Several members of the Alaksa House of Representatives were absent form a floor session Tuesday, Oct. 12, 2021, but after a quiet first week lawmakers are scheduled to hold committee meetings through the end of the week. (Peter Segall / Juneau Empire)

COVID cases delay Senate

Illness complicates Senate schedule for special session

Two members of the Alaska Senate majority have tested positive for COVID-19, Senate President Peter Micciche, R-Soldotna, told reporters Tuesday, and a third was feeling ill and awaiting test results.

Micciche said he could not say which Senators were involved but said he had no reason not to expect a full recovery.

The Senate held a technical floor session Tuesday and has a full session scheduled for 10 a.m. Friday. Micciche told reporters he believed Senators should work remotely during this special session, and only return to Juneau for a vote.

On the first day of the special session Oct. 4, House members passed a resolution extending the amount of time needed between floor sessions, allowing lawmakers to return home and hold meetings remotely. But a similar resolution in the Senate ran into problems when some members of the Senate majority caucus protested the proposed schedule for the session.

But Micciche said he was hopeful some kind of progress would be made toward a fiscal resolution. The fiscal policy working group had drafted good recommendations, Micciche said, and he suggested creating a special committee that could draft legislation from those proposals.

“The working group did not produce legislation, it produced a menu of options,” Micciche said. “We have to get to the next step and produce legislation.”

House starts to move

After a slow start to the Alaska State Legislature’s fourth special session of the year, members of the House of Representatives have committee meetings scheduled for this week.

No committee meetings were held in the first week of the session and the only floor meetings were technical sessions where no business is conducted. But Tuesday many lawmakers were in Juneau and bills were scheduled to be heard through the end of the week.

This week the House Ways and Means Committee is meeting Wednesday and Thursday at 10 a.m., the State Affairs Committee Thursday at 1 p.m. and the Judiciary Committee will meet Friday at noon.

The House met briefly Tuesday afternoon to introduce new bills aimed at resolving the state’s fiscal deficit.

Ways and Means Committee Chair Rep. Ivy Sponholz, D-Anchorage, told the Empire Tuesday no meetings were held last week due to staffing issues and waiting on members to be ready.

Members of the House majority coalition had previously submitted bills aimed at resolving the fiscal deficit and members of the House minority submitted new bills Tuesday with their own proposals.

“The fact we now have members of the minority introducing (Permanent Fund Dividend) bills, it shows we’re starting to agree on what the elements of the solution are,” Sponholz said.

The Ways and Means Committee will hear bills Wednesday proposing various formulas for the PFD that split the state’s annual percent of market value draw from the Alaska Permanent Fund between the dividend and state spending. On Thursday, the committee will hear a bill proposing a state sales tax.

Gov. Mike Dunleavy has proposed a 50-50 split, with many Republican lawmakers endorsing that position. But members of both bodies and parties have noted that would require additional cuts or revenues to balance the budget. Various lawmakers have introduced bills that would introduce a 50-50 split over time, starting with a smaller dividend amount and then increasing yearly as the Permanent Fund grows.

Dunleavy and some, mostly Republican, lawmakers have said the Legislature should use the money generated by the record-breaking performance of the fund in the past year to pay larger dividends. But there’s strong resistance to breaking the 5% of market value limit the Legislature set for itself in 2018, particularly without a long-term fiscal plan in place.

Contact reporter Peter Segall at psegall@juneauempire.com.

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