The Alaska State House has set a record for the most days into a legislative session with no House Speaker elected. Thursday marks the 24th day without a speaker. With the House unable to formally deliberate bills or form committees until a leader is elected, Democratic Sen. Lyman Hoffman of Bethel is predicting another long session ahead.
“It is putting additional pressure, I think, in the whole building," he said, "and I would say that we can basically throw out a 90-day session.”
Ninety days is the statutory length for a legislative session. The Alaska constitution allows sessions to stretch for 120 days with the ability to extend beyond that. Hoffman doubts whether the legislature can get its work done in the 120 day timeframe with three weeks of the House's work already lost. The lawmakers are citizen legislators, meaning that the legislature does not provide year-round employment. So prolonging the session can negatively impact the lives and livelihoods of the legislators.
“Many people say we’re down here to collect per diem, but really we want to get the job done, and we want to get on with our lives outside of the legislature,” Hoffman said.
One of the lawmakers' most important duties is passing a budget to fund the government. Gov. Mike Dunleavy has proposed a supplemental budget cutting $20 million from the education budget passed last year and $3 million from the Village Public Safety Officer program. This money has already been appropriated, and Sen. Hoffman, who serves on the Senate Finance Committee, says that the legality of Dunleavy’s proposal to repeal those funds for FY20 is being researched.
“At least for FY19’s appropriation and the supplemental of additional $20 million, it is completely in the legislature’s purview to decide whether or not those dollars go forward," Hoffman explained. "It is not something Dunleavy has authority to override the legislature on.”
Gov. Dunleavy has also proposed a series of constitutional amendments. They would require public votes for any new or increased taxes, as well as for changes to permanent fund dividends, and would limit state spending increases. These amendments require a two-thirds majority in each body, plus a popular vote. They have been referred to the Senate Finance Committee, where Hoffman serves.