Alaska House absences draw attention

The House voting board shows the result of an amendment seeking to pay full permanent fund dividends this year, on Thursday in the House chamber in the Capitol. The board also shows that 10 members had excused absences. (Photo by Andrew Kitchenman/KTOO and Alaska Public Media)

Along with Alaska House members who’ve voted yea and nay on three major bills this week, there has been a third category: members who were absent. 

Absences rarely receive attention, but there have been an unusually high number since Gov. Mike Dunleavy changed the location of his call for the second special session from Wasilla to Juneau.

The highest number of absences was 11, on Wednesday morning. The fewest was four on Monday.

But the Monday absences drew the most attention. That’s because the House reconsidered a bill to fund the capital budget. Thirty votes — or three-quarters of the House — would have been necessary to draw money from the Constitutional Budget Reserve, but only 29 voted yes. Any of the absent members could have changed the outcome.

Three members absent on Monday had medical excuses. They were minority-caucus Republican Reps. Mark Neuman of Big Lake, George Rauscher of Sutton and Dave Talerico of Healy.

The fourth absent member was Rep. Ben Carpenter, a minority-caucus Republican from Nikiski. He is the only member who has asked, and been granted, an excused absence through the end of the special session on Aug. 6. In addition to his responsibilities as a legislator, Carpenter raises peonies outside of regular legislative sessions. He attended the first meeting in Wasilla during this special session.

House Speaker Bryce Edgmon, a Dillingham independent, said he understands there are practical problems with attending in the middle of the summer, but he also expressed concern about the high number of absences. 

“People have medical appointments, or longstanding family engagements with a lot of money spent on tickets and logistics that are very difficult for them to break. So I can understand legislators not being here on one hand,” Edgmon said. “On the other hand, given the critical nature of the veto overrides, the capital budget and the permanent fund dividend, they should be here.”

Edgmon said on the House floor on Friday morning that the House needs to have every member present on Monday, when the House is scheduled to vote for the third time in just over a week on whether to fund the capital budget. 

In other business on Friday, the House passed a bill setting permanent fund dividends at $1,600. House Bill 2003 now goes to the Senate, which has been deadlocked on the dividend amount. Gov. Mike Dunleavy supports a full dividend of roughly $3,000.

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

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