Democrats call for special session to help seniors

Posted: Thursday, June 26, 2003

ANCHORAGE (AP) Minority Democrats in the Legislature have called on the Republican majority to agree to a special session to override Gov. Frank Murkowski's veto of the longevity bonus checks for seniors.

House Speaker Pete Kott, R-Eagle River, said it is not going to happen.

Kott told the Anchorage Daily News he does not believe there is support among Republicans to return to Juneau and trump the governor.

A two-thirds vote of both the House and the Senate is needed for lawmakers to call themselves back into special session. A three-quarters vote would then be required to overturn the governor's veto of the longevity bonus.

Earlier this month, Murkowski vetoed $44 million for the Longevity Bonus Program, which provides monthly checks to 18,000 Alaska seniors. It was Murkowski's biggest single veto as he cut more than $100 million from the budget passed by the Legislature.

At the time, Democrats said they would call for a special session, but Republican leaders said there was not enough support for it. The Democrats followed up with a letter this week to Kott and North Pole Republican Gene Therriault, the president of the state Senate.

''The Republican caucuses have the opportunity to decide whether to defend their budget, which included the longevity bonus,'' it reads.

The House and Senate Democratic minority leaders, Anchorage Rep. Ethan Berkowitz and Anchorage Sen. Johnny Ellis, signed the letter. It says the Democrats are sending out ''chit sheets'' asking how each lawmaker would vote on the issue.

''This gives them the opportunity to stand up and go on record individually,'' Berkowitz said. ''And not hide in the governor's shadows.''

Kott said Democrats can circulate the sheets if they want, but he does not believe legislators need to fill them out.

''It's not an issue any more,'' Kott said.

He said the Democrats' letter calling for a special session on the matter is a ''smoke and mirrors'' tactic meant to score political points.

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