Juneau special session: Following constitution or breaking the law?
One day after leading lawmakers announced moving the special session from Wasilla to Juneau and Anchorage, the Legislature is embroiled over whether a they broke the law for followed the constitution.
On Monday, Senate President Cathy Giessel, R-Anchorage, and House Speaker Bryce Edgmon, I-Dillingham, said the Legislature will not follow Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s edict to hold a special session in Wasilla. Rather they will gavel in July 8 in Juneau, the state’s capital, and hold most of the hearings in Anchorage.
They believe they have followed the constitution, which states the capital is Juneau.
“Choosing the venue of Juneau is in keeping with the constitution, which declares that Juneau is the seat of government,” Giessel said. “It is our capital. It’s in our state constitution. The Legislature has never been called into special session by a governor in a location other than Juneau.”
Giessel and Edgmon also believe they made the session more accessible to Alaskans by keeping hearings on the road system.
Additionally, Alaskans will be able to watch floor sessions on Gavel Alaska and hearings on the Legislature’s livestream capabilities. Neither would be available at Wasilla Middle School, Dunleavy’s preferred choice for the session.
The Legislative Affairs Agency also questioned whether the public would have access to floor sessions held in the gym, because of an “inability to create a secure gallery for the public, bleachers are a safety concern and would not work.”
If true, no public member would be able to watch lawmakers debate the size of the Permanent Fund dividend, the lone item Dunleavy asked lawmakers to address.
Several lawmakers, however, question the constitutional interpretation and believe convening outside of Wasilla breaks a law, saying the governor can decide where to hold special sessions.
“I like to know that I follow the law. I would hope that they would do that as well,” said Rep. Colleen Sullivan Leonard. “If the governor had called a special session in Juneau, I’d go. If he had called a special session in Anchorage, I’d go. But he didn’t. He called it for Wasilla.”
Sen. Bill Wielechowski, D-Anchorage, says technically both are correct, leading to a separation of powers debate.
“The constitution says the capital is Juneau,” said Wielechowski, an attorney. “It does not say where session should be. It does not say the power of the governor to call the Legislature to a particular place. The statute on the other hand says the governor has the ability to call the Legislature into special session and has the ability to tell the Legislature where to go.
“Legislative legal, in their interpretation is saying it’s a separation of powers issue and the constitution trumps the statute. The Legislature can’t be directed by a governor where to go. It’s its own autonomous branch of government and can decide where it should go.”
Legislative leaders and Dunleavy have been at odds over the venue since Dunleavy announced the site on June 13.
Since then, the Legislative Affairs Agency has issued two reports listing concerns that include safety, logistics, available information technology and the ability to keep historical records. The agency also said the school is not equipped for teleconferencing, which is needed to conduct hearings.
The agency pegged the prospective cost at $1.3 million, about $300,000 more than the most expensive special session on record.
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