Republicans criticize governor for timing of special session

Posted: Thursday, May 10, 2001

JUNEAU (AP) -- Senate Republicans say they're shocked Gov. Tony Knowles scheduled a special session on cruise ship pollution legislation knowing that the chairman of the committee holding the bill will be at the bedside of his 77-year-old wife as she undergoes heart surgery.

Sen. John Cowdery, R-Anchorage, chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee, held House Bill 260 pending changes during the regular session, which ended Tuesday.

After legislators adjourned Tuesday night, Knowles, a Democrat, immediately called a special session for May 21 to address the bill, which would give the state authority to set and enforce standards for cruise ship discharges and independently monitor them.

Cowdery, 71, had asked for and received permission to be excused from legislative business from Wednesday through June 9. Juanita Cowdery is scheduled for a consultation with her heart doctor in Anchorage on Thursday to make plans for surgeons in Portland, Ore., to correct her heart problems.

Cowdery said he has no intention of changing his plans.

''The urgency of the special session is way behind, second place, to the urgency of my problems,'' Cowdery said.

Senate President Rick Halford, R-Chugiak, said the cruise ship bill will not move without Cowdery.

''The Senate is not going to roll a chairman,'' Halford said. ''And we're not going to call a chairman back from his wife's side at a time when he needs to be there any sooner than he intends to come. It's clearly the right place for him to be. It's the right thing to be doing.''

Halford supports the cruise ship bill. Cowdery contends the measure could put smaller cruise ships out of business. After major cruise lines pledged to follow bill's standards this year, including paying a fee for monitoring, Cowdery said the bill could wait until next year.

Halford said he would ask Knowles to change the time of the special session.

''I hope the governor will look back into his own conscience and change those dates,'' Halford said.

Knowles' press secretary, Bob King, said the governor was flying out of state Wednesday and had not heard Halford's request. King said Knowles was not likely to change the dates.

''I think it's perfectly correct for him to be with his wife,'' King said of Cowdery. ''We felt we had to more forward on this bill.''

King said Knowles timed the special session for the first date he had open.

''It's difficult enough to try to find time within the governor's busy schedule,'' King said. ''I'm sure all 60 legislators have equally busy schedules.''

Halford said governors in the past have occasionally contacted legislative leaders about special sessions. Meeting immediately would have been most economical, he said.

Knowles called a special session last year for the day after the regular session so legislators could approve state employee contracts. King said that was not possible this year.

''The governor already had plans to attend his daughter's graduation,'' King said.

Cowdery's committee had less than a week to consider the bill after it passed the House. But King said a Senate version of the governor's cruise ship bill had been in Cowdery's committee since March 12.

''Frankly, this whole situation could have been avoided if the Legislature had taken prompt action,'' King said.

He said the measure can be considered in Cowdery's absence.

''The committee process anticipates excused absences for situations such as this,'' King said. ''That's why there is a vice chairman there to take over.''

Sen. Jerry Ward, R-Anchorage, a frequent Knowles' critic, is the committee's vice chairman. King said the bill would not get a more favorable hearing with Ward running the committee. Bill opponents in the House changed their minds after hearing from the public, King said.

''That's what we expect to happen in the Senate,'' King said.

Halford said the Transportation Committee will not meet without Cowdery.

''I will not, in the absence of the chairman, particularly on this kind of case, and this kind of reason, expect them to meet, call them to meet, or in anyway support their meeting without their chair,'' Halford said. ''And again, I'm on the other side of the issue. I support a reasonable package. But I believe the short-term package is taken care of.''

King said promises by the industry to abide by the proposed law were not acceptable.

''No industry in this state is self-regulated,'' King said.

Halford said he had a trip scheduled to Africa that is on hold pending the timing of the special session. He said he did not begrudge Knowles' trip for his daughter's graduation.

''He should extend the same consideration to John Cowdery,'' Halford said.

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