Alaska Legislature fails to override vetoes that prompt cuts

Empty seats are seen at a joint session of the Alaska Legislature, called to consider overriding Gov.Mike Dunleavy's budget vetoes Wednesday, July 10, 2019, Juneau, Alaska. Nearly a third of lawmakers were absent from the session at the Capitol, opting to meet in Wasilla instead, leaving only 38 members meeting in Juneau. It would take 45 votes to override the vetoes.

Former North Pole Republican Rep. Al Vezey and his attorney, local criminal justice lawyer Bill Satterberg, officially filed a lawsuit Wednesday against House and Senate leadership for their failure to appear at Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s special session in Wasilla. 

The lawsuit, filed at noon Wednesday, outlines 24 complaints against the defendants, House Speaker Bryce Edgmon, I-Dillingham, and Senate President Cathy Giessel, R-Anchorage, and seeks to accomplish three things: confirm the Juneau session as invalid, compel lawmakers to convene in Wasilla and make any laws passed during the Juneau session invalid.

Satterberg told the Daily News-Miner in a Wednesday afternoon phone call that regardless of the location, he wants to see action, but adding that he feels Wasilla is the right location and order to accomplish anything lawmakers must be in the same place. 

“The complaint is that the governor has designated a special session and he has also specified in Wasilla,” Satterberg told the Daily News-Miner in a previous interview Monday, adding that he thinks Wasilla is a “better” location.

Vezey and Satterberg are basing the lawsuit on their interpretation that the lawmakers meeting in Juneau are in violation of state statute and the Alaska Constitution, both of which they argue supports Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s ability to designate the location of a special session.

“Prior to July 8, 2019, any assertions by Defendants as to convening the legislature in Juneau, Alaska were nothing more than political rhetoric,” the legal complaint read. “However, on July 8, 2019, the Defendants, as presiding officers of their respective bodies, attempted to convene a session of the legislature in Juneau, Alaska in contempt of the constitutionally ordained mandate to comply with Gov. Dunleavy’s executive proclamation.”

According to state law passed in 1982, the support of 40 lawmakers are required to choose the location of a special session. As of Wednesday morning, only 39 wanted to meet in Juneau and only 38 were actually present in Juneau. 

Given that such a location vote had not been achieved, the complaint asserted the viewpoint that the meeting of lawmakers in Juneau “was not and is not (as of this date [July 10, 2019]) a legally constituted legislative session” but rather “nothing more than a gathering of members of the Legislature.”

The governor’s position that he has the legal right to declare the location of a special session is supported by state Attorney General Kevin Clarkson. 

While typically, the Superior Court has general jurisdiction, Satterberg told reporters he believed the suit would eventually be heard in the Alaska Supreme Court.

Contact staff writer Erin McGroarty at 459-7544. Follow her on Twitter: @FDNMPolitics.