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Legislature passes resolution authorizing recess while finance committees meet

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JUNEAU, Alaska — The Alaska Legislature passed a resolution Thursday authorizing a recess in floor sessions until May 12 while the House and Senate Finance committees continue to meet.

The votes came on the third day of a special session called by Gov. Bill Walker and a day after Walker told legislators to stay in Juneau and keep working on the budget. It also came amid a stalemate in budget talks.

Supporters saw the resolution as providing a bit of breathing space and allowing lawmakers to return to their districts to hear directly from their constituents. They cited issues, too, with the noise and possible dangers associated with renovation work set to begin on the Capitol. Critics said legislators have a job to do and should stay put it and do it.

Walker said he was disappointed but was not going to get into back-and-forth maneuvering with them.

Votes were along caucus lines, with members of the GOP-led majorities in support and minority members against the proposal, which made its first public appearance on the House floor Thursday morning. Rep. Lora Reinbold, R-Eagle River, who is not part of either caucus, voted in support.

The resolution says that while House and Senate Finance committees hold hearings, the Legislature's full membership isn't required. Daily floor sessions would take away from "careful consideration" by committees on subjects listed in Walker's special session call, the resolution states. In addition to the budget, the call includes Medicaid expansion and reform and a bill on sexual assault prevention and awareness programs in schools.

PHOTO: Senate Finance Committee co-chairs Anna MacKinnon, left, and Pete Kelly speak with Senate President Kevin Meyer during a break in the Senate floor session on Thursday, April 30, 2015, in Juneau, Alaska. (AP Photo/Becky Bohrer)
Senate Finance Committee co-chairs Anna MacKinnon, left, and Pete Kelly speak with Senate President Kevin Meyer during a break in the Senate floor session on Thursday, April 30, 2015, in Juneau, Alaska. (AP Photo/Becky Bohrer)

Under Alaska's constitution, neither chamber can adjourn or recess for more than three days unless the other chamber concurs. Passage of the resolution would provide that concurrence.

The House, in addition to passing the resolution, voted to adjourn until May 12; the Senate also adjourned until then, though Senate President Kevin Meyer, R-Anchorage, said the Senate wanted to make sure there was enough flexibility that lawmakers could come back into session earlier if there was a deal. House Speaker Mike Chenault, R-Nikiski, also left open the possibility of reconvening earlier if there was a deal.

Walker called for a special session Monday, when the Legislature adjourned from an extended session with a partially funded budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1. The House fell short of the threshold needed to authorize a draw from savings to cover costs, with the Democratic-led minority opposing the budget's cuts to education and failure to fund negotiated pay raises in union contracts, among other things. Support from minority members was needed to reach the required threshold.

The special session started Tuesday and has been slow in gearing up. Legislative leaders — who previously indicated a desire to have a recess before any special session — floated the idea of a two-week recess before reconvening, possibly in Anchorage. Walker refused that request though he said he was open to lawmakers taking up Medicaid expansion and the school program bill in Anchorage, if they wished. But he said he didn't want them to leave Juneau without a fully funded budget.

Chenault said Walker can call the Legislature into special session but cannot tell lawmakers where their committees will meet. A House majority news release indicated House Finance hearings would be held in Anchorage.

By law, if a special session called by the governor is to be convened somewhere other than Juneau, that location would have to be designated in his proclamation.

The budget and Medicaid bills are in the finance committees. The Senate Education Committee has the sexual assault prevention bill. The committee canceled a scheduled hearing Thursday.

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