This June 14, 2019 file photo shows a welcome sign on the outskirts of Wasilla. State lawmakers have rejected Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s suggested location for a special session. (AP Photo/Mark Thiessen, File)

This June 14, 2019 file photo shows a welcome sign on the outskirts of Wasilla. State lawmakers have rejected Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s suggested location for a special session. (AP Photo/Mark Thiessen, File)

Dueling legal analyses raise questions about special session

AG: Dunleavy has the authority to call a special session, can seek a court order to compel lawmakers

  • By Becky Bohrer Associated Press
  • Wednesday, June 26, 2019 7:36pm
  • News

JUNEAU — Alaska’s attorney general said Wednesday that Republican Gov. Mike Dunleavy has the authority to call a special session where he wishes and the option of seeking a court order to compel rebellious lawmakers to convene in his chosen location of Wasilla.

How far Dunleavy plans to push the issue — his latest dustup with lawmakers — remains to be seen.

Attorney General Kevin Clarkson’s position is at odds with that of the Legislature’s top legal adviser, Megan Wallace, who in a memo said a governor does not have the constitutional power to compel the Legislature to meet in a location other than the capital of Juneau. Clarkson told reporters the writers of the state’s constitution, if they wished, could have limited where a special session could be held but didn’t.

The constitution permits the governor to call a special session and for lawmakers to call themselves into one if they can muster sufficient votes.

Dunleavy called for a special session, starting July 8, in Wasilla, where he’s from. But House Speaker Bryce Edgmon and Senate President Cathy Giessel this week said the Legislature instead plans to convene in Juneau and hold most meetings in Anchorage.

Clarkson said Dunleavy asked him for his legal options. Clarkson said he could seek a court order compelling lawmakers not present in Wasilla to go there and have Alaska State Troopers roundup those who defy any such court order. “I have no idea whether he’ll choose that or not,” Clarkson said.

Dunleavy also possibly could join a lawsuit filed by a citizen or simply let lawmakers meet where they want, Clarkson said.

Dunleavy spokesman Matt Shuckerow said Dunleavy would be able to address those issues later.

A 1982 state law says a special session may be held at any location in Alaska and says if a governor calls one for a location other than the capital that should be designated in the governor’s special session proclamation. Dunleavy did that.

Wallace, in response to a request for analysis from Edgmon, writes that in her review, it seems evident the Legislature at that time “did not contemplate a scenario, like here, where the governor would designate a location in a special session proclamation absent an agreement with the legislature.”

Clarkson said it’s “remarkable” for the Legislature to declare a law that it passed in 1982 is unconstitutional.

Wallace’s memo notes no other governor has called a special session for somewhere other than Juneau and special sessions held outside Juneau, in Anchorage, were initiated by the Legislature, which can call itself into special session if it can muster the votes.

The state constitution lists the capital as Juneau, and Wallace writes that delegates intended that capital would describe the place where legislative sessions were held.

Clarkson acknowledged the reference to Juneau as the capital. But he said “there’s a world of difference between that and saying that that’s the only place they can meet.”

Wallace said the current situation raises separation-of-powers issues. The Legislature’s power to provide for meeting areas, staff, security and other services “is essential to its functioning as an independent branch of government. To preserve the legislature’s independence, a court may ultimately find it a violation of the separation of powers doctrine to give the governor the power to establish the location of a legislative session.”

Edgmon and Giessel said the Legislature was one short of the votes needed to call its own special session. But they said a majority of legislators in both chambers consider it the Legislature’s right to determine the best location and venue to conduct business.

Some legislators cited concerns with security and the logistics of a special session in Wasilla.

Rep. Colleen Sullivan-Leonard of Wasilla, a minority Republican, said discussions with legislative leadership have been lacking and that the first she heard of plans to meet in Juneau and Anchorage was in a news release.

“People are making decisions without really sitting down … to have a discussion on, ‘Where will we be on July 8?”’ she said. “Certainly our intent, the Mat-Su delegation’s intent, is to be in Wasilla, where the governor has deemed that the special session should be held.” The delegation includes lawmakers from Wasilla and surrounding areas.

Lawmakers were unable to complete their work during a 121-day regular session and a special session in Juneau.

This isn’t the first dustup between Dunleavy and lawmakers. The Legislative Council has agreed to prepare for a lawsuit in a disagreement with the administration over school funding.

• By BECKY BOHRER, Associated Press

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