A note on an earlier update: Some of the exchange following the Eastman objection was said during an at-ease, which is not on the record and therefore not allowed to be written here. That earlier post has been edited.
Eastman is the only “no” vote. They gavel out. The special session starts tomorrow, and will be in Juneau. What a weird turn of events.
The governor is calling a special session to start in Juneau, tomorrow, according to a resolution being read by the clerk on the floor now.
Edgmon says the floor session will reconvene at 10 a.m. tomorrow and the conference committee on crime will be at 11 a.m. tomorrow.
“A little bit of a change in plans,” Edgmon says.
That special session will include education funding, the operating budget and the capital budget. They try to gavel out, but Rep. David Eastman objects.
“What the freak happened?” Pruitt says.
In walks Claman. He walks in with Minority Leader Lance Pruitt and Kopp. Gaveled in.
We are crawling to the finish line here. The Senate has adjourned, and the House is still at ease. Edgmon’s back in here now after being gone for a few minutes. Maybe we’ll get going now.
I’m not familiar with everyone’s sense of humor, so I’m not sure if this is a joke: Some representatives are currently making plans to hit the town after they gavel out. It seems like a joke, but the point is, spirits are actually pretty high in here.
Rep. Matt Claman is not here. He, in theory, is one of the members of the conference committee on crime. The House’s other member on that committee, Rep. Chuck Kopp, is here. OK, then.
“Thanks to everybody for staying so late,” Rep. Tammie Wilson says on the floor. “It’s nice to see you all here.”
Edgmon bangs his gavel, snapping people out of their conversations. That seemed to come by surprise. Here we go.
The House Minority members are coming back.
Shower is headed back toward the House Minority meeting. They’re behind closed doors in the public lounge. Then about a minute later, Shower walks back toward the Senate floor.
Sen. Mike Shower was absent for that vote. I just saw him walk down the hallway away from the House Minority’s pre-floor hearing. That’s interesting. This should be obvious, but Shower (a senator) is not a member of the House Minority.
By a 17-2 vote, SB 16 passes. Good news for the folks at Eaglecrest. Now that bill only needs the governor’s signature.
Senate Bill 16 is up. That’s the bill that would allow the State Fair and Eaglecrest Ski Area (among other places) to serve alcohol. For Eaglecrest specifically, this would open the door to them applying for a license.
Surprise, the Senate is back in session. They have some last-minute bills to finish out, too.
We’re still waiting for the members of the House Minority. They were meeting in the hallway outside the chambers about 10 minutes ago. Speaker Edgmon just walked out. Maybe we won’t be getting started soon.
Legislators have been waving the white flag today, accepting that they won’t finish on time, including Sen. Scott Kawasaki, D-Fairbanks.
The House still hasn’t convened. There’s been optimism all day in the Capitol about the crime bill getting finished. That might be what we see come together on the floor here. That would leave the budget, PFD and education funding as the topics remaining. So that special session will still happen. It’s just a matter of which topics specifically it will be about.
OK, who’s awake? We’re about to get going again here on the House floor. The conference committee is supposed to convene 10 minutes after the House starts.
The House Minority issued a scathing set of statements in response to Edgmon’s statement earlier. They were particularly focused on Edgmon’s statement that the House is considering whether the Permanent Fund should “actually remain permanent.”
“The fact that, at the 11th hour, the House leadership is considering plans to gut the PFD program shouldn’t really be all that surprising considering the way they’ve handled business this session,” House Minority Leader Lance Pruitt said in the release. “They had 121 days to avoid special sessions, and they knew exactly what needed to get accomplished before tonight’s deadline.”
Rep. Ben Carpenter, R-Nikiski, was particularly pointed with his comments. It sounds like he’s envisioning the special session to be in the Mat-Su Valley, which is a much more conservative area than Juneau.
“The wheels have come off the bus,” Carpenter said in the release. “Some members have said they feel rushed to get things done, but there has been no sense of urgency whatsoever. I hope Alaskans will show up at every meeting of the special session and make their presence known to those who have willfully ignored their requests for the last four months.”
More in the Minority’s release:
Things are quiet here in the Capitol. There was a flurry of action in the hallways and stairwells just after the governor’s announcement, but the buzz quickly quieted down. Now some legislators are floating around the halls and chatting with each other. There’s a decent amount of traffic around the speaker’s office, though. And there was free pizza in Senate President Cathy Giessel’s office, so there was a burst of activity there. Now things are pretty quiet.
Speaking of Giessel, here’s what she had to say after the governor’s announcement:
“The Senate passed an operating budget with significant cuts, fully-funded the PFD, and toughened the state’s criminal code by repealing and replacing Senate Bill 91. We are committed to working with our colleagues in the House, and the governor, in seeing these critical policy changes through to the end. We will not rest until the people of Alaska have safe neighborhoods, a healthy economy and the Permanent Fund is protected for future generations.”
Just after Begich releases his statement, Speaker of the House Bryce Edgmon makes his own statement:
“The Legislature is considering proposals that will determine whether the Permanent Fund actually remains permanent. We are vetting a massive overhaul of our criminal justice system. The proposed budget could fundamentally change Alaska’s economy. The decisions we face are simply too important to rush. We have worked hard to achieve meaningful compromise, and we are committed to continuing our work to get these monumental decisions right for Alaska.”
Senate Minority Leader Tom Begich weighs in:
“We are disappointed that the governor is issuing this call before we have completed our work. It is the responsibility of the legislative leadership in the House and the Senate to pass a budget, address crime and safety, and resolve the dividend. The Senate Democrats have worked with our colleagues to resolve these issues before the end of the constitutional session limit. We expect them to be resolved and will continue to work towards the end. It is what all Alaskans expect of us. We are doing our part.”
