Capitol talk turns to special sessions

Posted: Wednesday, March 30, 2011

With several issues hanging fire with the 2011 Alaska Legislature entering its last few weeks, some legislators are beginning to talk special session.

The hot issues of oil and gas appear to be most likely to cause a special session, with some of the frustrated advocates of bill saying they should come back for a special session if the Legislature doesn't take action before the session ends -- and they don't' expect that to happen.

"I personally think we should be back here in September," said House Speaker Mike Chenault, R-Nikiski.

Chenault's goal is to have the state jump start an in-state natural gas pipeline to bring gas to Southcentral.

Gov. Sean Parnell, whose big push this year has been for an oil tax reduction, said he's not ready to talk special sessions.

"I think lawmakers should be clear that I intend to get a bill this session," Parnell said Thursday.

But while the leadership in the House of Representatives has vocally supported Parnell's oil tax reductions, Senate leaders say the governor and the oil industry have failed to provide evidence such reductions would result in substantial new oil production.

Sen. Dennis Egan, D-Juneau, said he'll wait to see what, if anything, makes it through the House, but called an oil tax special session unlikely.

"I don't think that means a special session would happen immediately," he said. "It all depends on how bad the governor wants this."

Parnell said there's no need for a special session, but that he really wants the bill to pass.

"I don't have any intent to call them back into a special session," Parnell said, but indicated he still expected action.

"I think there's plenty of time for them to do something rather than do nothing," he said.

What's unlikely to happen before the end of the session is action on an in-state natural gas pipeline.

Senate leaders say they're waiting for reports on feasibility and economics of an Alaska natural gas pipeline --reports which won't arrive before July, and House leaders say its is unlikely action would happen before then.

But the state's gasline team is expected to release a report in July which may pave the way to a pipeline.

"Depending on what comes out in that report, if it is something that we should move forward with, in my mind it is imperative that we should meet," Chenault said Monday.

Most of the special sessions since statehood have been called by governors, but five have been called by the Legislature itself. Those have mostly been to override gubernatorial vetoes, but in one case was to consider impeachment of a governor.

Two of the Legislature's most high-profile actions in recent years have both been in special sessions, the AGIA plan to spur an interstate natural gas pipeline and the ACES oil tax bill.

Egan said he expects one issue that was once considered a possible trigger for a special session, coastal zone management, to be resolved by the Legislature during the regular session.

Egan said if there is a special session he'd prefer it to be in the fall, after the tourist season.

If it is during the cruise ship season "It makes it tougher, but Juneau can accommodate the Legislature no matter when it's held," he said.

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