Even before the end of the 121st day of session, Gov. Mike Dunleavy called the Alaska Legislature into special session.
Dunleavy said he called the session so the Legislature can make decisions on a few key issues: the state’s budget, the amount of the Permanent Fund Dividend, how to craft its crime legislation and how future education funding is going to work.
“Obviously, I think a lot of us are disappointed,” Dunleavy said. “We had 121 days to be able to get the work done.”
The session will commence at 10 a.m. Thursday and will be held in Juneau. According to Alaska Statute 24.05.100, a special session can last up to 30 calendar days.
The announcement came at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday, and by that time the writing was on the wall that the Legislature wasn’t going to finish everything it had to do by midnight (its constitutional deadline). The conference committee (essentially a negotiating group with members from the House and Senate) on the budget had made a few key decisions the prior night, but hadn’t finalized everything. Another conference committee tasked with working out a crime bill hadn’t even met publicly yet.
The formal declaration of a special session was read at 11:46 p.m. Wednesday. The declaration listed the governor’s tasks for the Legislature: education funding, the operating budget, the capital budget and the crime bill (House Bill 49).
Three words were noticeably missing from the declaration: Permanent Fund Dividend. When a governor calls a special session, the Legislature is required to focus only on the issues identified by the governor, according to state statute. The PFD now has to come up in budget negotiations during the special session. Dunleavy and the House both didn’t include the PFD in their budget proposals, but the Senate did.
Dunleavy has been staunch in his desire to greatly reduce the state’s budget, provide a full $3,000 PFD and repeal and replace the criminal justice reform legislation Senate Bill 91. The Senate’s proposals have been much more in line with the governor’s wishes, but the House has proposed smaller cuts, a smaller dividend (about $1,200) and less serious repeals to SB 91.
The Legislature moved slowly in the final days of session. The most significant piece of legislation passed Wednesday was Senate Bill 16, which preserves the Alaska State Fair’s liquor license. The bill also allows Juneau’s Eaglecrest Ski Area to apply for a liquor license.
The night ended in chaotic fashion on the House floor. When House Majority Leader Steve Thompson, R-Fairbanks, made a motion for the House to adjourn, Rep. David Eastman, R-Wasilla, objected.
An exasperated scoff went through the room, and even House Minority Leader Lance Pruitt, R-Anchorage, was upset at Eastman (a member of the Minority).
“What the freak?” Pruitt said, frustrated.
After a brief at-ease to talk through the situation, the House took a vote on whether to adjourn until Thursday. Eastman was the sole “no” vote.
Both the House and Session are scheduled to reconvene their floor sessions at 10 a.m. Thursday.