Legislature Adjourns Special Session, Only To Call New One

The Alaska State Legislature has gaveled out of special session, without voting on any of the items on the governor’s agenda. But almost immediately, lawmakers called themselves back — but on their own terms. APRN’s Alexandra Gutierrez reports that the Legislature has formally relocated to Anchorage, and that they have set aside Medicaid expansion.

As Yogi Berra might have put it, it was déjà vu all over again.

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SEN. KEVIN MEYER: Sen. Stevens, will you please lead us in the pledge of allegiance?

REP. MIKE CHENAULT: Rep. Gruenberg, will you please lead us in the pledge of allegiance?

MEYER: Sen. Stoltze, will you please lead us in the pledge of allegiance?

CHENAULT: Rep. Lynn, will you please lead us in the pledge of allegiance?

The Legislature was gathered at the Anchorage Legislative Information Office, where a single protester marched outside with a sign reading “You should be in Juneau doing your damn job!”

The Senate held two nearly identical floor sessions, and then the House did the same. Over the course of three hours, there were four pledges of allegiance, four roll calls for attendance, and so on. But not a single bill was taken up.

When Senate President Kevin Meyer rolled through the floor calendar and asked if there was any unfinished business, an aide to Gov. Bill Walker, watching the whole affair, muttered, “a lot.”

The purpose of these repetitive ceremonies was to gavel out from Gov. Bill Walker’s special session, where he had asked them to advance a budget, a bill creating a sexual abuse prevention program, and Medicaid expansion — and to do it all in Juneau.

Senate Majority Leader John Coghill led his caucus in ending the Juneau session that had been called for, and officially reconvening a session in Anchorage, where they had been meeting for two weeks anyway.

“I would say that the best thing to do, practically speaking, is to meet where we are able to practically assemble the requisite amount of people to do it both economically, and practically … here.”

A poll had been taken, and two-thirds of lawmakers wanted to end the governor’s special session. They would keep at the budget and the sexual abuse prevention bill known as Erin’s Law, but they would scrap work on Medicaid expansion entirely.

“The action taken today is at this point to tell the governor that no action is the action at this point,” said Coghill, a North Pole Republican.

Democrats in the minority pushed back. Sen. Bill Wielechowski, of Anchorage, said his caucus had not been polled on the action. If they had, they would have opposed it, and found any vote taken to be against the rules that they meet in Juneau. Wielechowski cited a memo from the Legislature’s attorney.

“As much as I enjoy being in my hometown, Mr. President, this session violates the Alaska Constitution,” said Wielechowski.

Wielechowski added that it was inappropriate to end the session when nothing on the special session agenda had been completed.

“We have had very little work done on any of these bills, Mr. President. We have not done our job,” said Wielechowski. “We should not be adjourning this special session before we complete our jobs. We’ve had no public testimony on any of these items.”

But Coghill pushed back, noting that lawmakers had held meetings on each of the three agenda items. He said that with the Legislature still trying to find a way to plug a multi-billion-dollar deficit, they would keep working on the budget to avoid a government shutdown. Plus, Coghill said, the Legislature always had the ability to gavel out without doing anything.

“We had the right the very first hour that he did it,” said Coghill.

The Legislature voted to end the first special session and call a new one on caucus lines. The rest of the session was mostly uneventful. But when Coghill led one of the four prayers said on Thursday, the invocation took on a special significance.

“Creator of the world that we get to see, and the people we get to know, and the work that we get to do — we sure could use your guidance,” prayed Coghill.

If that guidance were granted, the governor might appreciate it. In a written statement, Walker said he was disappointed that the Legislature had not voted on any of his three agenda items before adjourning, and that he was “deeply concerned about the legislature’s lack of progress on a fully funded budget.”

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agutierrez (at) alaskapublic (dot) org | 907.209.1799 | About Alexandra