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Alaska lawmakers plan 1-day special session

The Alaska Legislature will be in town Monday for a quick cup of coffee, a little business and a goodbye handshake, if all goes according to plan.
/ Source: The Associated Press

The Alaska Legislature will be in town Monday for a quick cup of coffee, a little business and a goodbye handshake, if all goes according to plan.

Alaskans clamoring to have the capital moved to southcentral Alaska will have an opportunity to watch lawmakers in a planned one-day session at the Egan Civic and Convention Center in Anchorage. Only one other special session has been held there, in June 2007 at a cost of nearly $112,000, said Pam Varni, director of the Legislative Affairs Agency.

"Hopefully we'll have a couple of votes and be done and get out of there," said House Speaker Mike Chenault, R-Nikiski.

Senate President Gary Stevens, R-Kodiak, promised a confirmation vote on acting Lt. Gov. Craig Campbell and an opportunity to override former Gov. Sarah Palin's veto of federal stimulus money for energy efficiency projects.

Anything else likely would stretch the special session beyond one day, and Stevens hopes to keep his promise. However, when lawmakers call themselves into special session, any of them can bring up other topics.

At the end of the regular session in April, lawmakers hoped they could make it through the interim without disruption to their regular jobs for just the second time in a decade. Palin's resignation dashed those plans.

Palin in February designated Corrections Commissioner Joe Schmidt as second in line of succession after Lt. Gov. Sean Parnell, and the legislature confirmed him for that spot. However, when Palin announced last month she was stepping down with 17 months left in her term, she said Campbell, the commissioner of military and veterans affairs, would move up to lieutenant governor.

That raised the question of whether the outgoing governor could legitimately pull a switch in the succession line for someone already approved by lawmakers. The uncertainty was enough for lawmakers to call the special session.

Rep. Les Gara, D-Anchorage, said in his newsletter that Campbell could not take the position without prior confirmation by the Legislature. He said Schmidt should have hung in until January.

"I would have liked the governor to ask Mr. Schmidt to honor the confirmation process we've already been through — at least until the regular session — so that a special session on this issue isn't needed," he wrote.

Chenault called the change a driving force for the session.

"The confirmation of the acting lieutenant governor is very important," Chenault said.

Still, Stevens said he has heard no concerns about Campbell stepping in as lieutenant governor.

"I don't foresee there will be any problem at all," he said.

Palin's veto of federal stimulus money for energy conservation is the other hot topic.

Palin initially said she would not accept about one-third of the $930 million designated by President Obama for Alaska, citing "strings" that could bind the state to federal mandates and increase the size of government.

Legislators found few strings and accepted all federal money.

Palin eventually signed off on all but $28.5 million in energy cost relief, insisting that accepting it would require a state energy code — she said communities should decide their own codes. Critics called it grandstanding, an appeal to fiscally conservative national voters who would support her suspected national office ambitions.

Lawmakers had hoped to consider an override in January, but the federal Department of Energy said it needs an answer by September.

An override will require a three-fourths majority in both the House and Senate.

"I'm convinced we have a three-quarter vote in the Senate," Stevens said.

Lawmakers have declined so far to consider Parnell's request to suspend for another year the state's motor fuels tax, which covers gasoline and diesel for cars and boats. A bill in the Senate would take at least three days to become law, and its fate would be uncertain even without the time constraints.

So the one-day schedule looks doable. The only committee hearing scheduled is the Senate State Affairs Committee, which will review Campbell on Monday morning. Even that can't hold up the process because the committee can only make a recommendation, said House Rules Committee chairman John Coghill, R-North Pole.

A joint Senate-House session Monday afternoon will consider Campbell and the veto override.