A few more notes from Dunleavy’s press conference:
• He says he’s optimistic that House Bill 49 (the major crime bill) can get to the finish line tonight, saying this: “We are still holding out hope that there is business that can be accomplished. The crime bill is still in play, very much alive and can be dealt with pretty quickly. It’s becoming a little more difficult, because of the time on some of the larger items like the operating budget and the capital budget.”
• He hails the Senate for its efforts, but he’s continuously clashed with the House Majority this session. He reflects that in his comments, saying, “for example the Senate had a full PFD in their package. They also completed the work on the operating budget and criminal reform. The Senate did a pretty good job. The House has also worked on these items as well, but it looks like things are pretty balled up in the House.”
• When asked about the location, he said this: “There is a lot of interest to have this up in the Mat-Su Valley and we are seriously considering that. We are looking at some logistics. Obviously, we can always have it here in Juneau, but a change of venue may end up with different results.”
• He said they might have a decision on when and where by the end of the night.
Dunleavy says that the time and place for a special session have not been decided. He says there’s interest in having it somewhere in Southcentral Alaska, and that they’ll be considering that option. He says a change of venue might be a good thing.
Dunleavy says he’s preparing to call a special session. The formal announcement is coming later.
“If the Legislature does complete work on a crime package … we can always remove that,” he says.
We’re minutes away from a major announcement from Gov. Dunleavy. You can probably guess what it’s about.
The House is currently at ease. With just about seven hours left until the constitutional deadline, we’ve seen no major decisions made today.
It should be noted that Reps. Matt Claman and Chuck Kopp are absent from this floor session. Those two are the House’s members of the conference committee on House Bill 49 (the crime bill). That committee isn’t meeting publicly right now, but it’s likely that there are some closed-door meetings on that bill going on right now, explaining Claman’s and Kopp’s absenses.
At last, Senate Bill 16 passes the House, unanimously. The bill goes to the Senate (which will vote on whether to accept the House’s changes) and then to Dunleavy’s desk for final approval. Eaglecrest is one signature away from being on the path to serving alcohol now, folks.
Hannan’s excited about this.
By a vote of 22-15, Hannan’s amendment passes. Eaglecrest will specifically be included in this bill, and will be cleared to serve alcohol if the bill passes. See who voted for it, below.
We were over at the courthouse for a bit, and the courthouse wireless internet doesn’t allow for watching Gavel to Gavel, apparently. Meanwhile, Eaglecrest is at the center of debate on the House floor.
Rep. Sara Hannan, D-Juneau, proposes a specific amendment to allow Eaglecrest to serve alcohol. Rep. Gary Knopp, R-Kenai, says giving this ski area a license is “a slippery slope,” as the members chuckle from the pun.
Introduction of guests goes on for a while. Now they’re down to business. The House passed Senate Bill 10, which extends the state’s Suicide Prevention Council. That had overwhelming bipartisan support all session. It heads to the governor.
The singers giving today’s invocation chose to sing Hank Williams’ “A House of Gold” to start the session.
The song is critical of those who seek material wealth over salvation. An interesting choice on the day where the Legislature is supposed to finalize its budget. The lyrics include, “Don’t they know on Judgment Day, that their gold and silver will melt away.
Here’s the song:
Also on the House’s agenda is House Concurrent Resolution 10, which is titled “Special Session: Permanent Fund.” there are no further details available on that. It’s certainly something to watch.
A couple notes on special sessions and a possible 10-day extension:
As we wrote about for today’s paper, the Legislature can extend the session by 10 days, if 2/3 of each the House and the Senate votes to do so, according to the Alaska Constitution, article 2, section 8. Either the Legislature or the governor can call a special session as well. At his press conference today, Dunleavy said that if he’s going to call a special session, he’s going to do it tonight. The Legislature has until midnight tonight to adjourn.
The House is about to hit the floor. On the agenda is Senate Bill 16, also known as the State Fair Bill. This would allow alcohol to be served at the Alaska State Fair, and would also specifically list ski areas in state statute as a place where alcohol can be served.
That, of course, is big news in Juneau. Eaglecrest Ski Area has been trying to serve alcohol for years. If this bill goes through, the ski area could start serving alcohol next winter.
We’re set for a long afternoon and night at the Capitol, so we’re getting started with our coverage now. This morning, Gov. Mike Dunleavy spoke with reporters and kept on with many of his usual talking points.
He said he will take whatever actions necessary to figure out the Permanent Fund Dividend. So, with no end in sight on that debate, that means we’ll almost certainly have a special session on our hands to figure out the PFD.
Lawmakers were here until about 9 p.m. last night, working on the budget. Some of the highlights, according to the Associated Press:
House and Senate negotiators working on the operating budget agreed to a $5 million cut for the University of Alaska system, a fraction of what Dunleavy proposed. They also proposed cutting less from the state ferry system than the administration and did not include funding to help continue paying off remaining oil tax credit obligations, instead deferring to a bonding plan initiated by former Gov. Bill Walker that has been the subject of a legal challenge.
Negotiators also agreed to advance funding for schools for the fiscal year starting July 1, 2020. That is similar to action taken by lawmakers last year to fund schools for the upcoming fiscal year that Attorney General Kevin Clarkson has argued is unconstitutional.
Let’s take a look at those ferry cuts in particular. The conference committee adopted the Senate’s ferry budget, which cuts the system’s funding by about $40 million. This keeps the ferries running during the winter, but keeps them going on a very limited schedule. We’ll have more reaction on that.