Walker won’t force Juneau as special session venue

  • By Becky Bohrer
  • Tuesday, May 19, 2015 10:52pm
  • News

JUNEAU — Gov. Bill Walker said Tuesday that he doesn’t agree with legislators moving the special session from Juneau to Anchorage but won’t take steps to block them.

Walker said his highest priority is getting a funded budget, and he doesn’t want to spend valuable time blocking or fighting lawmakers moving toward a resolution. But he said there is risk in lawmakers taking actions outside of Juneau when the special session call is for Juneau.

The special session called by Walker convened in Juneau late last month. By law, if a special session called by the governor is to be held somewhere other than Juneau, that would have to be specified in the proclamation.

But legislative leaders on Monday announced plans to start holding floor sessions in Anchorage Thursday, citing work on the Capitol and the cost of bringing everyone back to Juneau as reasons for the move. Lawmakers scattered after the Legislature voted early in the special session for an 11-day break in floor sessions.

While a few hearings were held in Juneau, many have taken place in Anchorage. During the last week, a handful of House and Senate members attended brief floor sessions every few days at the Capitol to satisfy meeting requirements, most recently on Tuesday. Because of the building work, the Senate met in the House chambers.

In a memo requested by Sen. Dennis Egan, D-Juneau, the Legislature’s top attorney, Doug Gardner, said he believes a court would find that lawmakers could not legally convene the current special session outside of Juneau without Walker’s agreement or additional instruction from him. Members of the Juneau delegation have said alternate space is available if the Capitol isn’t seen as suitable.

Walker said legislators do not have his permission. Even if they did, he said he’s not convinced they could act outside Juneau. Until the current special session expires, the location is Juneau, he said.

“But am I going to do anything to prohibit them from doing whatever they’re going to do? No, I’m not going to do that,” he said. “But it’s not with my permission or my blessing.”

Legislators could end the current special session and call themselves into a special session in a location they chose. Gardner, in another memo requested by Sen. Bill Wielechowski, D-Anchorage, said a court would likely conclude that if the Legislature wants to meet in special session in Anchorage, the remedy would be to end this session and call its own.

“We were just under the impression that we could” meet outside Juneau, Senate President Kevin Meyer, R-Anchorage, told reporters. Legislators are now learning it’s “questionable” whether they can meet elsewhere during this call and if that’s the case, will have to discuss whether they want to take that risk, Meyer said.

He said it’s possible someone could challenge any action the Legislature takes on the budget, forcing them back to square one. “And we don’t want that,” he said.

The 30-day special session is scheduled to end May 27, with the budget the big unresolved issue. Legislators will need to craft a new budget plan for the fiscal year starting July 1, after Walker vetoed unfunded portions of the bill Monday. The plan originally passed by lawmakers was not fully funded for the coming year after the House failed to garner the support needed to draw from the constitutional budget reserve fund. That fund is not the only one available to help cover costs of government; others are more easily accessible but could be politically tricky.

The Republican-led majorities have indicated they will not advance Medicaid expansion in the remaining days, and a new draft of a bill calling for sexual assault prevention and awareness programs in public schools would make such programs optional, a departure from the version that previously passed the House.

The draft, under consideration by the Senate Education Committee, adds elements from other bills, too, including the repeal of a requirement that students take college or career readiness tests to receive high school diplomas. It also adds a provision requiring that school boards put in place policies to let parents opt their kids out of standards-based testing. The committee met in Anchorage.

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