Special legislative session staggers toward end

JUNEAU — The special legislative session is staggering toward its end scheduled for Tuesday, with a small contingent of lawmakers holding so-called technical sessions to keep it alive in the meantime after the Alaska House and Senate disagreed on adjourning early.

Technical sessions are more casual gatherings on the House or Senate floors involving a few members charged with gaveling in and out.

They have been used in recent years, for example, during periods of gridlock, when there were no bills to vote on, or when one side hasn’t wanted to keep all its members in Juneau while waiting for the other to send it a bill.

In the current case, the House majority coalition, composed largely of Democrats, decided to keep the session going, even though the Senate called it quits on Nov. 10 after approving a version of the crime bill passed earlier by the House.

The coalition said it was doing so in hopes the Senate would be willing to address constitutional concerns raised with the crime bill and take up Gov. Bill Walker’s wage tax proposal.

Neither has happened: Walker has said he plans to sign the crime bill, despite issues he says lawmakers “will need to address quickly in the near future.” And the Republican-led Senate, which rejected an income tax earlier this year as ill-advised for a sluggish economy, showed no signs of backing off that position.

The coalition said by holding technical sessions, the House could save on travel, per diem and other costs. Per diem is the daily allowance lawmakers are entitled to while in session.

On Friday, four members of the House, including two who live in Juneau, attended the technical session. Three of the members belong to the majority coalition. The fourth was House Minority Leader Charisse Millett.

The House’s insistence on running the clock out on the special session has meant the Senate also has had to hold technical sessions this week since one body can’t adjourn without the other.

Doug Gardner, director of legal services for the Legislature, said the concept of technical sessions comes from Alaska’s constitution.

The constitution states that a chamber cannot adjourn or recess for more than three days unless the other side agrees. It also states that while a majority of each chamber’s membership constitutes a quorum to do business, a “smaller number” can adjourn from day to day.

The full House and Senate do not have to return to Juneau to formally end the session, he said. Special sessions are limited to 30 days, and when that limit is hit, the constitution “clocks you out,” Gardner said.

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