Alaska legislature breaks record for sitting days as frustration surfaces

The Alaska House of Representatives meets on the first day of the fourth special session of the year, October 4, on Capitol Hill. On Thursday, the Legislative Assembly was in session for its 212 Days of the Year, breaking a record set in 2017. (Photo by Andrew Kitchenman / KTOO and Alaska Public Media)

The Alaska Legislature on Thursday set a record for the number of sitting days in a year – 212. But that doesn’t mean lawmakers have been on Capitol Hill lately. There is a deadlock on what changes need to be made to balance the state budget in the long run.

Senate Speaker Peter Micciche has said he has been so far from home this year that his 7-year-old daughter, Stella, looks older.

“She looked different when I got home,” he said. “A 7-year-old changes a lot in seven months. We’ve been gone a long time, and I don’t have much to show for it. And I think that’s because we keep trying to sort it out here in Juneau in the legislature. And this method does not work.

After the 121 days of regular session, Governor Mike Dunleavy called the Legislative Assembly into four special sessions. The Legislature passed the budget in the first 30-day special session in May and June. He returned for the second six-day special session at the end of June to avoid a partial shutdown of the state government. He voted to finance a dividend from the permanent fund during the third extraordinary session, which also lasted 30 days.

The fourth started on October 4 and is due to end on Tuesday. In total, the 212 session days break the previous record of 211 days set in 2017. Lawmakers spent most of their time in Juneau during the first three special sessions, but nearly all returned home during that session.

Micciche, a Republican Soldotna who is in Juneau, said Senators needed to move away from Capitol Hill.

“You hear all of these people sort of coming back to these camps, which tells me that this special session has separated people. Our job as 60 legislators and the governor’s office is to bring these people together, ”he said.

Micciche said he plans to speak to the 20 senators between now and the regular session, which begins Jan. 22. And its goal is to find enough common ground for legislation that can be passed. He said insisting that votes be held for bills that lack support is political.

“We can drop bills on the ground that don’t have adequate support. And we can watch them flounder, ”Micciche said. “And we can let people mark each other on record. As an election year approaches, it would be handy: “This guy voted no on this thing.” ‘This guy voted yes on this thing.’ Or, we can work together to actually get results for the people of Alaska. “

Some of the senators in the Micciche caucus wanted the Legislature to act on Dunleavy’s agenda for the session.

Republican Senator Palmer, Shelley Hughes, said it was troubling that the Legislature was breaking the record for number of sitting days without passing more bills.

“I am frustrated and I am embarrassed,” said Hughes. “If we had accomplished what we had planned – the task given to us – which is to sort out the tax issues and solve the problem that lies ahead of us, then it’s like, ‘Phew, so many days, but at least we got the job done. ‘”

His fellow Republican Senator Roger Holland from Anchorage shared a point of view similar to that of Hughes.

Holland spent 30 years in the US Coast Guard Reserves. And he said he viewed the long session as a deployment. But it is a deployment that ended without a sense of accomplishment.

Holland and Hughes recently signed a letter asking the Senate Finance Committee to take action on Dunleavy’s proposal to pay a second permanent dividend of approximately $ 1,200.

“Unfortunately, this is just another legislature to do nothing, accomplish nothing, kick the road, and I’m ashamed to be part of it,” he said. he declares. “I have great difficulty staying in the senatorial majority.

Anchorage Democratic Representative Ivy Spohnholz has been active this year, chairing the new House Special Committee on Ways and Means. The committee examines long-term budget proposals, remaining active during the fourth extraordinary session.

Spohnholz said his goal was to lay the groundwork for the regular session.

“It was a tiring experience,” she said. “We’re supposed to be a citizens’ legislature with essentially a 121-day session. And now we have four more months for that, which has been – yes, it’s been a challenge. “

Spohnholz said Dunleavy could engage more with lawmakers.

“It was the governor who called all these special sessions,” she said. “And if the governor wants to pass his legislative program, it’s up to him, you know, to be part of the process.”

The cost of holding ongoing sessions adds up. The first three special sessions cost an additional $ 1.76 million, according to the non-partisan legislative affairs agency. And the preliminary costs of the fourth special session until Tuesday amounted to an additional $ 125,000.

Republican North Pole Representative Mike Prax said at this point it will likely take another election before the Legislature takes action on a long-term budget plan. He wanted more votes to take place on Dunleavy’s proposals, so voters would know where lawmakers stand.

Prax decided to stay home for the fourth session, noting that it is more difficult for lawmakers in the Fairbanks area to travel to Juneau than it is for those from Anchorage.

“You can go down there. People play this game: they go down there in the morning and come back in the afternoon, ”he said. “But to come and go to Fairbanks, it takes two days to be there. Flights don’t connect and you can’t go back and forth. It is a huge waste of time and money.

Dunleavy said he did what he could.

“The product that’s going to come out of this session sucks,” he said. “Not a thing. And we all know there are issues that need to be resolved. And we have provided an opportunity for these issues to be resolved.

Dunleavy said some lawmakers had asked him to “do everything.”

“Personally, I think the legislature should start looking for people who can negotiate solutions to these problems,” he said. “Right now it seems like a crazy scenario, where someone has an idea and someone says ‘this isn’t going to work’ or ‘we need more time’. Or “we are tired”. Or “we are waiting for spring”. Or something.”

Dunleavy has said he will not be calling a fifth special session. He said it would be pointless.


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