Juneau’s state representatives and senator are getting an extra long and especially dramatic freshman year.
A second special session is set to start Monday. Legislators are supposed to work on the Permanent Fund Dividend, but the session have a different focus now that Gov. Mike Dunleavy has announced 182 line-item vetoes that cut more than $400 million from the Legislature’s approved budget.
That’s moved the potential of veto overrides into immediate focus, but how expansive overrides would be and whether the votes are there remains unclear. Forty five votes are needed within the first five days of the session for an override.
House Speaker Rep. Bryce Edgmon, I-Dillingham, and Senate President Sen. Cathy Giessel, R-Anchorage, announced the Legislature would call itself into session in Juneau.
However, a competing session in the Mat-Su Valley is shaping up.
Previously, Dunleavy called for the special session to take place in Wasilla, and Friday the Associated Press reported Senate Majority Leader Sen. Mia Costello, R-Anchorage, said she would be in Wasilla for the start of the special session.
Previously, both the governor and House Minority Leader Rep. Lance Pruitt, R-Anchorage, have denounced the idea of a Juneau session.
While there’s uncertainty ahead, a lot has already happened since the 31st Legislature first convened in January.
Juneau Reps. Andi Story and Sara Hannan and Sen. Jesse Kiehl each took time to reflect on some highlights and surprises from this 2019’s myriad legislative sessions.
What are you most proud of from the past session?
Story: Hard to pick one, but I will try. Forming a bipartisan coalition, that passed an operating budget that avoided massive cuts to public services like schools, University, transportation, public safety and left revenues to the cities for use, and didn’t pull back municipal assistance, fish taxes and other taxes. This budget protected Juneau jobs and reduced harm to the statewide economy.
Hannan: How engaged in the process so many people are. Neighbors, local officials, students, citizens across the state are engaged in the process of decision making on a daily basis.
I am also proud to represent the Capitol and the non-partisan staff that keep the building maintained, the technology operating and the papers printed. Most Alaskans talk about the Legislature as the 60 elected members, but to make our work possible many people do the behind the scenes work. (Legislative research, legislative library, legislative legal, legislative information, etc.) All the staff of the Legislative Affairs Agency work with a smile and problem solving attitude and are committed to support the process of law making. They are impressive and make me proud.
Kiehl: Two things: One, we protected the ferry system from total shutdown — proposed in the February budget — and two, we passed a crime bill giving law enforcement important tools to deal with repeat thieves, while protecting vital, crime-reducing re-entry programs the governor wanted to eliminate.
What was the biggest surprise of the session?
Kiehl: The bill to fix liquor license problems for the bowling alley and Eaglecrest left the Senate with broad bipartisan support. At the last possible moment in the session, one House committee chair decided to strip Eaglecrest out, and Reps. Hannan, Story, and I scrambled to fix it on the House floor – with just one vote to spare! It was a team effort we didn’t expect, but it was a great success.
Story: The Senate Finance committee approving a $3,000 PFD. I know the complexities discussed and concerns of many of the committee members, and did not think that would have passed out of Senate Finance, as many had made the point that a large dividend takes away investment earnings that makes money for us, from our Permanent Fund. I am confident that we will figure out how to best maintain our Permanent Fund and still have a robust dividend.
Hannan: The biggest surprise for me was who my mentors were. I came into office having preconceived notions about who I would like — based on political votes — and align with. During the budget sub-committee process I started calling it “going to the school of Tammie Wilson”. On a daily basis I learned from her questions, her willingness to share her thinking process and her work ethic. Every member of the Legislature brings different skills, expertise, personality and working together is a process that requires mutual respect. Learning from each other is critical to a solution.
What are you most looking forward to working on?
Kiehl: The budget and the crime bill pulled most of the air out of the room this session, making it tough to get other legislators to focus on bringing back a pension for teachers, Troopers, and other public servants. That’s one of my interim projects.
Story: Continuing to work on a stable funding plan for the state budget to help stabilize the economy. This is critical to so much I hear people saying they care about; education for their children — long-term sustainable — transportation, ferry, certainty to businesses, so they will invest as they know we have a plan for essential services.
Hannan: I think we are ready to start discussing new revenues for Alaska. We have cut services that keep Alaskans safe, healthy and educated. We have cut our budgets and squeezed our services and blame those left trying to complete the tasks. I want to talk about public services as positive things we have directed to happen and the public servants doing them as good neighbors and friends. I am tired of blaming and want to work on building a plan for Alaska to thrive again.
What you can expect Monday
Despite some lingering questions, a few things have already been announced as a certainty for Monday.
The Bicameral Permanent Fund Working Group, which includes members of the House and Senate, will meet at 9 a.m. in Senate Finance Room 532 for presentations from working groups.
Right now that’s the only thing listed on the Legislature’s daily schedule. In light of veto overrides being time sensitive, it’s possible they come up at some point during the first day of the special session.
A sizable rally is also expected at noon Monday at the Alaska State Capitol.
The Save Our State Rally for Overrides is being organized by several Juneau-based organizations — Juneau Arts & Humanities Council, University of Alaska Southeast, Juneau Central Labor Council AFL-CIO, Juneau Pro-Choice Coalition, Perseverance Theatre and the New JACC.
Hundreds of people indicated their interest in the event on social media.
• Contact reporter Ben Hohenstatt at (907)523-2243 or email@example.com . Follow him on Twitter at @BenHohenstatt.