Day 51 of the Alaska Legislature featured a high-profile failure, a under-the-radar snub and an openly messy hearing on legislator compensation. Here’s what happened and what to look forward to.
Just 49 days to go.
A colossal embarrassment
The House Majority Coalition has had trouble bringing legislation to the floor in the last two weeks due to a slew of illnesses and vacancy (that’s set to be filled on Friday). With a maximum of 20 members at the moment, the coalition has so far played it safe by only bringing bills to the floor that are guaranteed to have the support of minority Republicans. Well, that was true until Wednesday when for some reason the House Majority Coalition allowed a bill by House Majority Leader Rep. Chris Tuck, D-Anchorage, to go to a vote. It failed 20-18.
House Bill 152, which would have clarified the command chain for the Alaska militia in most cases, and was opposed by all minority Republicans. It had some warning signs this would be the case all along, too, with multiple “do not pass” recommendations from minority Republicans as it moved through the committee process.
Why it came to the House floor without the guaranteed votes isn’t clear, but someone clearly wasn’t doing their homework. The House has bumped other on-the-edge bills like the fast-track supplemental budget until it has the votes needed to guarantee their passage.
The bill will have another chance to pass as the House can bring up bills for a second vote next week, although that almost wasn’t going to happen when Rep. David Eastman, R-Wasilla, made a motion to hold the second vote on the same day.
Another run at it
Sen. Bill Wielechowski gave another run at moving Senate Joint Resolution 1 out of committee on Wednesday, as reported by the Juneau Empire. This is the resolution that would ask voters to enshrine the dividend in the constitution. It has yet to get a hearing in the Senate Judiciary Committee.
The Senate Majority killed the motion again, but this time Wielechowski did one vote better than he did last week. In addition to the five Senate Democrats and independent Sen. Shelley Hughes, R-Palmer, Wielechowski picked up independent Sen. Mike Shower, R-Wasilla. Shower voted against the resolution last week, but has since officially refused to join the Senate Majority.
Though Wielechowski’s efforts have come up short, they’ve been extremely successful in bringing the issue of the PFD and its future to the forefront of the political discussion.The House Majority Coalition hasn’t signed on with Wielechowski’s vision for the amendment, but its leadership has said they are considering supporting some sort of constitutional amendment that would protect the dividend and allot some money for funding specific government services.
It’s also laid bare the attitudes of the Republican Senate Majority to the PFD, which Senate President Pete Kelly dismissed as a “government check” that would be “problematic” if added to the constitution.
Sen. John Coghill, R-North Pole, chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee penned an editorial that appeared in the Alaska Journal of Commerce on Tuesday night that outlined his opposition to the amendment.
“Should we elevate the right to a cash payment from our sovereign wealth to the same level as our freedom of speech or the right to keep and bear arms?” he said. “I think that would be a huge mistake.”
The Senate Majority put forward Senate Joint Resolution 15 as an acceptable replacement for Sen. Berta Gardner’s Sense of the Senate standing up for Alaska’s voter-approved marijuana laws. It does pretty much the opposite. Sen. Tom Begich called it a “mockery” of the marijuana industry.
With SJR15, the Senate Republicans make a mockery of an industry that paid $1 mill in taxes last month to support state gov and employs hundreds of Alaskans. From @Midnight_Sun_ak https://t.co/CyTrW882Mh #akleg pic.twitter.com/9aXi7Rojzd
— TomBegich (@TomBegich) March 8, 2018
A messy hearing on legislator pay
The House Labor and Commerce Committee had a lengthy, confusing hearing on Rep. David Guttenberg’s House Bill 309, which would reject the Legislative Compensation Commission’s recommendation to axe per diem for people living within 50 miles of the session. That change, approved earlier this year, would mainly affect the three Juneau legislators, but could hit other legislators if a special session is brought to Anchorage or Fairbanks (a Fairbanks resident can hope).
Rep. Sam Kito, D-Juneau, has been outspoken about the change’s impacts on his ability to work in the Legislature and he presented the bill during committee to a mixed response. Kito said without changes, he would have to dip into his daughter’s college savings account or not run for reelection.
Some people found his predicament understandable and disagreed with the work and approach of the Legislative Compensation Commission. Others felt it was wrong for the Legislature to be voting on their own pay.
Ultimately the committee didn’t take any action on the bill or a proposed committee substitute when Guttenberg arrived to tell the committee he didn’t actually support advancing his bill toward a floor vote and that he just wanted a conversation about the change.
Well, House L&C’s lack of action today all but guarantees Rep. Kito will not run for re-election this year. #akleg
— James Brooks (@AK_OK) March 8, 2018
Walker, Chao bring end to 40-year feud over Cooper Landing bypass
Alaska and the federal Department of Transportation have come to terms on a 40-year feud over the Cooper Landing Bypass on the Sterling Highway. Gov. Bill Walker appeared alongside local and federal officials during a news conference Wednesday afternoon to formally sign an agreement on the final environmental impact statement for the project.
Walker gave particular thanks to Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, who pledged to help smooth over the dispute after a visit to Alaska.
What we’re reading
- Alaska budget hawk Brad Keithley crunched the numbers on the difference in financial impact from dividend cuts compared to a broad-based tax. Surprise, it turns out that a tax won’t hurt more than a dividend for a household of four until you’re making about $170,000. Read Just who is the Senate protecting by focusing on PFD cuts instead of a tax? via Alaskans for a Sustainable Budget.
- Oh man, the dogs of the Iditarod. As an owner of a particularly growly boy, I adore growly girl Gel. Read and watch the accompanying video: This sled dog is a ‘weirdo.’ Plus 4 other huskies running the Iditarod via Anchorage Daily News.
- It’ll soon be easier for the rest of Alaska to partake in Juneau-grown marijuana. Read: Juneau police end policy of flagging flying weed via KTOO.
- The Anchorage utility sale is on the ballot and, hoo-boy, is it complicated, twisting trail. Read: City, Chugach Electric promote Anchorage utility sale while trying to soothe concerns via Anchorage Daily News.