In a surprising move, the Legislature announced today that they will not be holding a second special session in Wasilla. After the conclusion of the first special session, Governor Mike Dunleavy (R – Alaska) called them back to deal with the Permanent Fund Dividend (PFD). The Legislature passed an operating budget before the conclusion of the first special session but it did not include a PFD.
Here is the announcement from the Legislature:
The plan is to gavel in the special session in Juneau on July 8, and the hold the majority of meetings in Anchorage. Legislators would need to go to Juneau if they needed to take a vote on something. This would likely only take a few days.
This situation is unprecedented. A governor has never called the Legislature into a special session outside of Juneau or Anchorage, and the Legislature has never held a special session outside of Juneau or Anchorage. The Legislature does not have the votes to call themselves into a special session. The Alaska Constitution requires a 2/3 vote of Legislators to call themselves into a special session. That is 40 votes, they only have 39. A joint press release from House Speaker Bryce Edgmon (I – Dillingham) and Senate President Cathy Giessel included:
Although we are one vote short of the forty vote threshold to call ourselves into our own special session agenda, the majority of legislators in both bodies considers it our right to determine the location and venue best equipped to conduct business on the Governor’s special session call, while providing the most access to as many Alaskans possible.
There are several factors to all of this. One is the Alaska Constitution, which says the capital of Alaska is Juneau. Another is what the statues say about a governor calling a special session. And yet another is the Legislature’s uniform rules. I’m not a lawyer so I’m not going to attempt to analyze this. I’m sure it will be an interesting public battle between the Governor and the Legislature. Sources confirm the Legislature has legal opinions about their decision. I have not been able to obtain them. The question is can the governor, and a minority of legislators, dictate where the Legislature meets. I doubt that is what the framers of the Alaska Constitution had in mind. Separation of powers is at the heart of this issue.
Another issue is that Wasilla Middle School is not equipped for the Legislature to meet. Gavel is not able to stream meetings and there is no phone system setup for people to call in and testify. Many have suggested that it could be live streamed via Facebook Live or another streaming platform. Some have even suggested that I do it! What these people don’t realize is how much it would cost in equipment and labor to make that happen. We live streamed our Election Central event on Facebook Live. We spent around $5,000 for streaming and audio equipment (this did not include a camera. Someone already had a one). We had three people working on audio, video, and the software to live stream the 4 hour event. This was for one camera. You would need multiple cameras to get all the meetings of the Legislature. I estimate it would cost $250,000 in equipment and labor to stream all the meetings of a 30-day special session. This would be to do it properly. You could do it for less but there would likely be problems. I know from experience.
Another issue is cost. Holding a special session in Wasilla is more expensive than in Anchorage or Juneau. The Legislative Affairs Agency estimates the cost of holding a 30-day special session in Wasilla at $1.3 million. The estimated cost in Juneau is $854,000, around $450,000 less. This Midnight Sun article breaks this down.
In 2015, Governor Walker called one of his many special session in Juneau. The Legislature adjourned from Juneau to Anchorage. They gaveled back in Anchorage, gaveled out, and then called themselves back into another special session in Anchorage. The only difference there is they had the 40 votes to call themselves into a special session. Ironically, then Senators Mike Dunleavy and Kevin Meyer voted to move Walker’s special session to Anchorage.
Just as I finished writing this article Governor Dunleavy released the following statement:
Our focus has been on bringing the people and legislature together on the PFD. But instead of convening in Wasilla, legislative leadership is attempting to retreat back to Juneau. This move to negate the special session in Wasilla has no legal basis. A governor is clearly empowered to call a special session in a location of their choosing (AS 24.05.100),” said Governor Dunleavy. “The Senate President and Speaker of the House admit they lack the votes to change the venue or call a special session of their own, yet they are committed to thwarting the law and the voice of the Alaskan people. This is all part of why Alaskans have lost trust in their lawmakers. How can we with a straight face expect people to follow the law when the legislative leadership ignores, breaks, and skirts the law at every turn?
Expect things to get very loose this week between Dunleavy and the Legislature.