Gov. Mike Dunleavy on Friday touted the merits of holding a 30-day special session at Wasilla Middle School during a news briefing outside the school, citing greater access to Alaskans by being on the state’s road system.

On Thursday, the Legislature adjourned on the 29th day of a 30-day special session; it’s the 150th day over all this year. Less than hour after the final gavel dropped Dunleavy issued a proclamation for another special session on July 8, but this time in Wasilla rather than Juneau.

The proclamation calls for the Legislature to continue working toward approving the size of the Permanent Fund dividend. But lawmakers say they also have unfinished work on a capital budget, something they say needs to finishing by July 31 in order to pursues federal funds.

Lawmakers have long struggled over the PFD size as well as whether a decades-old statute remains appropriate in an economy beset by chronically low oil prices and stagnant production.
Dunleavy has been adamant Alaskans get their “full PFD,” an estimated $3,000. Opponents say the state cannot afford such a high dividend and cover essential state expenses.

Dunleavy has been researching the middle school option for several weeks. The Legislative Affairs Agency staff however drafted a six-page document with concerns over a session outside the Capitol. Those concerns include security and a lack of equipment like voting boards or microphones for each member and confidential workspaces.

“We’ve identified a handful of suites that would serve well in that area,” said Deputy Chief of Staff Jeremy Price when asked about creating confidential office space.

Dunleavy’s staff members said there are 10 microphones and a security camera with a 180-degree view in the large gym.

But the Legislative Affairs analysis notes, “The provision of ‘up to 10 cordless microphones’ does not allay this concern as these mics are notably unreliable, require frequent batter replacement and deliver poor sound quality. The historical record and the people of Alaska deserve better than spotty recordings of the 2015 Anchorage special session.”

The governor's press secretary, Matt Shuckerow, said they are already looking into alternative methods for TV and livestreamed coverage of the Alaska Legislature via Gavel Alaska.

Rep. David Eastman, R-Wasilla, said holding the session in Wasilla would cut costs because many of his colleagues live within driving distance.

“Most legislators won’t need per diem because they’re already going to be here. I’m going to be sleeping in my own bed,” Eastman said.

Not all lawmakers are sold on a change of scenery.

“This is where the facilities are, this is where the infrastructure is. We need to solve the problem,” said Democratic Senate Minority Leader Tom Begich, D-Anchorage. “It’s a people problem, it’s not a location problem, so that’s just a false argument to start with.”

His staff members said they felt that was enough time to address remaining concerns and get the building set up accordingly.

Neither Dunleavy nor any of his staff could give information on the cost of holding the special session outside of Juneau. Legislative Affairs staff also could not provide an estimate as of publication Friday.

Steve Quinn contributed to this report.

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