House majority was in the minority Monday as absences mounted

JUNEAU, Alaska (KTUU) - The House majority, hit hard by illness, disease and bad behavior, had fewer members in the House Monday than the minority caucus, leading to postponement of several important measures that might not have gotten the votes to pass.

With the Legislature past the halfway mark for a 90-day session, the absences raised questions about whether lawmakers can get out on time.

But House Speaker Bryce Edgmon, the leader of the majority, expressed optimism to reporters Monday that lawmakers could still conclude their work in about 90 days — especially if the majority and minority can agree on noncontroversial bills.

“We’ll be working together on what we can and can’t move on the House floor,” Edgmon said at a news conference. “If there are some bills we don't have full agreement on and we need our full contingent of majority members here, we’ll simply just defer those bills for a few days.”

The most seriously ill was Rep. Ivy Spohnholz, a 45-year-old legislator in her first full term who was medevaced to Anchorage on Friday with blood clots in her lungs. Fearful of suffering a stroke, Spohnholz, a runner in good physical shape, had been taking blood thinners in Juneau and had been advised to go slow.

Rep. Harriet Drummond, like Spohnholz an Anchorage Democrat, said Spohnholz had to lie down on her office couch last week after chairing a committee meeting and may have tried to do too much. Had she not been in such good physical shape to start with, Spohnholz might have died, Drummond said.

Two other legislators, Rep. Daniel Ortiz, I-Ketchikan, and Rep. John Lincoln, D-Kotzebue, were out with the flu. And Tiffany Zulkosky, chosen to replace disgraced Rep. Zach Fansler, is still at home in Bethel and isn’t scheduled to be sworn in till Friday.

Spohnholz, herself a replacement for Rep. Max Gruenberg, who died suddenly three years ago, may be back as soon as March 12, Edgmon said. But he also said he hoped she would take care of herself.

When the House met in session Monday shortly after 11 a.m., the minority caucus had all 19 members present and healthy, the “majority” only 18. Minority leader Charisse Millett said she had no plans to stage a revolt.

While amendments to bills only need a majority vote to pass, the Alaska Constitution requires a bill itself to have 21 votes in the House and 11 to in the Senate. As a result, only five noncontroversial measures that could attract bipartisan support came to the floor of the House on Monday, most of them to counter sunset clauses on regulatory boards like the board for real estate appraisers. None of the bills had amendments and each passed 35-1 or 36-0.

A bill to supplement the current 2018 budget and a bill to raise unemployment compensation were deemed too controversial and put off for another day. The full 2019 budget is scheduled to be on the House floor in about a week.

The Senate has also had a rough go of it and was down a member for most of the session. Now, Senate President Pete Kelly said Monday, new Sen. Mike Shower has declined to join the Senate majority. That leaves two Republican senators outside the majority — Shower and Sen. Shelley Hughes of Palmer.

Shower was appointed by Gov. Bill Walker to take the place of Sen. Mike Dunleavy, who quit in January to focus on his run for governor. Shower was sworn in Feb. 26, the session’s 42nd day.

The 13-member Senate majority includes one Democrat, Sen. Lyman Hoffman of Bethel.

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