The Legislature’s professional staff says Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s idea for a special legislative session at Wasilla Middle School isn’t workable for a host of reasons including security and lack of adequate audio and visual recording facilities.
The governor’s office said the issues are overblown. The problems cited are excuses not to move the session from Juneau, Dunleavy’s press secretary, Matt Shuckerow, told reporters.
The main problem cited by legislative staff, however, is the difficulty in getting accurate recordings of proceedings outside the state capitol building, which is equipped to handle these.
“An accurate historical record is fundamental to any meeting of the Legislature. There must be adequate recording, transmission and a clear historical record for any session to be considered successful, especially when considering monumental issues. If no record of proceedings captures the deliberations, this causes immense problems contemporaneously and for posterity,” said the analysis, which was prepared under the direction of Jessica Geary, director of the state’s Legislative Affairs Agency, which manages support services for the Legislature.
The proposal from the governor’s office for “up to 10 cordless microphones” does not allay the concern because this kind of equipment can be unreliable, delivering poor sound quality and requiring frequent battery changes, the analysis said.
The microphones will not take the place of the advanced video and audio recording in House and Senate chambers and conference rooms in the state capitol building in Juneau. There was a short special session held in Anchorage in 2015 but the recording quality was spotty.
To at least partly remedy this, holding the session in Wasilla, “would require additional on-site staff who would otherwise be able to follow proceedings on the Legislature’s Gavel-to-Gavel streaming and broadcast service or the AlaskaLegislaure.tv, which operates streaming through cameras in the capitol building.
The school gymnasium proposed for House and Senate sessions present problems of acoustics and people being unable to hear each other during debate. Also, no sound system currently exists in the gymnasium to capture spoken words.
Facilities are also lacking to allow the Clerk of the House and Secretary of the Senate to record actions of the bodies and to prepare journals for each day’s proceedings.
Security is another concern. Legislative rules require exterior doors that are secure, not only to protect legislators and staff but also to preserve the confidentiality of documents.
Doors would have to be either locked or have security people stationed at them, which would add costs. There are concerns also with how to secure members of the Legislature who will have their backs to people in bleachers.
Also, a number of school staff, teachers, administrators, maintenance staff, who will have access to space in the school will have to be either restricted or vetted.
The proposed use of classrooms for committee meetings presents similar challenges. No audio recording is available in classrooms, which would be contrary to legislative rules that committee meetings are electronically recorded and minutes prepared.
Other technical issues are raised in the analysis:
• There are currently no hardline telephone lines to the spaces where floor sessions will be held to allow consultations with legal staff during floor sessions
• A proposed audio system for the school does not have sufficient controls to ensure audio privacy safeguards so the recording can be switched off when comments are not “on the record”
• There must be designated space for the press, under legislative rules
• There is insufficient office space for legislators to allow consultations with constituents or to discuss legal issues