New members of the Alaska State Legislature gather in the House chambers for a mock floor session on Friday as part of their orientation for the start of the regular two-year session on Tuesday. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

New members of the Alaska State Legislature gather in the House chambers for a mock floor session on Friday as part of their orientation for the start of the regular two-year session on Tuesday. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

Yet another suspenseful session starts today

Who will lead the House? Where are the meet-and-greet parties? And other key early-days essentials

Enquiring minds are full of questions as another session of the Alaska State Legislature begins Tuesday, such will the House have a majority when they gavel in at 2 p.m., will headline-grabbing proposals such repealing abortion rights and ranked choice voting get any traction and who did the research informing arriving lawmakers and staff two-bedroom apartments can be rented in Juneau for $1,000 a month?

The 33rd Legislature is scheduled to officially begin when the state Senate gavels in at 1 p.m., followed by the House an hour later. Both of what are expected to be largely ceremonial floor sessions will be broadcast on Gavel-To-Gavel as it begins another session as well.

One substantial bit of businesses that will definitely occur on opening day is the publication of the third and final round of prefile bills. A substantial item that’s far less certain is if the House will have an opening-day majority for the first time since 2016, rather than the stalemates between divided coalitions that have stalled official business for weeks in recent years.

There are 21 Republican members of the incoming House, but one in particular — Rep.David Eastman of Wasilla — has been considered an unreliable party voter in the past. During the past two sessions bipartisan majority coalitions have formed due to similar stalemates, but legislators and media coverage since the November election have suggested a Republican-led majority appears somewhat more plausible this session — yet is far from a certainty.

Unlike the drama of the week-long U.S. House leadership stalemate earlier this month, Alaska’s state House members will at least officially be sworn in regardless if a majority exists. Performing those honors will be newly elected Lt. Gov. Nancy Dahlstrom, who replaced Kevin Meyer on Republican Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s ticket for his successful second term campaign.

The Legislature’s uniform rules state the lieutenant governor opens the session by calling each chamber to order and then doing a roll call of members.

“The lieutenant governor then administers the oath of office to the new members and, pending the election of temporary presiding offers, preserves order and decorum in the house,” the rules state. “When the house by a majority vote of the full membership of the house selects a temporary presiding offer, the temporary presiding officer assumes the chair and the lieutenant governor withdraws.”

But deciding who will serve as the House Pro Tem may turn into another stalemate item.

“In 2019 it took about 10 days for us to elect a pro tem,” said Joe Plesha, communications director for the House majority.

Welcoming events

Various receptions, celebrations and other events are traditional during the early part of the session, beginning after the two chambers gavel in Tuesday with Juneau’s 39th Annual Community Welcome Reception from 5 to 6:30 p.m. Tuesday at Elizabeth Peratrovich Hall. Hosted by city and business leaders, the reception features free food as well as the change to get/share tidbits of intellectual nourishment with those working at the Capitol during the coming months.

A more fancy celebratory gather is the first in-state inaugural ball for Dunleavy and Dahlstrom from from 7 to 10 p.m. Friday at Elizabeth Peratrovich Hall. Jazz will be performed by the Southeast Swingers, appetizers provided by Smokehouse Catering, and there will be free non-alcoholic drinks and a no-host bar. Tickets are $100 a person.

There will also be ”exclusive” events for those with sufficient status/funds, including a two-day Legislative Fly-In hosted by the Alaska Chamber on Jan. 25-26. Gov. Mike Dunleavy, state commissioners and top legislative leaders are among the scheduled presenters, with receptions and “meetings on the hill” in-between, for chamber members willing to pay the $385 registration fee.

On a more official note, a work session between the Juneau Assembly and local legislative delegation is scheduled from 7 to 8:30 a.m. Jan. 26 in the Assembly chambers. No public testimony will be allowed.

Settling in

Homey touches will show up both at the Capitol and in the temporary residences of people working there during the coming months. Among the touches at the Capitol will be the student art displays that are an annual tradition dating back to 1988, including works by students at Mendenhall River Community School last year.

Also traditional is the rush for usually scarce temporary housing by people arriving in Juneau before the session starts, with the Legislative Affairs Agency maintaining a housing list that shares vacancies provided by renters to prospective tenants. But this year’s guide doesn’t quite seem to reflect the current extra-tight and extra pricey market, although it does note the “average rental rates from our list…are not representative of the Juneau market.”

Among the listed average monthly rents, should anyone be fortunate enough to find them: shared homes for $375-$900, efficiencies for $750 to $1,100, one-bedroom apartments $1,000 to $1,500 (and the same range for one-bedroom homes), two-bedroom apartments for $1,000 to $1,700 and four-bedroom homes for $2,400 to $2,700.

• Contact Mark Sabbatini at mark.sabbatini@juneauempire.com

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