CAN’T HIRE LEGISLATIVE STAFF YET
Although Republicans have a slim majority now, and a better chance of maintaining it than Democrats do in the Alaska House of Representatives, the Legislative Affairs Agency views it as unorganized. Without a group being in control, members cannot hire staff, the agency says.
Those planning to work for the House of Representatives will be out on a limb if they travel to Juneau only to find that they can’t work for perhaps days, can’t get paid, and have to set up a household in one of Alaska’s most expensive communities, where the average rent for a one-bedroom apartment is $1,215 a month. Each House member is assigned staff based on which group is in control — Republicans or Democrats.
It’s causing more than a few former staffers to rethink their winter plans. Some highly qualified legislative aides have already drifted off to more certain employment in the Senate or in the Dunleavy Administration.
But as they say in football, there’s lots of game left.
Behind the scenes, negotiations continue to determine who will control the Speaker’s gavel. The Republicans say Dave Talerico of Healy is the House Speaker, and they have the votes to prove it. Democrats have made no such claim over the gavel, at least publicly.
The Republican majority became imperiled when Rep. Gary Knopp of Kenai decided to go solo and be a caucus of one. He changed his mind about being part of the Republican-led caucus, and says that Republican-led majority cannot be achieved. Wasilla Rep. David Eastman has also kept on the sidelines in a game of chicken with fellow Republicans.
WHAT HAPPENS NEXT
The lieutenant governor has the power to swear in members and preside while they vote on chamber leadership. He would gavel in the House and then work to get a majority vote for a Speaker Pro Tem.
Without a firm Speaker in place, it’s not possible to assign committees, and also impossible to assign legislative staff, because HR doesn’t know how many staff members each representative is entitled to have.
Legislative Affairs Agency Human Resources Manager Skiff Lobaugh issued a memo this week explaining the problem. He wrote that session staff for the House is not currently authorized beginning Jan. 16, 2019, and that last year’s Speaker Bryce Edgmon has temporarily approved using interim funding for approved staff until Jan. 15, the day session technically starts as legislators are sworn in.
After that, there’s no funding for staff. Uniform rules governing the Legislature allow the Legislative Council to hire administrative staff to assist Lt. Gov. Kevin Meyer if he has to convene the House until a Speaker ProTem is appointed, a process that could take hours or days.
“These staff have historically been deﬁned as the Chief Clerk’s Ofﬁce and the Floor Staff. Historically the Executive Director of the Legislative Affairs Agency, has approved retention of staff for the Chief Clerk’s ofﬁce and the Floor Staff,” Lobaugh wrote.
Lobaugh explained that since session employees must be approved by the Rules Committee of each body, only a House Rules chair can authorize the staff to work for House members. Therefore, he’s advising that all House staff should not work past Jan. 15, due to liability and other issues. Health insurance benefits, depending on employee, will be affected, but any employee that has worked this month should be covered through the end of the month.