Legislators say no to energy break

Rep. Mike Chenault, Speaker of the Alaska House of Representatives, prepares to bring the floor session back to order during a recess, Jan. 21, 2014. (Photo by Skip Gray/Gavel Alaska)

Rep. Mike Chenault, Speaker of the Alaska House of Representatives, prepares to bring the floor session back to order during a recess, Jan. 21, 2014. (Photo by Skip Gray/Gavel Alaska)

Traditionally, the Legislature puts everything on hold for one week in March to attend a meeting of the Energy Council in Washington, DC. It’s been going on for so long that many lawmakers and staff don’t even know when it started.

But now, the streak ends. House Speaker Mike Chenault announced on Thursday that the break would not happen this year.

“It’s my intent that the House continues to work,” Chenault told reporters.

Chenault says there will be floor sessions and committee hearings during the first week of March. His counterpart in the Senate, Charlie Huggins, has also resolved to work through Energy Council.

“Normally, as you know, we have more people in DC than we have in Juneau during that time frame, and that won’t be the case this year.”

In 2013, a third of the Legislature attended Energy Council – 10 from the House, and 10 from the Senate. This year, just six representatives from the House — Mia Costello, Eric Feige, Pete Higgins, Doug Isaacson, Ben Nageak, and Dan Saddler — will be attending. Sens. Bert Stedman and Johnny Ellis will be representing the Senate, with Sen. Lesil McGuire traveling to DC at the same time on separate business.

Huggins says with subjects like education and the development of a natural gas pipeline under consideration, many lawmakers opted to stay in Juneau this year. On top of that, leadership is hoping to gavel out in less than 90 days. The session is currently scheduled to end on Easter Sunday, and Huggins would like to close out before the holiday.

“We want to stay here, we want to work hard, and our reward may be to get out a day or so early,” says Huggins.

Huggins says money is not a factor in this travel decision. Expense reports from previous years show the cost usually exceeds $2,000 per legislator.

The Energy Council is an association of energy-producing states in the Americas that meets quarterly. The spring conference in Washington, DC, is scheduled to run from March 6 to 9.

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