AKLEG Recap, Day 15: ‘Death with Dignity’ bill advances

Things seemed to be getting back to a reasonable sense of order on Tuesday as legislators turned their attention to another busy day of bill hearings and the day was capped off with a State of the Union address nearly as long as a committee hearing.

Just 75 days (enough time for the Legislature to definitely pass a budget) to go.

‘Death with dignity’ bill advances

There were a lot of regular ol’ bill hearings throughout the Legislature on Tuesday, including one for House Bill 54, Rep. Harriet Drummond’s bill to allow terminally ill patients to voluntarily end their lives with the help of a physician. Physician-assisted death laws have been slow to gain traction, but has been adopted in some degree by five states (Washington, Oregon, California, Vermont and Colorado). The bill advanced from committee on a 5-2 vote.

The issue isn’t particularly clean cut for legislators. Rep. Geran Tarr said she initially had her concerns about the legislation, but said ultimately “Who am I to say another person has to experience pain?”

Though the final debate wasn’t particularly contentious and the bill advanced on a wide margin, some of the elements seemed familiar to a potentially looming fight over abortion this session.

Rep. Ivy Spohnholz, the chair of the committee, said giving a people say in ending their life is a fundamental right.

“The right to everybody’s ability to make their own decisions for their own body is very important,” she said. “That’s a basic, fundamental right that we as Americans enjoy.”

Rep. Colleen Sullivan-Leonard said she couldn’t support legislation that would allow someone to end their life because of her faith.

“I believe in the sanctity of life from beginning to end. Having witnessed my own family members pass away from cancer, I do understand those that wish to impose this particular law, but I also understand a very critical aspect of the Christian faith that’s involved with the sanctity of life,” she said. “I do believe that is something that continues from beginning to end.”

The bill now heads to the House Judiciary Committee.

Supplemental sticker shock

The Senate Finance Committee continues to be on the warpath against the administration’s $170 million budget, and Tuesday’s hearing with Health and Social Services Commissioner Valerie Davidson was one of the more brutal hearings of the session. Senators on the committee continue to wonder out loud about capping Medicaid spending while refusing to accept the administration’s explanation of the rising costs, suggesting that perhaps the state is just being more aggressive with getting people on the program.

Nevermind that Legislative Finance Division Director David Teal has told legislators that the supplemental budget is not really the governor’s doing and that much of the holes the administration is seeking to fill were created by intentional underfunding by the Legislature.

Still, co-chair Sen. Anna MacKinnon asked Davidson what would happen if the Legislature just decided not to fund this year’s supplemental budget. Davidson, seemingly taken aback by the suggestion, said the state would have to stop accepting Medicaid claims toward the end of the fiscal year in June. It wouldn’t really help with the budget, she said, because Medicaid spending is required by federal law and a lot of the claims would be bumped to the next fiscal year.

The committee will be hearing about Medicaid cost drivers this morning.

Rep. Lincoln to be sworn in

Rep. John Lincoln will be officially sworn in today. Lincoln, a Kotzebue Democrat, replaces Rep. Dean Westlake, who resigned amid a wave of allegations of sexual harassment in the Legislature.

House Speaker Bryce Edgmon said the House Committee on Committees plans to meet to reshuffle committee seats for Lincoln’s arrival, and seemed to suggest action could be taken against Rep. Zach Fansler at that meeting (the House has already taken his staff and asked for his keys).

A Tuesday afternoon meeting of the House Community and Regional Affairs Committee, which is co-chaired by Fansler, was cancelled. He’s been a no-show in the capitol as the Legislature still awaits his decision on resignation. The committee was set to hear House Bill 269, the distillery bill that would officially allow cocktails, and House Bill 264, which would add a tax on plastic bags.

Producers opposed

The House Resources Committee heard testimony from the oil and gas industry on Monday for House Bill 288, which is the House Majority Coalition’s latest attempt to hike taxes on the industry. The committee heard from the big developers and plenty of smaller developers who all said that altering the current regime would hurt business. Some explicitly said House Bill 288 could halt some projects altogether.

What we’re reading

  • Just as the Legislature is considering another strongly worded resolution opposing genetically modified and farmed salmon, Washington state investigators found the company that ran an Atlantic salmon fish farm in the San Juan Islands grossly underestimated the number of fish that escaped when nets failed last August. This is the company that blamed the failure on the eclipse tides. Read: Fish farm caused Atlantic salmon spill, state says, then tried to hide how bad it was via The Seattle Times.
  • Rep. Fansler tried to explain his actions to the woman he allegedly assaulted as a “BDSM kink” in a text message exchange. The explanation isn’t flying with experts on BDSM and sexual violence, who say consent is an integral part of BDSM and that minimizing or dismissing sexual violence is a common practice for people who use violence against a partner. Read: Experts don’t buy Rep. Fansler’s ‘BDSM kink’ defense in assault case via Juneau Empire.
  • Just as we were starting to wonder if anything would ever come of former Sen. Lesil McGuire’s 2016 gaming bill (really, I was talking about this with a friend over the weekend), Dave & Busters has announced plans to open an Anchorage location with more than 230 new jobs. Read: Dave & Buster’s plans to hire over 230 workers for Anchorage location via Anchorage Daily News.

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