor, the Anchorage and Mat-Su economic region currently has a population of more than 401,000; the City and Borough of Juneau has less than 32,000.



Source of News:

Joint News Release:
Sen. Cathy Giessel, Senate President
Rep. Bryce Edgmon, Speaker of the House

The Alaska House Republicans

Office of Governor Michael Dunleavy

Mat-Su Delegation Letter



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