Committee adopts policy for new apartments for Alaska lawmakers and staff

The historic Assembly Building, built in 1932 and located across the street from the Alaska State Capitol, will serve as legislative housing during the coming session after the building was gifted to the Alaska Legislature for that purpose. (Photo courtesy of the City and Borough of Juneau)

The historic Assembly Building, built in 1932 and located across the street from the Alaska State Capitol, will serve as legislative housing during the coming session after the building was gifted to the Alaska Legislature for that purpose. (Photo courtesy of the City and Borough of Juneau)

Apartments will be available starting next year for Alaska lawmakers and staff in a building that the Legislature was gifted, with a committee that oversees legislative business adopting a policy for the units on Friday.

The adoption of the apartments policy by the Legislative Council — a panel composed of House and Senate leaders — came about two months before the start of the next legislative session. Jessica Geary, executive director of the Legislative Affairs Agency, said rental rates for the 2024 session would range from $1,100 a month for a small studio apartment to $1,600 a month for a large one-bedroom apartment.

The council early last year advanced plans to convert into apartment units a downtown building, steps from the Capitol, that had been donated to the Legislature by the Juneau Community Foundation, a philanthropic group.

A construction contract of up to $8.6 million was authorized by the Legislative Council late last year for the building remodel, along with the acceptance of a $2 million grant from the foundation to help with the project.

The idea for housing stemmed from complaints that finding places for lawmakers and staff to stay — particularly during summer special sessions, when they’re competing with tourists for accommodations — can be challenging. In the past, some lawmakers and staff have had to uproot from their apartments or hotel rooms and find alternate places to stay when regular sessions have extended into May or bled into special sessions.

All but three of the Legislature’s 60 members live outside Juneau, which is accessible by air or water. Juneau had 1.6 million cruise passengers this year, a record, with the cruise ship season now stretching from April through October.

The policy adopted during a meeting Friday in Anchorage would give priority for the apartments to legislators based on seniority and then to legislative staff, based on seniority.

A draft of the policy proposed allowing cats and dogs and said any other animals would require approval. Sen. Jesse Kiehl, a Juneau Democrat, said a number of legislators have expressed interest in being able to bring their pets with them to Juneau. He said the tenants — lawmakers and staff — would “have an interest in keeping the place in good shape.”

But Rep. Craig Johnson, an Anchorage Republican, said pets can be unruly and loud and he noted that some people may be allergic to them. He asked for a vote on the pets provisions, and the council voted 7-6 to remove from the apartment policy the provisions allowing pets.

However, Geary said eight votes were needed for the motion to pass. She confirmed by email Saturday that pets will be allowed in 2024.

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