Peninsula legislators ready to come home

Posted: Friday, May 13, 2005

Their computers and files are boxed for shipping and their staffs have been pared to skeleton crews, but the lawmakers representing the Kenai Peninsula in Juneau have no idea when they'll be leaving the capitol for home.

Already resigned to the special session called by Gov. Frank Murkowski on Tuesday, legislators were hit Wednesday with an additional laundry list of bills the governor wants addressed before the final gavel comes down.

Initially, Murkowski said the session was to address teacher and public employee retirement system reform, costly workers' compensation issues, education funding and various fiscal year 2006 spending bills, including a capital budget that would fund several important peninsula projects. Added to the list Wednesday were bills that would add up to 250,000 acres of land to the University of Alaska to fulfill its status as a land-grant institution, change insurance regulations, make election reforms that would allow "soft money," and fund a virology lab in Fairbanks.

"I'm disappointed on several fronts," said Rep. Kurt Olson, R-Kenai.

The governor's Tuesday call for a special session was premature, Olson said. Had he let the Legislature work, and not "taken the pressure off," the bills he added Wednesday might well have been addressed in the regular session.

"We have a two-year session," he said, implying many of the bills could be addressed next January. "There were over 500 bills introduced and we passed 95 or 100 of them. Any number of the 400 left behind could be considered important. Adding on to the (Tuesday) list was counterproductive."

Olson said Thursday his computers were on the way out the door and files were on a van headed for Kenai, and only one staffer, Conrad Jackson, remained on hand.

But as for himself, Olson said he'd already pushed his airline ticket back to Saturday.

"And I don't think I'll be using it," he said, adding he no longer expected to get out of Juneau until sometime next week.

On the Senate side, Sen. Tom Wagoner, R-Kenai, was in the same boat. In fact, he said he'd already put his car on the ferry to Skagway to avoid an expected rush when the Legislature finally does adjourn.

"Until then, I'll get rides with friends or take a taxi or walk," he said. "Walking will be a lot better for me. My wife is at home, and I'm sitting in Juneau wondering what's going to happen."

Right now, he said, a lot of time is being spent waiting for conference committees to get their work done before the full legislative houses can consider various bills.

"You go to your office and you wait, return phone calls," he said. "The routine is busted up."

Wagoner was named to a conference committee on the university lands question. He said he had some reservations about the bill, which he said involved state land and an "acre-for-acre" federal match.

That and the other bills added to the special session agenda were, in his opinion, "superfluous" to the four principal agenda items: retirement, workers comp, education funding and the budget bills, he said. Those are the issues that have been dividing the Senate, the House and the governor.

"There is a chance to do things by the weekend, but it could melt down real quick, too," he said. "There are personalities in play. If you bruise them the wrong way, you could be back at zero and starting all over again."

Neither Wagoner nor Olson could say whether the governor was considering adding still more to the agenda.

"Your guess is as good as mine," Wagoner said.

Rep. Paul Seaton, reached late Thursday, said his office was packing up, too, but he still had staff.

"I wasn't too happy having other things added to the list," he said. "It's kind of like regular session stuff, but that's the ability of the governor. There's not much choice."

Olson said lawmakers typically come and go from Juneau on one-way tickets that can be exchanged without penalty. That, he said, was a good thing.



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