Republicans reject governor's demand for a confirmation hearing

House Speaker Bryce Edgmon (right) and Senate President Pete Kelly (left) watch a joint floor session
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JUNEAU, Alaska (KTUU) - It took longer for Alaska lawmakers to shuffle into the House chambers and find a seat for a Thursday joint floor session than the entire meeting ended up lasting.

One day earlier, Gov. Bill Walker had issued an executive proclamation forcing the House and Senate to gather and discuss his 100-plus appointees to boards, commissions, and to three Cabinet-level posts.

If lawmakers did not show up, Walker could have sent Alaska State Troopers to forcibly bring them to the chambers. However, the governor's authority falls short of being able to make lawmakers to act how he wants, and Republicans shot back at the governor's move by gathering for the meeting then immediately adjourning.

That was possible because there are slightly more Republicans in the Legislature, and they voted along caucus lines, 32-to-26, to end the meeting.

The move marks the third time this year Republicans have refused to hold a confirmation hearing and is a setback for the governor, who has three commissioners hanging in the balances: Attorney General Jahna Lindemuth, Natural Resources Commissioner Andy Mack, and Public Safety Commissioner Walt Monegan.

Walker's appointees to boards and commissions that regulate everything from hairdressing to big game hunting to the state's new marijuana industry are also impacted. If they have not received a positive confirmation vote before the regular legislative session ends, all of the appointees would lose their jobs, and the governor would have to find replacements.

"I am disappointed that the Senate (Republicans) have, once again, refused the House’s invitation to participate in this process," the governor said in a news release.

Senate President Pete Kelly, R-Fairbanks, said the move was not an indictment of any particular appointee or a signal that there will be a mass rejection of the governor's 's team. Instead, he said it was a matter of time management and his belief that the sole focus should be the Permanent Fund restructure bill, S.B. 26.

"I've seen them go on for five, six hours, maybe even more," Kelly said of confirmation hearings. "We just can't afford that time right now."

At least publicly, though, there was little of significance happening on Thursday afternoon: an initial meeting between a House-Senate conference committee that will sort out the two chambers' differences on S.B. 26 was canceled, as were previously scheduled meetingson the income tax bill, H.B. 115, and the oil and gas tax reform bill, H.B. 111.

Still, the Legislature could call another joint session to vote on the appointees anytime before the regular session ends. The constitutional deadline to regular lawmaking efforts will arrive on May 17, and legislators could approve a 10-day extension and keep working without a special session for up to 131 days.

House Speaker Bryce Edgmon, D-Dillingham, said that continuing to put off a confirmation hearing only complicates the effort to find agreement on the key proposals taking aim at the $2.7 billion budget gap: "The more bigger picture items you have in the mix in terms of the end of session negotiations, the more propensity there is for complications," he said in an interview.

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