The Legislature convenes its second special session on Tuesday.
No one is quite sure what will happen.
The spectacle of a deep partisan split will be on fill display.
Most lawmakers say they will meet in Juneau, the state’s capitol. The Legislature’s leaders, House Speaker Bryce Edgmon, a Democrat, and Senate President Cathy Giessel, a Republican, will convene the session July 8.
A rump group, most likely the nine-member Mat-Su delegation and a handful of Republican House members from Eagle River and Anchorage, will gather at Wasilla.
House Republican Minority Leader Lance Pruitt will lead that group.
When he issued his call for the special session Gov. Mike Dunleavy listed Wasilla as the site, but the Legislature’s attorneys say the state Constitution gives the governor the right to call a special session and to pick the topic – Dunleavy has chosen the 2019 Permanent Fund Dividend – but is silent on any authority for the governor to choose the location.
There is a state statute that gives Dunleavy that authority, which the governor cited when he chose Wasilla.
But while the Legislature is bound by the Constitution a series of court decisions have held that it is not bound by statute. That means legislators can ignore the governor’s selection of Wasilla and meet in a place of their choosing, in this case Juneau.
Dunleavy and his attorney general, Kevin Clarkson, dispute this and say they consider any session convened outside Wasilla to be unlawful, and that the governor will not recognize any legislative actions taken.
However, a rump group in Wasilla will not have sufficient members present to officially convene a session either. To do official business there must be at least 21 members of the House present and 11 members of the Senate.
That means a stalemate, although the Legislature’s leadership might be able to secure the final vote needed (40 out of 60) for lawmakers to convene in Juneau. Meanwhile, the Wasilla rump group, not officially convened, can take no actions.
The Juneau group, which can officially convene and act, may not recognized by Dunleavy.
There will be some political theater, too. The LegisIature’s rules allow any member of the House or Senate to put a “call” on all members for a vote. This requires absent members to attend, and legislative leaders can ask the state troopers to find and escort absent members to where the Legislature is convening.
It’s quite possible, even likely, that at least one member of the group convening in Juneau will put a call on. It’s uncertain just how the Department of Public Safety will respond if the governor feels the Juneau session is not legal.
Legislative leaders in Juneau could take the governor to court if he refuses to allow the troopers to act, an early court test of the “where to convene” issue.
The rump group in Wasilla won’t have this option because there may be insufficient number to legally convene. There is some thinking that Dunleavy could file a court action against legislators absent from Wasilla to compel attendance there.
Public Safety Commissioner Amanda Price would have to decide whose orders to follow.
This could all become a farce, and it detracts from very serious business the Legislature must deal with, which includes the need to fund the state capital budget along with the amount of the 2019 PFD.
The longer the capital budget funding is delayed into July the more at risk the state is in having the federal government divert several hundred million dollars of transportation project funding away from Alaska and to other states.