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Interior state lawmakers prepare for Fourth Special Session

Published: Oct. 1, 2021 at 4:51 PM AKDT
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FAIRBANKS, Alaska (KTVF) - On October 4th, the Alaska State Legislature is scheduled to meet for its fourth special session of the year.

The session was called by Governor Mike Dunleavy in order to make appropriations for a supplemental Permanent Fund Dividend (PFD) and discuss the governor’s proposed amendments to the state’s constitution.

These amendments would enshrine a formula for the PFD into the constitution.

Legislators Bart LeBon and Grier Hopkins shared their thoughts going into the special session.

District 1 Representative LeBon said, “My first thought is, ‘Let’s cancel the special, the Fourth Special Session of this year.’ Already spent nearly 200 days in Juneau, and to compel the legislature to come back into a fourth special session beginning next Monday, I think is too much.”

Some legislators, including LeBon, are wary of returning to Juneau amid the state’s recent surge in COVID cases. “The governor has asked as many state workers as possible to work from home, and to me that screams ‘Why are 60 legislators plus staff members all gathering in the same building in Juneau?’” Lebon said.

Hopkins, State Representative for District 4, said, “We’re taking the precautions seriously, but putting 40, 50 people in a small room for hours at a time is not safe these days, no matter what precautions we take.”

LeBon feels the issues being discussed at the special session can wait until next year. “I see no compelling reason to head to Juneau for a fourth special session so soon after the third one concluded,” he said.

Hopkins would like to see more long-term fiscal policy on the agenda, as opposed to the governor’s constitutional amendments and a PFD supplement. He explained, “We gave the biggest dividend in the last three years, a $1,114 dividend, which is right about a historical average that I’ve received my entire life. That was responsible, and it did not have any raids on the Permanent Fund, and unless the governor’s going to come forward with revenue measures to pay for his super-sized dividend that he’s requesting, it’s going to be hard to compromise.”

Hopkins emphasized the progress that’s already been made, saying, “We avoided a state shutdown by the skin of our teeth. We protected things like the Power Cost Equalization program that required a court mandate, and we funded a dividend that was sustainable and practical for the state as well.”

Passing the governor’s proposed constitutional amendments would require a two-thirds vote in both chambers of the legislature. LeBon said, “I don’t know if you can get a two-thirds vote in a fourth special session. I have my doubts. I think it would take longer, and next regular session would be the more likely timeline. If it’s possible to get to the two-thirds vote, it would happen then.”

Hopkins said, “I’m tired. I know that my colleagues are tired of meeting, and I’m looking forward to some compromise and some good work and meeting again in regular session in January.”

The PFD amount this year currently stands at $1,114, and is scheduled to be released to eligible Alaskans this month.

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