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Alaska Legislature

Alaska legislators again prepare to bypass 90-day session-limit law

  • Author: James Brooks
  • Updated: 6 days ago
  • Published 6 days ago

The Alaska and national flags fly at half-mast on Tuesday, April 6, 2021 in front of the Alaska State Capitol in Juneau. (James Brooks / ADN)

JUNEAU — The Alaska Legislature is on track for a 121-day legislative session, and some lawmakers are interested in a further extension as they consider how to spend more than $1 billion in economic aid approved by Congress.

The Legislature almost certainly will remain in session past April 18, the deadline for legislative sessions in state law, a fact that caused some verbal sniping on the floor of the House of Representatives this week.

“I’m curious to know whether the House will … simply pass day 90 without any mention or fanfare and simply continue as though Alaska Statute 24.05.150 does not exist,” said Rep. David Eastman, R-Wasilla.

House Majority Leader Chris Tuck, D-Anchorage, spoke immediately afterward.

“We may be here a little bit longer than intended, especially if we have members who want to slow down the process and be obstructionist,” he said.

Lawmakers say they need extra time this year because the state government will receive more than $1 billion from the American Rescue Plan approved by Congress this year.

The federal government will not set rules for spending that aid until early May.

In 2006, Alaska voters narrowly approved a ballot measure setting a 90-day limit for legislative sessions. That law, enshrined as the statute referenced by Eastman, has been in effect since 2008 but hasn’t been followed since 2013, and even before that, lawmakers bypassed the limit by calling special sessions.

Only twice — in 2009 and 2013 — have lawmakers finished their work in 90 days or fewer, with no special sessions.

The Alaska Constitution says the Legislature may meet for 120 days “from the date it convenes,” and the Alaska Supreme Court has interpreted that the clock doesn’t start until after the first day, resulting in a 121-day limit.

According to Mason’s Manual, the rulebook used by the Legislature, “when statutes differ from the constitution, constitutional provisions prevail.”

The Legislature could extend the 121-day limit by 10 days if two-thirds of the House (27 of 40) and two-thirds of the Senate (14 of 20) agree to do so.

That will not happen, said the 18-member House Republican minority.

“The Alaska House Republicans do not support a 10-day extension of the session at this time,” said Ben Dietderich, a spokesman for the minority.

“We believe we have the ability to pass a budget before the 120th day and we would like to see that happen. We hope all of our colleagues will join us in working to make sure all other business is completed before then as well,” he said by email.

The statement was mum on the idea of calling a 30-day special session, which requires action by Gov. Mike Dunleavy or support from 40 of the Legislature’s 60 members.

That margin is possible without House minority support if the House majority and almost all members of the Senate vote in favor.

Senate Minority Leader Tom Begich, D-Anchorage, said members of the Senate minority are not prepared to vote in favor of a special session without an acceptable agenda.

Last year, lawmakers failed to muster the 40 votes needed to call a special session.

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