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Alaska Legislature

Former lawmaker sues legislative leaders over Juneau special session location

Leadership of the Alaska House and Senate confer Wednesday, July 10, 2019, at the state Capitol in Juneau, where lawmakers failed to override Gov. Mike Dunleavy's budget vetoes. About a third of the lawmakers were absent from the Juneau session, choosing to meet in Wasilla instead. Standing are House Speaker Bryce Edgmon, from left, Senate Minority Leader Tom Begich and Senate President Cathy Giessel. Seated are Senate Majority Leader Lyman Hoffman, left, and House Majority Leader Steve Thompson, with his back to the camera. (Michael Penn/The Juneau Empire via AP)

A former Alaska state representative filed a lawsuit Wednesday against legislative leaders over their refusal to comply with Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s proclamation calling a second special session in Wasilla.

The Legislature’s presiding officers called their members to session in Juneau on Monday in spite of the governor’s decision to designate Wasilla Middle School as the location for the special session.

Lawmakers have remained sharply divided over the question of whether Dunleavy has the authority to tell them where to meet ⁠— so much so that those who back Wasilla have refused to travel to Juneau, even after a majority of lawmakers voted to begin the session in the capital city.

Now, former Rep. Al Vezey of North Pole is suing House Speaker Bryce Edgmon and Senate President Cathy Giessel, both of whom are in Juneau, in hopes of forcing them to comply with Dunleavy’s proclamation.

Under state law, Vezey argues, the governor can call the Legislature into special session anywhere he likes. Nothing in the law requires the Legislature to meet in Juneau, his complaint says, and legislators in Juneau are not holding a legitimate session if they ignore the governor’s proclamation.

“The standoff currently taking place between the legislators in Juneau and the legislators in Wasilla does absolutely nothing to advance the legitimate interests of the citizens of Alaska, and it is fiscally wasteful and irresponsible, and it must cease immediately,” Vezey’s complaint reads.

However, lawmakers in Juneau argue that the Legislature’s constitutional right to organize itself supersedes state law.

The 38 lawmakers meeting in Juneau were unable to muster enough attendees Wednesday to override the governor’s controversial budget vetoes. Meanwhile, protesters took those lawmakers’ empty seats at Wasilla Middle School, urging the remaining 22 legislators — who have been unable to call themselves into session due to the lack of a quorum — to go to Juneau.

Bill Satterberg, Vezey’s attorney, said he’s asked the court for expedited consideration. Even so, the court isn’t likely to act quickly enough to resolve the issue before Friday, the deadline for an override vote.

“They still have the other issues they’re going to have to deal with” Satterberg said, referring to issues related to the Permanent Fund dividend and capital budget the legislature hasn’t yet addressed.

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