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Alaska Legislature

Alaska lawmakers breeze through 90-day deadline but say they’re not stalled

Boxes are stacked outside Anchorage Republican Rep. Charisse Millett’s office at the Capitol on Sunday, in advance of the end of the legislative session. (Nathaniel Herz / ADN)

JUNEAU — The Alaska Legislature has officially blown its 90-day deadline to finish its work at the Capitol, after the House and Senate both finished floor debates Sunday without adjourning for the year.

But legislative leaders say they've been having productive negotiations over Alaska's budget and finances and still think they can finish their work in relatively short order — without the partisan sniping and gridlock between the mostly Republican Senate majority and largely Democratic House majority that plagued them last year.

"The atmosphere is better — I sense that people are ready to come together with a solution," Soldotna Republican Sen. Peter Micciche, the Senate majority leader, said in an interview Sunday. "Neither side is going to get exactly what they want. And I think they're more accepting of that reality this year."

Soldotna Republican Sen. Peter Micciche talks with Eagle River Republican Sen. Anna MacKinnon during a break from the Senate floor session Friday. (Nathaniel Herz / ADN)

Sunday was the Legislature's 90th day. Alaskans capped the session at that length in a 2006 public vote.

But the state Constitution gives the Legislature the flexibility to continue for an extra month. And in the past few years, lawmakers have routinely worked long past their 90-day deadline.

Legislative leaders said before Sunday that they expected to need at least an extra week to finish, with the Senate President, Republican Pete Kelly of Fairbanks, predicting a 110-day session.

Each legislative chamber has passed its own version of the state's annual operating budget — the session's most critical task — but the House and Senate still have to resolve their differences. They also have to agree on a plan to fill the state's deficit of more than $2 billion, which is expected to rely on investment earnings from the $65 billion Alaska Permanent Fund.

Those negotiations are largely taking place behind the scenes.

Lobbyists Kris Knauss, left, Kevin Jardell and Ashley Reed sit on a second-floor bench at the state Capitol on Friday as they await progress from the Legislature. (Nathaniel Herz / ADN)

Lawmakers in both chambers held public floor votes Sunday. But the bills under debate did not relate directly to the ideological differences holding up the Legislature in Juneau.

Among the bills that advanced Sunday:

• The House passed legislation restricting access to records of certain marijuana-related convictions, a measure proposed this year after Alaska voters legalized the drug in 2014. The legislation, House Bill 316 from Anchorage Democratic Rep. Harriet Drummond, must still pass the Senate before taking effect.

• The House passed Senate Bill 158 from Gov. Bill Walker. That bill allows the state, in some cases, to release homeowners from full responsibility for covering the costs of cleaning up an oil or fuel spill — an effort to encourage more reporting and cooperation with regulators.

• The Senate passed House Bill 110, from Juneau Democratic Rep. Sam Kito III, to update the state's licensing standards for massage therapists.

• The Senate also passed Senate Bill 102, from the Senate Finance Committee, which is designed to boost internet speeds at the state's public schools. That legislation still needs to pass the House before taking effect.

Legislative leaders said they expect to start narrowing their focus on the larger unresolved issues in the next week.

But one House member, Wasilla Republican David Eastman, was less patient.

He made a motion on the House floor Sunday to adjourn the session entirely, even though the Legislature hasn't settled on a budget plan yet.

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