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Alaska lawmakers to consider overturning 12 executive orders issued by Gov. Dunleavy

Mar. 9—Alaska lawmakers have agreed to meet next week in a joint session to consider whether to overturn some of the 12 executive orders issued by Gov. Mike Dunleavy in January.

In a sweeping use of executive power, Dunleavy issued the orders at the beginning of the legislative session. Several of the orders would eliminate public boards and consolidate power in the hands of the governor's administration.

Under state law, lawmakers have two months from when the orders are issued to convene a joint session, during which they can vote on overturning the governor's orders. The joint session, scheduled for Tuesday, would take place days before that deadline.

During the joint session, lawmakers will have the ability to vote on each of the 12 executive orders individually. It would take a majority of the state's 60 lawmakers to overturn an order.

House Speaker Cathy Tilton, R-Wasilla, has asked Dunleavy to withdraw three of the orders, she said Monday, because they are likely to be opposed by a majority of lawmakers.

If allowed to go into effect, the orders would eliminate the board of direct entry midwives, eliminate the board of massage therapists and separate the board governing the Alaska Energy Authority from the board governing the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority.

Members of the boards of midwives and massage therapists opposed the orders seeking to eliminate their oversight, arguing the professions benefit from the supervision of peers.

Conflicting legal opinions indicate that the creation of an Alaska Energy Authority board through an executive order, rather than legislation, could be called into question under state law. The Senate Resources Committee has introduced a bill that could achieve the same goal if the executive order is voted down.

Dunleavy, who is in Washington, D.C., this week, has yet to comment on whether he plans to heed lawmakers' request to withdraw three of his orders.

Regardless of Dunleavy's decision, legislators appear poised to attempt to overturn several of the remaining orders. In a draft agenda of the joint session, lawmakers indicated that Senate Majority Leader Cathy Giessel, R-Anchorage, would bring six executive orders up for votes by lawmakers.

Senate President Gary Stevens, R-Kodiak, said some would not face opposition from lawmakers — giving Dunleavy "some wins" — but others have been questioned by lawmakers and constituents who would be affected by the orders, making it possible that they will be overturned.

The orders now set for planned votes would:

—Eliminate the Alaska Council on Emergency Medical Services and transfer its duties to the Department of Health;

—Eliminate the Criminal Justice Information Advisory Board and transfer its duties to the Department of Public Safety;

—Eliminate the Alaska Chilkat Bald Eagle Preserve Advisory Council and transfer its duties to the Department of Natural Resources;

—Eliminate the Wood-Tikchik State Park Management Council and transfer its duties to the Department of Natural Resources;

—Eliminate the Board of Barbers and Hairdressers and transfer its duties to the Department of Commerce, Community, and Economic Development;

—And make all members of the Alaska Marine Highway Highway Operations Board — some of whom are currently appointed by the House speaker and Senate president — subject to appointment by the governor.

The elimination of both the Chilkat Bald Eagle Preserve Advisory Council and the Wood-Tikchik State Park Management Council are unanimously opposed by groups representing the towns and Alaska Native communities that reside near the parks. Unlike most state park citizen advisory boards, the members of these boards are appointed by the governor according to requirements enshrined in state statute more than 40 years ago.

[Dunleavy seeks to remove decades-old boards overseeing Alaska parks]

The remaining three orders, which also could be brought up for disapproval votes during the joint session, would:

—Transfer authority over introducing non-native game species from the Board of Game to the commissioner of the Department of Fish and Game;

—Transfer the duties of the Criminal Justice Information Advisory Board to the Department of Public Safety;

—And eliminate the Recreation Rivers Advisory Board and transfer its duties to the Department of Natural Resources.

Any lawmaker could bring forward a motion during the joint session to vote down the orders, even if the motion is not scheduled in advance.

In the case of most orders, the Dunleavy administration said the changes would improve government efficiency. But experts said several of the orders could sacrifice important public processes in name of efficiency, including with the change in authority over introducing non-native species.

The current process "has served Alaska well for decades in conserving the state's wildlife and avoiding the introduction of deleterious diseases and parasites," said Doug Larsen, a retired wildlife biologist with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. "Parting from that proven process for the sake of efficiency seems illogical and ill advised."

"I'd probably rather have a slower process than a quicker process when it comes to invasive animals coming into Alaska," said Sen. Bill Wielechowski, D-Anchorage.

Stevens said he thought "there's nothing wrong with going through all 12 of (the orders) and having a vote up or down."