Alaska House and Senate still not organized 5 days from start of session

The Alaska House and Senate have not organized five days out from the start of session.
The Alaska House and Senate have not organized five days out from the start of session.(KTUU)
Published: Jan. 14, 2021 at 5:59 PM AKST
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JUNEAU, Alaska (KTUU) - The Alaska House of Representatives and Senate have still not organized five days out from the start of the next legislative session.

Organization involves forming majority and minority caucuses. The majority caucus then decides who chairs legislative committees and largely determines which bills pass into law.

Without the House or Senate organizing, formal committee hearings can’t be held when the session starts and the legislative process would all but grind to a halt.

Some legislative staff are already taking home reduced paychecks without House or Senate organizations. When the 32nd Legislature gavels into session on Tuesday, lawmakers would need to pass a motion to ensure staff can continue to be paid.

House Speaker Bryce Edgmon, I-Dillingham, said he thinks it’s “unlikely” that the House will organize before session starts. Two years ago, the House failed to organize for over a month, which was unprecedented in Alaska.

The House is currently deadlocked with 20 Republicans on one side, 19 Democrats and independents and one Republican on the other. At least 21 legislators are needed to form a majority caucus in the House, but some lawmakers want a caucus with around 25 members.

On Monday, Eagle River Republican Rep. Kelly Merrick hosted an online meeting open to every member of the House to introduce themselves to each other and for potential candidates for House Speaker to argue why they should be elected to that role.

Merrick said on Thursday that the meeting would stay confidential, but that it was “a positive way to initiate communication.”

Conversations are said to be ongoing between representatives, but there has been sharp divisions over the Permanent Fund dividend, the budget and the possibility of a binding caucus.

“Organization is like a fine wine, it’s ready when it’s ready,” said North Pole Republican Rep. Mike Prax on Thursday.

Over in the Senate, there are similar conversations going on between lawmakers and similar divisions.

There are 13 Republicans and seven Democrats in the Senate, but the Republicans have been so far unable to form a majority caucus in their own right. At least 11 senators are needed to form a majority caucus.

Anchorage Democratic Sen. Tom Begich has advocated for a bipartisan Senate coalition, but had no concrete update as of Tuesday if one would form.

“Everyone is talking, everyone is trying to figure out how we work our way through this legislative session,” said Sen. Gary Stevens, R-Kodiak. “The difficulty is that we are, as a legislature, very split much like the state is, much like the nation is. And so, everyone is trying to work out some kind of a solution to this, I can’t tell you what it’s going to be.”

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