Lt. Gov. Kevin Meyer leaves the Alaska House of Representatives chamber Monday, Jan. 25, 2020 after presiding over yet another floor session where lawmakers were unable to elect leadership. (Peter Segall / Juneau Empire)

Lt. Gov. Kevin Meyer leaves the Alaska House of Representatives chamber Monday, Jan. 25, 2020 after presiding over yet another floor session where lawmakers were unable to elect leadership. (Peter Segall / Juneau Empire)

House deadlock remains, lawmakers to meet Wednesday

Evenly split body can’t agree on leaders

This story has been updated to include new information.

The Alaska House of Representatives failed yet again to organize a leadership Monday morning, after yet another brief floor session during which no nominations were made.

“Nominations is the only thing that I can do up,” said Lt. Gov. Kevin Meyer, who will preside over floor sessions in the chamber until a leadership is elected.

“Could do another prayer, that might help,” he said, drawing laughs from lawmakers.

[‘It must be done this year’: Senate president eyes fiscal plan]

The only vote the House has taken this year was over whether Rep. Bart LeBon, R-Fairbanks, would serve as speaker pro tempore, a temporary position. That vote resulted in a 20-20 deadlock that has remained, with neither Republicans or a blended coalition of mostly Democratic lawmakers able to form a majority.

The House took a month to organize in 2019, but lawmakers told the Empire in interviews last week this session felt closer to an agreement than two years ago.

[House members optimistic, but still deadlocked]

Meanwhile, the Senate elected its leaders last week and Tuesday will begin hearing bills in committees. But those bills can only advance so far before they must be sent over to the House.

The Senate met Monday morning as well, introducing another 26 bills for consideration. The first Senate committee hearing is scheduled for Tuesday afternoon and will hear a bill from Sen. Mike Shower, R-Wasilla, intended, he says, to strengthen the state’s election integrity with provisions like ballots tracking and establishing an election offense hotline.

Shower’s bill would also limit by-mail voting, which saw a statewide uptick in November.

Several bills from Gov. Mike Dunleavy were introduced in the Senate including the annual supplemental budget meant to cover expenses incurred after the close of the legislative session. Bills can make their way through Senate committees and even reach the Senate floor for a vote, but without an organized House of Representatives to send them to legislation will ultimately be stalled.

Democrats in the Senate hold no committee chairmanships, meaning they have less control over when bills eventually reach the floor for a vote. Senate Democrats have already submitted dozens of bills, but committee chairs set agendas for meetings and can choose which bills to advance or hold.

But that’s been the situation for Senate Democrats for the past two years, said Sen. Tom Begich, D-Anchorage, Senate minority leader.

“We did that by building strong relationships,” Begich said in a phone interview Monday. “They need all of us to participate. The majority knows they need us to get things done.”

Begich noted the Republican caucus was no longer bound like it was for the previous session. Several Senate Republicans lost their committee chairmanships at the beginning of the last legislative session for voting against the caucus. Republicans are now free to vote independently meaning Democrats may be able to pull votes over for specific legislation.

Begich said he had thus far developed a good working relationship with Senate President Peter Micciche, R-Soldotna, and had said in meetings he would work aggressively to advance the interests of the minority. Micciche seemed receptive his concerns, Begich said, and added he hoped to build a working relationship with the opposition like he had with the previous Senate President Cathy Giessel, R-Anchorage.

• Contact reporter Peter Segall at psegall@juneauempire.com. Follow him on Twitter at @SegallJnuEmpire.

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