House Speaker Rep. Bryce Edgmon, I-Dillingham, seated, speaks with other members of the House during an at ease on Monday, March 16, 2020. (Peter Segall | Juneau Empire)

House Speaker Rep. Bryce Edgmon, I-Dillingham, seated, speaks with other members of the House during an at ease on Monday, March 16, 2020. (Peter Segall | Juneau Empire)

Capitol Live: House pushes resolution, bills to Tuesday

A resolution to suspend certain rules allowing quicker action by the Legislature is under debate

Summary: The House majority caucus tried to pass a resolution which would have suspended legislative rules which say committee meetings must be publicly posted five days beforehand. If the rule were to be suspended lawmakers would only need 24 hours of notification.

Supporters said the suspension is needed to make the Legislature more nimble in response to the coronavirus pandemic. Opponents however, countered by saying suspending the rule would close off the public to the decision making process and rush what should be a long thoughtful process.

At the end of Monday’s floor session, the resolution as well as the four bills on the day’s calendar were pushed to Tuesday.

3:03 p.m.

The House is back but House Concurrent Resolution 17 has been pushed to tomorrow. Edgmon also rolled the four bills on the House calender for the day to Tuesday. The House is now approving governor’s recommendations for various committees. All the appointments are passing nearly unanimously, with the exception of Rep. David Eastman, R-Wasilla.

2:54 p.m.

The bells calling House Representatives back to the floor have been rung, and lawmakers are filing in. Before the break members were debating a resolution which would suspend certain rules and allow the body to move faster in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

2:11 p.m.

Rep. Carpenter, waiting outside the House chambers, said it was frustrating that in the midst of the debate on the floor the Speaker chose to have a press conference. The break in the session could have been used to have a conversation with the minority he said, but instead was used to hold a press conference meant to put pressure on the minority.

Carpenter declined to discuss his opposition to the resolution further, saying he wanted to wait until the floor session was over.

1:55 p.m.

There are large discussions that need to take place, Edgmon says. In a normal world we would have weeks to discuss the issues but, “we’re not in a normal world,” he says.

1:39 p.m.

The legislature is currently talking to the Department of Labor about access to unemployment insurance for workers whose hours or reduced or forced to take a leave, Sponholz says. Those are things the legislature can do to act quickly on behalf of Alaskans in need.

There have been no conversations between the House Majority Caucus and the administration of Gov. Mike Dunleavy, Edgmon says. There have been discussions about the health impacts, he says, and credits the governor for his leadership, but there have been no conversations about the economic impacts that are likely to come.

When you have a crisis the typical political dividing lines can disappear and people can come together, Sponholz says. “We can come together because we’re focused on the good of Alaskans,” she says. There have been a number of meetings between the House and Senate in the past couple of days.

Speed is the most important factor, Kriess-Tompkins says, when it comes to combating the spread of the crisis.

1:31 p.m.

There are a number of members that have a different viewpoint on the need for taking desperate measures, Edgmon says, and the House leadership felt it was necessary to take a break from the debate on the floor.

Sometimes taking a breather on the floor helps clarity can come to the fore, Kopp says. It might not change any votes but there may give some people the opportunity to re-examine the issue.

1:26 p.m.

“This is not just an impending health disaster,” Sponholz says, “this is an economic disaster. This is a disaster that is coming down at us on so many levels.”

The resolution would suspend the requirement that committee meetings be posted at least five days ahead, and lower that number to 24 hours. Opponents have said this measure would hurry what should be a drawn-out, thoughtful process, and close off the public to the process where decisions that are made for them.

“The stakes are great but we have tools,” Kriess-Tompkins said. Public assistance for needy families, insurance and other measures that can help soften the blow, he says.

From left to right: Reps. Jonathan Kriess-Tompkins, D-Sitka; Ivy Sponholz, D-Anchorage; Bryce Edgmon, I-Dillingham, and Chuck Kopp, R-Anchorage, meet with reporters in the House Speakers Chambers on Monday, March 16, 2020. (Peter Segall | Juneau Empire)

From left to right: Reps. Jonathan Kriess-Tompkins, D-Sitka; Ivy Sponholz, D-Anchorage; Bryce Edgmon, I-Dillingham, and Chuck Kopp, R-Anchorage, meet with reporters in the House Speakers Chambers on Monday, March 16, 2020. (Peter Segall | Juneau Empire)

1:21 p.m.

Speaker Edgmon, joined by Kopp, Kriess-Tompkins and Ivy Sponholz, D-Anchorage, are holding a press conference on the need to pass the House Concurrent Resolution 17, which would allow the Legislature to suspend certain rules and move much faster.

“We have to prepare ourselves to react in a matter of days,” Edgmon says. “Things are happening outside the capitol that dictate the Legislature update its pace.”

Alaska is in kind of a perfect storm, Kopp says, citing the various industries, tourism, fishing, oil, which are suffering losses because of the crisis.

“It is the fear that has resulted in economic collapse,” that needs to be addressed, he says.

12:50 p.m.

In the midst of debating the resolution, the House decides to take a lunch break.

12:32 p.m.

“Doing nothing is not an option,” Rep. Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins says. The resolution is not about responding today but for the challenges that are bound to come. He says that if it doesn’t pass today, in certainly will in the coming days or weeks.

The exponential growth that has occurred in other countries is inevitably coming to the U.S. says Rep. Adam Wool, D-Fairbanks. The economic consequences will be dire, he says, and the legislature will need to respond quickly.

Rep. Sarah Vance, R-Homer, says the public will miss out on the opportunity to be informed on the process.

“This is a dangerous place to be in the eyes of the public,” Vance says. People are already acting out of fear and if people do not have access to the decisions that are being made for them, those fears will be exacerbated.

“We need to be sure that Alaskans are walking alongside us in this,” she says.

12:22 p.m.

Several members have risen to oppose the resolution, saying there’s a need to address important legislative business.

“What this resolution does is confuses the issue,” Rep. Ben Carpenter, R-Nikiski, says. The resolution would make the legislature focus on personal legislature rather than what’s most important which is the budget.

“I’d vote for this if I thought it would help us finish the budget,” says Rep. Gabrielle LeDoux, R-Anchorage. “I’m not really sure we should be working on anything that is not really essential.”

12:12 p.m.

House Concurrent Resolution 17 is now being debated on the floor. The resolution would suspend certain rules of the Legislature to allow the bodies to pass legislation more quickly.

“We can do our business in a timely manner if this legislature has to take more restrictive action,” says Rep. Chuck Kopp, R-Anchorage.

Committees may notice meetings the day before they occur, Kopp says. The Senate would still have to approve the resolution for the suspension of rules to take effect.

The resolution, “falls woefully short of a responsible action” in response to the crisis says Rep. David Eastman, R-Wasilla. “This will delay our ever getting out of Juneau and I will oppose it.”

Noon

Several bills which were on the calendar Friday got pushed to today. Among them, a bill that would have the state recognize the 229 already federally-recognized tribes in the state.

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