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We Build Alaska

Alaska House passes five bills past constitutional deadline

Early this morning the Alaska House of Representatives passed five bills past the clear 121-day constitutional limit. The Alaska Constitution sets regular sessions at 120 days. But a 1989 Alaska Christian Bible Institute v. State of Alaska court decision concluded that the plain meaning of the provision is actually 121 days as the first day of session does not count.

That case was brought after both bodies agreed to stop their clocks before midnight on day 120 of the second session of the fourteenth legislature. That happened on May 12, 1986. They continued to do work into May 13, but the journals were dated May 12. In the end the court ruled that day one of the legislative session is day zero for the purpose of counting. No case has ever been brought about going into day 122, and I could not find an instance of bills being passed after the 121-day constitutional deadline.

On May 15 (day 121) the Senate adopted the conference committee report for the operating budget at 10:45 pm on a vote of 17-3. After passing the Mental Health budget, they quickly passed and sent four House majority bills back to the House for concurrence. These were House Bill 189, House Bill 203, House Bill 104, and House Bill 29. After concurring with the House changes to SB 189 and two special orders, the Senate adjourned sine die at 11:47 pm on May 15. This was in accordance with the Article 2, Section 8 of the Alaska Constitution.

The House was an entirely different story.

The House did not start taking up the conference committee report for the operating budget until 11:38 pm. After an explanation from Representative DeLena Johnson (R – Palmer), the operating budget co-chair, and comments from Representative David Eastman (R – Wasilla), the House adopted the conference committee report for the operating budget 22-18 at 11:52 pm. This came after a minute of vote switching by several members. This action was in accordance with the Article 2, Section 8 of the Alaska Constitution.

After an initial 22-18 vote on the budget, Representative Andy Josephson (D – Anchorage) and Representative Jesse Sumner (R – Wasilla) switched their votes from yes to no, which would have failed the adoption of the budget 20-20. But then Representative Kevin McCabe (R – Big Lake) switched from no to yes, getting to the required 21 votes. Sumner then switched from no to yes, resulting in the 22-18 vote. The chief clerk could be heard in the Gavel stream saying, “This is not a game.”

After passing the effective date clause for the budget and passing the Mental Health budget, the fun really started.

At 11:57 pm, the House concurred 39-1 with the Senate changes to HB 104 – a bill from Representative Mike Cronk (R – Tok) about timber sales. This action occurred mere minutes before the constitutional  deadline.

At 11:58 pm, McCabe motioned to pull HB 29 out of the limbo file. This is a bill from McCabe that prevents insurance companies from discriminating against elected officials. Eastman briefly spoke against the bill. At 12:01 am, the House concurred with Senate changes by a 25-15 vote. This action occurred on day 122, clearly in violation of the constitutional deadline of 11:59 pm on day 121.

At 12:02 am, Sumner motioned to pull HB 189 out of the limbo file. This is a bill from Sumner’s Labor & Commerce Committee that allows certain people under 21 to serve alcohol. At 12:03 am, the House concurred with the Senate changes by a 39-1 vote. This was the second action that violated the constitutional deadline.

At 12:03 am, Representative Frank Tomaszewski (R – Fairbanks) motioned to pull HB 122 out of the limbo file. This is a bill from Tomaszewski that allows the Alaska Railroad to issue revenue bonds to pay for dock maintenance in Seward. At 12:08 am, the House concurred with the Senate changes by a 34-6 vote. This was the third action that violated the constitutional deadline.

At 12:11 am, Sumner motioned to pull HB 203 out of the limbo file. This is a bill from Sumner dealing with electronic payroll for businesses. At 12:12 am, the House concurred with the Senate changes by a 37-3 vote. This was the fourth action that violated the constitutional deadline.

At 12:12 am, Representative Louise Stutes (R – Kodiak) motioned to pull HB 19 out of the limbo file. This is a bill from Stutes about commercial vessel registration. At 12:14 am, the House concurred with the Senate changes by a 40-0 vote. The was the fifth action that violated the constitutional deadline.

