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Annual legislative “Energy Break” canceled

By Rhonda McBride 7:30 AM February 21, 2014

House Speaker Mike Chenault said a few lawmakers will attend the annual Energy Council conference in Washington, D.C.

JUNEAU – A departure from a longstanding legislative tradition was announced on Thursday — a break from what’s known as the “Energy Break.”

Normally, the Legislature shuts down for a week in March to give lawmakers a chance to attend the Energy Council conference in Washington, D.C., which is being held March 6 – 9 this year.

Over the past two decades,there have been times when as much as a third of the Legislature traveled to the nation’s capital for the gathering, which draws people from oil producing regions including Venezuela.

Despite criticism that the conference costs too much and eats up time in an already truncated 90-day session, lawmakers have insisted that it’s not a junket, that instead it’s an opportunity to learn more about the oil and gas industry  by comparing notes with their counterparts from other oil and gas producing states and countries, as well as hear from world experts.

Sen. John Coghill, the Senate majority leader, said lawmakers would also use the time to visit politicians and high-ranking government officials to promote development in Alaska.

But Coghill said he saw no point in attending this year because the Obama administration is not receptive to Alaska’s resource development message.

Recently, eyebrows have been raised over the Legislature’s spending for travel — about $1 million last year, a roughly 50 percent increase from the year before.

But Coghill said rising travel costs were not the primary driver of the legislative leadership’s decision to cancel the Energy Break. He said it had to do more with the desire to end the session early, before the Easter holiday, and to devote more time to natural gas legislation.

“We’ll be able to keep our resource committee together. We’ll be able to keep our finance committee going,” Coghill said. “Yes. We need to plow through the issues. It’s true we need to be more frugal with our travel.”

House Speaker Mike Chenault said a few lawmakers will attend, “but it’s my intent that the House continues to work.”

Legislative aides have looked forward to the break to get caught up on work, especially after the legislative session downsized from 120 days to 90 and the pace of the session accelerated considerably.

Those lawmakers who didn’t travel to Washington often took the opportunity to go home and visit with their constituents.

But now, for the first time since the 90-day session was instituted, lawmakers and their staffers will part with a tradition that not only  gave them a break, but also restored their energy.

Maybe that’s why it was called the “Energy Break.”

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