Legislators defy Dunleavy, announce Juneau as special session location

Alaska State Capitol. (Photo by Skip Gray/360 North)

Legislative leaders announced Monday that the Legislature will hold the second special session in Juneau, in defiance of Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s choice of Wasilla. They said the floor sessions would be held at the Capitol, while most of the meetings would be in Anchorage at the Legislative Information Office.

State law governing the location of special sessions says that when the governor calls a session, the governor can also choose its location.

Senate President Cathy Giessel, R-Anchorage. (Photo by Skip Gray/360 North)

But Senate President Cathy Giessel, an Anchorage Republican, and House Speaker Bryce Edgmon, a Dillingham Independent, said in a news release that a majority of both chambers considers it their right to determine the location and venue best equipped to conduct the special session.

In the announcement, the leaders cite a section of the Alaska Constitution that the capital “shall be at Juneau.”

Giessel and Edgmon did not respond to a request for comment by deadline.

Dunleavy spokesperson Matt Shuckerow said the Legislature’s decision not to follow the law on the special session location is part of a pattern.

“They have a hard time following the law when it comes to a variety of issues: The PFD, they won’t follow the law; when it comes to per diem, we very clearly see that they don’t want to follow the law; and now when it comes to a special session, they don’t want to follow the law,” he said.

Dunleavy put one item on the agenda: an appropriation bill to pay the full amount for permanent fund dividends under a 1982 state law, estimated at roughly $3,000.

Giessel and Edgmon asked the governor to add the capital budget and long-term issues related to the future of the permanent fund to the agenda.

The leaders said they believe the Legislature should call itself into session. But they’re one vote short of the 40 votes needed to do that.

Wasilla Republican Rep. Colleen Sullivan-Leonard said she believes meeting in Juneau would break the law that allows the governor to choose the location for a session he calls. She said it’s a slap in the face of Wasilla residents.

Rep. Colleen Sullivan-Leonard, R-Wasilla. (Photo by Skip Gray/360 North)

“I’m very disappointed that the leadership in the Legislature would try to do an end run to move the session away from the Mat-Su Valley,” she said, referring to Matanuska-Susitna Borough.

Sullivan-Leonard also said the session should first focus on funding full dividends.

Both Edgmon and Giessel have expressed concern about drawing down the permanent fund’s earnings reserve to pay full dividends. The leaders also are concerned that much of the capital budget isn’t funded. They said the state could lose nearly $1 billion in federal highway and aviation projects if the state doesn’t finalize the capital budget in July.

Dunleavy has said Wasilla is more accessible than Juneau. But lawmakers have noted that a 2015 session in Anchorage had little public participation. And they’ve noted that Gavel Alaska is only prepared to televise floor sessions in Juneau.

Andrew Kitchenman is the state government and politics reporter for Alaska Public Media and KTOO in Juneau. Reach him at akitchenman@alaskapublic.org.

Previous articleSwan Lake fire grows, moving closer to Sterling Highway
Next articleCost-cutting will take Alaska’s flagship ferry out of service