The ridiculous, unprecedented dueling special legislative sessions underscores the growing notion that the Legislature passes laws it believes it does not have to follow and gives the constitution short shrift.
Gov. Mike Dunleavy called a special session in Wasilla this week to have lawmakers determine the size of this year’s Permanent Fund dividend. He is seeking a $3,000 payout for each Alaskan, calculated using a 1982 law. The meeting lasted only 15 minutes because few lawmakers showed up.
The rest ignored Dunleavy’s Wasilla session to meet, instead, in out-of-the-way Juneau where they plan to consider overriding his $440 million in line-item budget vetoes. A vote is scheduled today.
The Juneau contingent’s problem? It does not appear to have the requisite 40 lawmakers needed to call the Legislature into special session or the 45 necessary for an override.
“Although we are one vote short of the 40 vote threshold to call ourselves into our own special session agenda, the majority of legislators in both bodies considers it our right to determine the location and venue best equipped to conduct business on the Governor’s special session call, while providing the most access to as many Alaskans possible,” House Speaker Bryce Edgmon, I-Dillingham, and Senate President Cathy Giessel, R-Anchorage, said in a joint release defending their actions.
A question: Since when did holding a session in Juneau provide access to the “as many Alaskans as possible”?
Giessel says Juneau is the seat of government; that special sessions should be held there; that the Alaska Constitution trumps state law on special sessions. Edgmon told the Anchorage Daily News lawmakers are defending the Legislature’s “right to the location.” The Legislature’s lawyers, of course, say the Juneau move is a “separation of powers doctrine” thingy.
As we have mentioned before, Giessel is right about Juneau being the capital. Article 15, Section 20 of the Alaska Constitution, is clear: “The capital of the State of Alaska shall be at Juneau.”
But there is nothing in the constitution requiring special sessions be held there. Or a legislative “right of location.” Or that Edgmon, Giessel & Co. can pack up and meet wherever they want, 40 votes or no, when a session is called in – gasp! – Wasilla.
The Alaska Constitution also says: “Special sessions may be called by the governor or by vote of two-thirds of the legislators. The vote may be conducted by the legislative council or as prescribed by law. At special sessions called by the governor, legislation shall be limited to subjects designated in his proclamation calling the session, to subjects presented by him, and the reconsideration of bills vetoed by him after adjournment of the last regular session. Special sessions are limited to thirty days.”
The law implementing that section is clear, too: If the governor calls for a session outside Juneau, he “shall designate the location in the proclamation.” If the Legislature – with the 40 votes required by the constitution – calls a special session someplace other than Juneau, “the presiding officers shall agree to and designate the location in the poll conducted of the members of both houses.”
Nothing in there about a “right” for legislative leaders to pick a “venue best equipped to conduct business on the Governor’s special session call….”
Bada-bing, bada-boom. The governor called his special session in Wasilla. The Legislature, without 40 votes, cannot even call itself into special session.
All this proves beyond a doubt that these guys are wont to ignore laws when they are inconvenient – the 1982 law setting out how the Permanent Fund dividend is calculated comes to mind – and the state constitution if it gets in the way. That is wrong no matter the lame excuses; no matter what the lawyers say; no matter the inconvenience.
Alaskans did not elect representatives and senators to pick and choose which laws they will follow, or whether the constitution can be bent to whim. Questions about the law and our founding document best should be settled by courts, not people who believe there is a “right to the location.”
If you are a lawmaker and want laws gone, repeal them. If you want to call a special session of the Legislature, round up 40 votes. These folks meeting – dare we suggest illegally? – in Juneau are acting like tin-pot tyrants in some Third World country, where the powers-that-be get to be all the power – and do as they please.
We are a nation and a state of laws. Obey them or change them.