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For some lawmakers, special session is tedious

JUNEAU -- While the Finance and Resource committees take the lead on debate over the state's oil tax structure and a proposed in-state natural gas pipeline, a lot of Alaska lawmakers are idling and looking for ways to pass time.

Nearly half of Alaska's lawmakers were excused from attendance on Monday and Tuesday, though many were filtering in and out of hearings and spending time working on projects previously left by the wayside.

Every member of the Legislature except Sen. Dennis Egan, D-Juneau, faces re-election in November, but legislators are prohibited from campaigning until the session ends.

Rep. Sharon Cissna, D-Anchorage, is challenging U.S. Rep. Don Young for a seat in Congress. More than the rest of her legislative colleagues, Cissna is stuck in Juneau. After a bad experience with the Transportation Security Administration, she has refused to travel if invasive searches are required; she travels to Anchorage by ferry. "It took me three or four days to get used to the idea that I was not catching the cross-gulf ferry and that I was going to be parked here," Cissna said. "I'm still here every day at 7 a.m. and leave at 7 p.m., but my schedule is different than it was a couple weeks ago."

She serves on none of the committees leading the charge, so she is working on a history of Anchorage's university and medical district, which she represents, while also reading up on transportation and health issues and taking the opportunity to talk with constituents who call her office.

Sen. Linda Menard, R-Wasilla, is a member of the Community and Regional Affairs Committee, which will consider the in-state gas pipeline bill at some point. "It is truly just wait and see right now," Menard said. "But everybody is already here, so we're still going to work on other projects."

Menard is chair of the Legislative Council Committee, which has 16 members from the House and Senate. She said two hearings are being planned: one to discuss a proposed legislative building in Anchorage, and the other to allocate funds for Capitol repairs.

Both of those hearings are held up by a logistical problem: legislators and their staffers only have one set of computers. Many year-round staffers have returned home to districts and have yet to receive computers from Juneau, including Menard's district office.

"It's hard to communicate with my staff, and that makes it difficult to get everything coordinated," Menard said.

Jessica Geary, finance manager of the Legislative Affairs Agency, who oversees the Legislature's finances, said it is too early to determine the cost of the special session but has estimated the cost at "up to $30,000 a day" because of extra personal services, travel costs and per diem.


Associated Press