Alaska House adjourns, leaves gas bill unfinished
JUNEAU (AP) — The Alaska House resignedly adjourned Monday, mirroring the Senate's action last week and marking the end of a tumultuous special session that seemed doomed from the start.
Left unresolved was a gas pipeline bill that House members had looked for ways to salvage, but they found little or no support from the Senate.
Lawmakers did pass a bill on the special session call regarding human trafficking, but Gov. Sean Parnell pulled an oil tax measure after his bill on the subject appeared to be going nowhere. The Senate adjourned Thursday, relying on a legal opinion that says if a bill on a special session call is removed while the session is under way, that action, in effect, ends the session.
That left unresolved the pipeline bill, which was a priority for House Speaker Mike Chenault. Supporters have said inaction on a gas line bill would delay progress on a project that could serve Alaskans.
A Parnell spokeswoman said the governor did not plan to call lawmakers into another special session to deal with that issue.
After adjournment, members of the House's GOP-led majority expressed disappointment, frustration and anger with what they saw as the unwillingness of the Senate to compromise or even work on a pipeline bill. Rep. Craig Johnson, R-Anchorage, said the Senate had "taken away the hope for a long-term fix for Alaska's energy and that is a devastating, crushing blow."
A couple hours beforehand, Chenault told reporters there was a "50-50" shot of the House introducing a gas line bill Tuesday and said there were talks under way about what may or may not work. The House Resources Committee had scheduled hearings pending the referral and introduction of a bill.
Chenault, R-Nikiski, said he didn't think the House needed the Senate to give its blessing to any bill. But, "we need to try to maybe come up with a piece of legislation that they can support," he said. "With the group that they have, that they have to work with, that's a pretty hard row to hoe."
Later in the day, Senate President Gary Stevens, R-Kodiak, said in a statement that the Senate didn't see any reason to spend "any more time or money on issues that won't produce a different outcome" than what happened during the regular session. An early estimate of the special session cost, given last week, was up to $30,000 a day.
Chenault said he read Stevens' statement as saying, "We don't care what you do."
"You know, I think once again, the House has taken Alaska's most pressing needs, and that's the high cost of energy, and we've done everything we can to address the issue. And the other body," he said, "has taken and chosen to do nothing."
Parnell, in a statement, said he supported the House's decision to gavel out "after the Senate Majority failed to address the state's energy needs."
"The Senate refused to work; the House did its job," he said. He said Senate inaction on a gas line bill "delayed shipping gas from the North Slope to Fairbanks and the Railbelt for at least one to two years."
Stevens said he's "fed up with the governor blaming us for everything."
Parnell last week blamed the Senate for his decision to pull oil taxes from the call, saying the Senate "appears incapable of passing comprehensive oil tax reform." But members of both the House and Senate said the administration hadn't made its case for Parnell's tax-cut plan.
Stevens said HB9, the pipeline bill that passed the House during the regular session, was problematic, giving "enormous power" to the Alaska Gasline Development Corp., or AGDC, the group behind efforts to advance an in-state line. He said there were concerns, too, about the cost to build a line and what customers would ultimately pay.
AGDC's Joe Dubler has said that the money provided to AGDC in the recently passed budget "is enough to keep the lights on but not to keep the project on schedule." AGDC had hoped to get to an open season — to gauge interest among potential shippers — next year.
The proposal floated late last week by the House was the same as the one released by the sponsors — Chenault and Rep. Mike Hawker, R-Anchorage — at the end of the regular session. They said the governor's office also worked on it. By the time the Senate adjourned, the proposal had been out there for nearly two weeks, and it was never taken up by a Senate committee.
There were questions about whether the House could even introduce a bill, though Chenault said history suggested there should be no problem with the House introducing a bill germane to the call.
The Legislature's top attorney, Doug Gardner, said it was his opinion the Legislature could introduce a bill or a number of bills as long as they have a "rational nexus" to the subject designated in the proclamation call. But he also noted there's an ambiguity because the Alaska Supreme Court hasn't considered the issue. If the court were to find a bill outside the call, "this would probably result in the invalidation of the proposed legislation," he said in a written opinion.