Short on time, legislators return to Juneau

Alaska House of Representatives (KTUU)
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ANCHORAGE (KTUU) - Lawmakers have returned to Juneau after a 50-day absence and now face the task of finalizing appropriations worth $1.5 billion in CARES Act funding.

Initially, the Legislative Budget and Audit Committee appropriated a small portion of the funding, and later approved Gov. Mike Dunleavy's plan for distributing the remaining $1.25 billion.

That decision was hindered by the question of whether the LB&A committee has the legal authority to do so, and was promptly met with a lawsuit. Now, the House and Senate must give the LB&A decision final approval before it can be carried out. Some lawmakers would rather appropriate the funding themselves, and say that the committee and the governor are overstepping their bounds.

"All of the indications were that this was illegal," Senator Bill Wielechowski said. "We are going to do it the right way this time, hopefully... and set ourselves up so that if there are future federal funds that come up, we don't have to fly back down to Juneau, and we can do it quickly."

The 31st legislative session was postponed on March 29 shortly after COVID-19 was detected for the first time in Juneau. This means lawmakers only have until Thursday to figure out how the CARES Act funding should be divvied out, then the body's options would be voting to either extend the session by 10 days, or moving into a special session. The governor also has the authority to call for a special session, once Thursday's deadline has passed.

"The likelihood is that we'll pass this ratification and that will be done," House Minority Leader, Rep. Lance Pruitt told KTUU on Monday evening. "Afterwards, if the governor wants to continue discussions over the PFD, he has the right to do so."

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