Day 84 was the start of the final week of the 90-day session. It was spent mostly watching the committee status of a handful of bills while each chamber hammered out more bills. There were a few surprises to be had on Monday, and there’s always more in store.
Just six days left.
Four bills bumped from the Senate Judiciary Committee
It’s time for a major correction from yesterday’s recap. It turns out that scheduling a bill for a hearing does not fulfill the Legislature’s rule that says a committee chair “shall schedule” a bill for a hearing when a majority of his or her committee requests one.
The battle between Senate Judiciary Committee chair Sen. John Coghill and committee members Sens. Mia Costello, Mike Shower and Bill Wielechowski came to an uneventful end on Monday when the three bills they were pushing to be heard automatically advanced from committee.
The three had utilized a rarely used (we’re talking decades) legislative rule that allows a majority of committee members to sign onto a letter that forces a committee chair “schedule the specified legislation for consideration within three days.” If the chair doesn’t fulfill those duties, then the bill gets bumped from committee.
The three had done so on Friday, forcing Coghill to bring up Senate Joint Resolution 1 (Wielechowski’s proposal to put the PFD in the constitution), Senate Bill 127 (Costello’s repeal of criminal justice reform) and House Bill 214 (which renames part of existing law after Bree Moore, a young woman who was murdered by her boyfriend).
We, multiple people involved in the Legislature and Sen. John Coghill’s office had assumed that simply scheduling a hearing for the bills–as the rule says–would satisfy the request. Coghill did call a Saturday meeting with all three bills on the agenda, but abruptly adjourned after the hearing on SJR 1 when Wielechowski tried to move the bill out of committee.
Then, on Monday all three bills automatically advanced in accordance with the rule in a puzzling move. It caught us and many others off guard because people had assumed a plain-English reading of the rule would be the right one.
But no, it turns out that schedule has been interpreted to holding a full committee hearing on a bill and, apparently, none of those bills got that.
Wielechowski even tried to make a motion in the Senate Judiciary Committee committee–interrupting another bill hearing–to take up SJR 1. Coghill told him it was already discharged, Wielechowski challenged that and without a clear idea of what he could do, Coghill adjourned the meeting to wait for some legal rulings on the matter.
The committee never came back last night (and the bills on its agenda were never heard). We’ll be interested to see what they hear.
In all likelihood, it’s an attempt to settle down the “Mini Mutiny” raging in the Senate Judiciary Committee, which still has plenty of other bills on its agenda.
All three bills now head to the Senate Finance Committee. Both SJR 1 and SB 127 had Finance Committee Referrals, but the Senate added one to HB 214, giving it one more step before reaching the floor, on a 12-7 vote.
The fourth bill advanced from the committee was Senate Bill 150, which is Gov. Bill Walker’s bill dealing with pretrial risk assessment and is also tied up in this feud. Remember, this is the bill that gave us the first public hint that something was afoot when Coghill angrily gaveled out of the meeting after the three rolled him on an amendment.
Welcome to the Alaska Legislature, where everything’s made up and the points don’t matter.
Contraceptive bills pass each chamber
The Senate and the House both passed their own versions of legislation dealing with access to contraceptives.
Senate Bill 198, authored by Senate President Pete Kelly, commissions a $500,000 three-year study into the effectiveness of providing long-acting reversible contraceptives to women in substance abuse treatment programs. The idea behind that bill capitalizes on what progressives have been saying for a long time: increased access to contraceptives reduces unwanted pregnancies. In this case, the sponsors are also hoping for a reduction in health problems cause for a baby when a mother is abusing drugs. It passed 19-1 with Wielechowski being the lone “no” vote.
Meanwhile, the House passed House Bill 25, authored by Rep. Matt Claman, requires health insurance providers cover long-acting reversible contraceptives, 12-month prescriptions of birth control and voluntary sterilizations (the last one particularly bothered conservatives). The bill faced a much more divided audience in the House, where conservatives objected to the bill on moral grounds. Supporters, like Rep. Ivy Spohnholz, said the bill modernized access to contraception and is needed in a more modern world. It passed 21-7.
House approves co-prime sponsorship, seed libraries
The House passed a half dozen bills in total on Monday, including Rep. Les Gara’s House Bill 41 and Rep. Jennifer Johnston’s House Bill 197.
House Bill 41 allows a wider window for legislators to sign on a prime sponsors of a bill, which is intended to promote more bipartisan collaboration between minority and majority members. It passed 27-11.
House Bill 197 clears the path for community seed banks, lifting what backers say is onerous regulation on the distribution of seeds for community and hobby farmers. It passed 37-1.
The Senate and House are scheduled to meet in an 11 a.m. joint session to hold confirmation votes on Gov. Bill Walker’s appointees. It’s typically a lengthy process where any legislator can object to any appointee, forcing a debate and voice vote. The one to watch today is Board of Certified Direct-Entry Midwives appointee Kenni Linden, who’s facing opposition because she once worked for Planned Parenthood.
Also to watch out for is the 5 p.m. meeting of the House Rules Committee, which will finally be taking up Senate Bill 63, the smoke-free workplace bill. Chair Rep. Gabrielle LeDoux, R-Anchorage, is expected to debut some changes to the bill after holding onto it for the vast majority of the session.
What we’re reading
- While partisan fighting is at a high, Reps. Guttenberg and Knopp sat down to penn an editorial about getting the job done together. Read: Alaskans can get the job done via Juneau Empire.
- The Legislature has passed fewer bills at this point than any other in history. Is that suprising? Read: Paralyzed by partisanship and the budget crisis, this Alaska Legislature has passed fewer bills than any on record via Anchorage Daily News.
- Fairbanks Borough Mayor Karl Kassel is suggesting to tear down a very old pool and recreation center. People, mostly seniors, are spittin’ mad. Read: Seniors hold ‘Save Our Pool’ protest as assembly mulls Mary Siah demolition via Fairbanks Daily News-Miner.