Then things really went off the rails. The House failed to adjourn sine die at 12:18 am by a 19-21 vote. After an at ease, Representative Zack Fields (D – Anchorage) tried to pull HB 129 out of the limbo file. This is Representative Sarah Vance’s (R – Homer) election reform bill. Vance was adamantly against the changes the Senate made to the bill.

The vote on HB 129 never happened. Several members including DeLena Johnson, McCabe, and Representative Ben Carpenter (R – Nikiski) spoke about the constitutional issues by being in session past midnight on day 121. Carpenter called it a “kangaroo court.”

After several more failed votes to adjourn sine die, the House finally agreed to adjourn sine die at 1:21 am by a 21-19 vote. Sumner finally switched from no to yes. DeLena Johnson, who previously said she would not be taking any more votes because they were past the constitutional deadline, also voted yes. Representative Mike Prax (R – North Pole) initially did not vote, but ended up voting yes to get to the required 21 votes to adjourn.

The five bills in question should all be transmitted to Governor Mike Dunleavy (R – Alaska). That is unless the Legislature’s lawyers instruct them not to. All bills are reviewed by the Department of Law. It will be interesting to see what they say if the bills are transmitted to Dunleavy. And it will be really interesting to see if Dunleavy signs any of them or lets them go into law.

When asked if Dunleavy would veto the five bills that were passed after midnight, a spokesperson for Dunleavy told the Landmine, “The governor will use the same process he takes for all legislation. Once they are transmitted to his office he will review the bills and make his decision.” When asked what his opinion is about the bills that were passed after midnight, the spokesperson told the Landmine, “We recommend you ask the house about its actions last night.”

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Joseph Geldhof
29 days ago

Good summary of post midnight actities.
Than you.

Rep. David Eastman
29 days ago

If you delay coming out of recess long enough, you end up with evenings like we had last night. No good reason for it to have happened. Not unlike my kids sometimes, this legislature is testing the boundaries, and it’s finding that some of those boundaries aren’t very strong. I’m sure it was not lost on some of your readers that legislators eagerly supported passing their own favorite bills after midnight and then did an about-face and declared that no more bills could be passed because….it was after midnight. If we had passed my motion to adjourn at Day 90… Read more »

Ed Martin Jr
29 days ago

Dave have you gotten your Bond yet? Liberty Ed

Ed Martin Jr
27 days ago
Reply to  Ed Martin Jr

Dave, I gave you both the application & a copy of what your BOND would look like stop whining about the cost of it WE ALASKANS pay the premium by statute As39.05.050 !

Shawney
29 days ago

Landfield / Eastman for Gov! Miller – AG!

L. Mearig
29 days ago

Better wording would be “ Sumner moved” than “Sumner motioned” in this case and others.

Ed Martin Jr
29 days ago
Reply to  L. Mearig

L. Mearing. you can add one other to your list ” then Sumner violated his Oath” No bond = a violation of our constitutional !

Ed Martin Jr
29 days ago

Will our Governor follow the Constitution or violate it along with your unlawful legislature! No Bonds for any of them & clearly a Constitution question for our same UNLAWFUL Supreme Court They have no Bonds in violation of SCO 10 signed by Chief Judge Nessbett in 1960.. it like the As 39.05,050 has never been amended or repealed so it’s still Law!

Ed Martin Jr
27 days ago
Reply to  Ed Martin Jr

Whoever gave me a negative doesn’t like the” rule of law ” please move to Russia ! Oh I should have said OUR legislature! How shameful we all should be of their action…” please Ben for Governor explain your comment ” kangaroo court.” That is the legislature not our Judicial system which isn’t bonded either! Ben your comment is a true to fact in our courthouses across Alaska !

Ed Martin Jr
27 days ago

Alaska Landmine please divulge ”  a spokesperson for Dunleavy ” & as for their comment would the Governor really give a tinker’s damn what the legislature does if it isn’t of his own legislation? Would he bring action for this ” unconstitutional legislative action” past the constitutional deadline???

Don Bullock
26 days ago

If the legislature ended at midnight, the motions made after midnight, including the motion to adjourn, were outside of the legislative session. The session ended by the Constitution and not by the gavel.