Lawmakers plan joint session for Sunday, bucking Walker

  • By Becky Bohrer
  • Thursday, April 16, 2015 9:19pm
  • News

JUNEAU — The Alaska House and Senate plan to meet in joint session to take up appointments made by Gov. Bill Walker on Sunday, seeking to buck the new governor on the issue.

Walker signed an executive proclamation Wednesday calling lawmakers into joint session Friday to take up his new Cabinet-level department heads and appointments to boards and commissions. The Legislature originally planned to take up confirmations Friday, but that session was canceled earlier this week.

Walker said the cancellation, combined with a February legal memo requested by the Senate president’s office on what happens if the Legislature doesn’t meet to take up appointments, prompted his action. While House Speaker Mike Chenault and Senate President Kevin Meyer said they had assured Walker that the nominations would be taken up, Walker said he was concerned about “gamesmanship,” with the session scheduled to end on Sunday, and he wants to make sure there is time for all nominees to be considered.

The Senate voted 14-5 Thursday to accept the House invitation to take up confirmations Sunday.

Walker said he has expressed concerns with the time and date that lawmakers have selected. But he said he may have conversations with the leadership before Friday’s scheduled session.

Chenault, R-Nikiski, said the cancelled session boiled down to timing. Some big pieces of legislation remain in play, including the state operating and capital budgets and an Interior energy bill, he said.

Legislative leaders were looking at when bills need to move from one side to the other, and Sunday was more convenient, Chenault said.

“So apparently my word must not be good enough for the governor because he issued a proclamation,” Chenault said. The governor has the constitutional authority to do that, but “I would take it more seriously and use those constitutional options that I have when they’re actually needed,” Chenault said.

It’s not unusual in the Legislature for legal opinions to be sought on issues, he said.

House Majority Leader Charisse Millett on Wednesday evening said that it had appeared that some of Walker’s nominees could have trouble winning confirmation and pushing back the joint session from Friday would have allowed the governor time to build support for those nominees or recognize that some might not be confirmed.

Walker’s new appointment to the state board of education was announced in the House on Wednesday and in the Senate on Thursday. The nomination was made after a prior nominee withdrew and was scheduled for confirmation hearings on Friday. Confirmation hearings provide a way for legislators to vet and question nominees.

A major teachers’ union, NEA-Alaska, criticized Walker’s picks to the board — the latest nominee, John Harmon, and Keith Hamilton — as unqualified. Harmon is the principal at a Catholic school, and Hamilton is president of Alaska Christian College.

Walker said he stands behind them as qualified. With every appointment he makes, there is someone who is unhappy, the governor said.

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