Session to begin with House in disarray

Senate is ready to go, legislative welcome on Wednesday

The 31st Legislative Session convenes Tuesday but uncertainty hangs over the Capitol as the Alaska House remains unorganized.

The House session convenes at 1 p.m. and new Lt. Gov. Kevin Meyer will swear in new representatives. But if the House remains in disarray, it will essentially be crippled. The House would not be able to perform basic functions such as organizing committees and holding hearings on bills. The House could not invite the Senate to hear Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s State of the State Address. House staffers would not be authorized to work starting Wednesday.

[Control of Alaska House unsettled ahead of session start]

Each of Alaska’s 40 representatives generally have two staffers, said Skiff Lobaugh, the legislative human resource director. There are also floor staff and the chief clerk. Lobaugh said the number of House staffers can vary and they have not been tallied yet.

The possibility of staffers being out of work remains a major concern among House members.

“I’m optimistic a bipartisan working group will come together,” Rep.-elect Andi Story said in Monday phone interview. “I know I’d like to see that happen soon. I think everyone here at the House wants to make sure everyone is working.”

Story, a Democrat, said she had not heard any rumors of who might make a move to create a majority. The last two years, the House has been led by a largely Democratic House Majority Coalition.

“I’m looking forward to working with a bipartisan working group. Everyone in the building is wanting to get organization happening,” Story said.

Democrat Rep.-elect Sara Hannan will be sworn-in along with Story when the House session convenes.

[Dunleavy vows to crack down on crime, restore PFD]

Senate

Juneau’s Sen.-elect Jesse Kiehl will be sworn in when the Senate session convenes at 11 a.m. Kiehl will fall into the Senate Minority as a Democrat. He is expected to receive committee assignments later in the day.

The Senate’s Republican majority announced leadership roles shortly after the November election. Sen. Cathy Giessel of Anchorage, who has served in the Senate since 2011, will be sworn-in as Senate President Tuesday.

Sen. John Coghill of Fairbanks will be Senate Rules Committee chair, and Sen. Gary Stevens of Kodiak will be the Legislative Council chair. Natasha Von Imhof of Anchorage and Sens. Bert Stedman of Sitka will co-chair the Senate Finance Committee.

The Senate Finance Committee will be organized Wednesday at 9 a.m. At that meeting, Department of Natural Resources Commissioner Corri Fiege will present a production forecast.

Department of Revenue Commissioner Bryce Tangeman will present a revenue forecast.

Budget

The Dunleavy administration has inherited a $1.6 billion deficit heading into this session. Cuts are almost certain, since Dunleavy has vowed to match expenses with revenue. Neither Dunleavy, nor the GOP-led Senate Majority have a desire increase revenue streams by way taxation.

Legislative Welcome

The City and Borough of Juneau is hosting its 34th Annual Legislative Welcome Reception, at 5 p.m. Wednesday, at Centennial Hall. There is no cost to attend the event.

“It’s a community reception. It’s catered. No presentations, no formal actions taken — nothing like that,” said CBJ Assemblyman Loren Jones. “It’s a community reception to welcome the legislators and staff.”

“It’s an opportunity to renew acquaintances and meet the new legislators,” he added.


Contact reporter Kevin Baird at 523-2258.


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