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Alaska Legislature

Alaska Legislature prepares to reconvene, spurred by lawsuit over coronavirus relief money

JUNEAU — The Alaska Legislature is planning to reconvene for the first time since the coronavirus pandemic began.

With more than $908 million in coronavirus aid blocked by a lawsuit filed Wednesday, lawmakers are preparing for votes next week that would invalidate the lawsuit and free the money.

At stake is $290 million for small businesses, $50 million for fishermen and $568.5 million for cities and boroughs.

Speaker of the House Bryce Edgmon, I-Dillingham, said in a written statement Thursday that “it appears imminent the Legislature will have to reconvene to approve the COVID-19 money. The details are still being worked on, and more will be known (Friday).”

Late Thursday, the office of Senate President Cathy Giessel, R-Anchorage, told senators to buy plane tickets and get to Juneau by Monday. Sen. Bill Wielechowski, D-Anchorage, said he made sure to buy a refundable ticket if plans changed.

Giessel said she had been on the phone for more than six hours Thursday working out a plan for next week.

Lawmakers are expected to act as they did in 1987, when they retroactively approved budget cuts by then-Gov. Bill Sheffield.

This time around, they’d be approving an action taken Monday by the Legislature’s Budget and Audit Committee, which approved a plan by Gov. Mike Dunleavy to spend federal pandemic aid.

Attorney Joe Geldhof, representing a Juneau plaintiff, sued over that action, saying the full Legislature needed to approve it and anything less is unconstitutional.

Asked Thursday whether an after-the-fact ratification vote would be acceptable, Geldhof said, “If they have a chance to vote, it’s probably good enough.”

This article is developing and will be updated.

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