Legal memo supports special session shift from Wasilla to Juneau

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ANCHORGE (KTUU) - A memorandum from the Alaska Legislature’s attorneys supports the idea that lawmakers can change the location of an upcoming special session, even if that decision defies the wishes of the governor.

The memorandum, prepared by the Division of Legal and Research Services, suggests the issue may violate the separation of powers doctrine.

“To preserve the legislature’s independence, a court may ultimately find it a violation of the separation of powers doctrine to give the governor the power to establish the location of a legislative session,” reads the memo from the Legislature’s attorneys.

The governor says an Alaska law passed in 1982 means two-thirds of legislators need to approve shifting the location of a special session.

“The Senate President and Speaker of the House admit they lack the votes to change the venue or call a special session of their own, yet they are committed to thwarting the law and the voice of the Alaskan people,” read a prepared statement from Gov. Mike Dunleavy released on Monday.

Opponents of the location shift in the Legislature have cited the same statute. “If you don’t have the votes, how can you challenge the governor?” Asked Rep. Colleen Sullivan Leonard, R-Wasilla, on Tuesday. “It’s against the law.”

The memo, prepared by the Legislature’s attorneys, suggests that that statute may be invalid as one legislature is unable to bind a future legislature.

The legal advice goes on to say that a court may see the governor’s power limited by the Alaska Constitution. “Any attempt by the governor to designate and compel a location other than the capital would be beyond the powers granted to the governor by the constitution,” reads the document.

The attorney’s argue that the Alaska Supreme Court has held that the Legislature is able to make its own rules and that courts have been reticent to interfere in the legislative process.

“If the doctrine of separation of powers generally prevents the courts from interfering in matters of legislative procedure, then it should certainly prevent the governor from interfering in matters of legislative procedure,” reads the legal advice.

Republican Palmer Sen. Shelley Hughes said ongoing questions over the upcoming second special session may need to be decided in court. Hughes is clear that she isn’t organizing such a push, but her office has been fielding questions from people interested in mounting a legal challenge, she said.

Hughes described that Alaskans are furious by the Legislature’s indecision in passing a Permanent Fund dividend and that “the erosion of the rule of law is troubling.”

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