Democrats want votes made public

Posted: Sunday, July 27, 2003

JUNEAU Democrats in the Legislature are calling on Republi-can leaders to tell the public how lawmakers voted in an ongoing survey about a Longevity Bonus special session.

Republican leaders, who have been conducting a survey of the 60-member Legislature to determine whether there is two-thirds support for a special session to override a gubernatorial veto that eliminates the program in August, have said the results will be kept private.

Rep. Les Gara, D-Anchorage, said the public has a right to know how lawmakers voted on the issue of calling a special session.

''The public is entitled to know which, if any, Republicans would join the Democrats in protecting the Longevity Bonus program,'' Gara said in a press statement.

''The Republican leadership should not be able to keep the votes of their party's members a secret,'' he said.

House Speaker Pete Kott has not seen the letter, a staff aide said. Kott could not be reached for comment Friday.

Democrats invoked a state law to force GOP leaders to conduct the survey after Gov. Frank Mur-kowski vetoed $44 million in funding for the program. But there does not appear to be enough support to meet the two-thirds requirement to trigger a special session, Kott said Thursday.

The Longevity Bonus program provides monthly checks of up to $250 for about 18,000 eligible seniors. Final checks are expected to be paid in August, and the state has funding to give partial assistance to needy seniors for a year, including those who aren't eligible for the program.

Murkowski, who called on lawmakers to end the program, said the state cannot afford it and that it is unfair to seniors who do not receive the bonuses.

After intense pressure from senior citizen groups in Alaska, Republicans in the Legislature included in the budget funding for the Longevity Bonus program. An earlier plan approved by Senate Republicans to phase it out over five years did not pass the House.

Even if Democrats had the required support of 40 lawmakers for a special session, it would still take a three-fourths vote of the Legislature to override a veto.

Kott had said the roll call vote would be kept confidential unless lawmakers in his caucus wanted it released.

Normally, legislative votes are public record, but a legal opinion from a legislative agency said results of the survey do not necessarily have to be released.

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