House votes to limit governor's post-session powers

JUNEAU— The Alaska House has voted to limit the governor's ability to accept additional federal funding for a budget item outside of the legislative session.

\The bill, from Anchorage Republican Rep. Mike Hawker, includes language stipulating how the governor can accept and spend money that the legislature did not appropriate during the session. It also extends the amount of time the governor must wait to use the funds from 45 days to 90 days.

State law spells out a process by which a governor goes through the Legislative Budget and Audit committee when seeking to spend more in federal or other funds on a budget item that the Legislature allocated.

The law then lays out a 45-day waiting period for the governor to move ahead, unless the committee recommends the state proceed sooner. If the committee disagrees, the governor can still proceed with his plans.

House Speaker Mike Chenault, R-Nikiski, said the 90-day extension will allow for a more thorough review of a proposed use of the funds and for the Legislature to potentially call itself into a special session.

Hawker's bill comes after Gov. Bill Walker expanded Medicaid by accepting additional federal funding post-session after lawmakers tabled the expansion and inserted legislative intent language into the budget specifically prohibiting the expansion. Walker pressed on with the expansion, citing a legal opinion from the Legislature's top lawyer called the language unenforceable.

Lawmakers have since sued to overturn expansion, but a state court ruled against them.


A spokeswoman from Hawker's office said Walker's action on Medicaid expansion was not the impetus for the bill, but spotlighted the issue for lawmakers.

The bill seeks to make legislative intent language binding, closing what the Hawker said is a "loophole in the process," in his sponsor statement. He, and others who voted in favor of the bill, said it protects Alaska's balance of powers between governmental branches.

Anchorage Democrat Rep. Andy Josephson, who opposed the bill, says he believes the bill is designed to allow legislators to restrict the executive branch in an unconstitutional way.

Lawmakers voted 23-13 in the House on Thursday to approve the measure which next heads to the Senate for review.