Senate adjourns, future of special session uncertain

The Alaska state Senate Thursday adjourned the special legislative session called by Governor Sean Parnell last week. The move followed Parnell’s unprecedented action Wednesday night of removing from consideration his bill to lower oil taxes.

After meeting in private most of the day, Senators explained their adjournment in a floor session by approving a statement called a “Sense of the Senate.” It read in part: “The Senate rejects the governor’s asserted authority to withdraw the subject relating to oil and gas taxes, and SB3001 introduced by the Senate Rules Committee by his request concerning that subject.”

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Hollis French – an Anchorage Democrat – referred to a written opinion from the Legislature’s attorney agreeing that Parnell was out of line. The opinion said the governor’s next constitutional duty was to sign or veto the legislation coming from lawmakers. French said that the governor can add items to the agenda, but it isn’t safe to assume the governor can remove them.

“It points out that where one could fairly imply a power to rescind a designation before a legislation assumes jurisdiction over the subject by convening, there is no justification for implying such power once the legislature has convened. Once he submits a bill to us, it is our bill,” said French.

House leaders agreed with the governor asserting his right to withdraw the bill, but were disappointed he chose to do so. However, they were more disappointed in the Senate’s adjournment, which if it stands, also removed the only other item on the agenda – a bill that outlined a complete plan for a natural gas pipeline from the North Slope to Southcentral Alaska. House Speaker Mike Chenault – a Nikiski Republican – said the bill is a high priority for the House. And he hasn’t yet decided how to handle it.

“I can’t tell you what’ll happen next. The House will decide tomorrow what direction we’re going to go,” said Chenault. “We certainly could stay here in session – make the Senate continue to come back. We could gavel out sine die and not take up any of these issues until future legislatures. I think the governor has the ability if he wants to to turn right around, call us back in and put whatever he wants on the call.”

The state Constitution allows the Senate to take three days in adjournment – meaning that if the House is still in session on Monday, the Senate must return. Senate President Gary Stevens acknowledged the mandate, but said he expects the House to adjourn, too, since the Senate has the only piece of legislation to work on.

“So I don’t know what the House would deal with, but to answer your question, if we have to be back within three days – if the House continues and they call us back – then I will be here to have a technical session should that occur,” Stevens said.

The “Technical Session” Stevens referred to requires only a minimum number of people – generally three. No business is dealt with.

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