Extended session produces 116 bills, more than 2013

Photo/Michael Penn/Juneau Empire

JUNEAU — Legislators took an extra five days this year to complete their business — an extension that likely resulted in additional bills securing the Legislature’s stamp of approval.

In total, 116 House and Senate bills gained the approval of both bodies. That breakdown is 70 House bills and 46 Senate bills. Lawmakers also agreed on 41 resolutions — this time at a more even split of 20 from the House and 21 from the Senate.

“We did some really great things for Alaska and on building economy,” Rep. Peggy Wilson, R-Wrangell, said. “Every single part of the state was touched in various ways … We did a great job this session.”

Of those totals, 11 bills and three resolutions boasted a Democratic lawmaker as the primary sponsor. Taking away the Democrats who caucus with the Republican majority, that figure drops to four bills and one resolution — all from House Democrats.

When lawmakers devoted their time to statewide issues in past years, the number of bills passed typically dropped, House Speaker Mike Chenault, R-Nikiski, said.

“People were concentrating on big issues that affected the whole state versus other issues that didn’t get to the top of the pot,” Chenault said of the 2011 and 2009 sessions, which produced only 40 and 60 bills, respectively.

Last year, lawmakers sent 73 bills to Gov. Sean Parnell for approval, and the year before, 75 bills passed both the House and the Senate.

The Legislature’s ability to approve 157 pieces of legislation over the past three months while tackling three large, statewide issues earned accolades from Parnell after the Friday adjournment.

“I gave the Legislature three big issues and challenges when I asked them to have that broad education discussion, advance a gasline and deal with that unfunded pension liability,” Parnell said. “Any one of those topics could have taken a session on its own.”

“Being able to deal with all three was a monumental task that the Legislature and our administration performed well with,” he added.

Those issues were Senate Bill 138, which advances the proposed Alaska natural gasline project, the omnibus education reform bill (House Bill 278) and the fix for the state’s growing unfunded liability in the Public Employees’ and Teachers’ Retirement Systems that was originally proposed in the budget but later introduced as HB385.

Republicans in the House and Senate, as well as Parnell, defended the 90-day session limit following the late adjournment, but Democrats were critical of the term and said the Legislature should revert back to 120-day sessions.

State law was changed by 50.8 percent of the voters via a ballot question in 2006, but because the state Constitution maintains the 120-day session lawmakers are not bound by the voter-approved limit.

Republicans, who are expected to continue leading both the House and the Senate for at least the next two years, say every effort is made to adjourn before the 90-day deadline.

11/21/2016 - 11:16am