It’s been a busy week for the Alaska Legislature as legislators have put on an adorable act of pretending like things can be done by Sunday, the final day of the session. It doesn’t take a political gossip column to know that’s all talk, but (BUT!) there are signs that things might actually be coming together to be done within the 121-day session (everyone has campaigns to run, after all).
Just three days to go.
95-110… or more
The Legislature is obviously not getting done on Sunday, the last day of the voter-approved 90-day session. We’re hearing a big wide range of possible end dates, but most people seem confident that it’ll be done by 110… so it’ll probably be done in July.
Here’s a rundown of things we’ve heard about how the session has been coming together.
- Both the House and Senate have scheduled committee meetings next week. In recent years it’s seemed like only the finance committees would get to operate after day 90, but just about every committee has a meeting scheduled for next week and some bills are being heard for the first time…
- We’ve heard the House is planning two shipments of boxes out of Juneau. The dates are April 17 (Day 92) and May 17 (Day 122).
- Session-only staff are paid through April 19th regardless of the length of session.
- Even though there’s no chance the Legislature will be done on Sunday night, there’s talk that there could still be all-nighter sessions in the House and Senate.
Reps. Seaton, Foster and Thompson
The House waived the rules so it could fail to concede to the operating budget changes made by the Senate and appoint those representatives to the conference committee. Once both chambers appoint a conference committee for the operating budget the Legislature switches into 24-hour mode allowing committees to notice meetings the day before (it’s not really 24 because, like we saw earlier this week, the rules of the Legislature are flexible).
What’s interesting, though, is that we’ve heard rumor the Senate might be considering waiting to appoint its conference committee until Tuesday of next week.
There’s no significant word about what will happen to Rep. Sam Kito’s committee positions after he stepped away from the House Majority Coalition in protest of the treatment of Senate Bill 63, the smoke-free workplaces bills. The move comes after House Rules Committee chair Rep. Gabrielle LeDoux, R-Anchorage, introduced her own version of the bill without a new opportunity for public testimony.
(Side note: Kito and others have criticized the changes as gutting the bill but, honestly, what community is going to opt back into smoking in businesses through a public vote?)
Regardless, the animosity between Kito and LeDoux has been simmering throughout the session, we’ve heard, and it likely extended well beyond just the smoking bill (the PFD being one of them). We had also heard talk about behind-the-scenes efforts to corral the votes needed to roll LeDoux and pull Senate Bill 63 out of committee.
Still, Kito’s not been much of a team player on his own right, having voted against procedural motions at various points in the session, and has seemed checked out for much of the last year (that beard after all).
50 and 25
That’s how many bills are currently in the House and Senate rules committees, respectively, at the time of writing. There’s plenty of interesting bills in both committees so go take a look to get a feel of just what might happen over the next few days.
Not so fast
One of those bills in the House Rules Committee is Senate Bill 63, the smoke-free workplaces bill that was advanced out of committee during that fateful meeting earlier this week, but was returned to the committee for scheduling. It has not yet been scheduled for the House floor.
While the House is pushing ahead with its proposal to increase the base student allocation (the key number that’s run through the K-12 funding formula to determine state funding for schools) by $100, the Senate countered today with its own proposal. The Senate Finance Committee released a new version of House Bill 287 today (just as we were putting together this post, in fact) that would flat fund education this year, but provide a one-time increase to education funding the fiscal year that starts in July 2019.
The bill guarantees that schools will get funding for the upcoming year. If the Legislature passes some version of Senate Bill 26, the bill that would institute a method to draw form the permanent fund’s earnings reserve account, schools would also get forward funded for the next year plus an additional $30 million in one-time funding (equal to roughly a $117 increase to the BSA).
It’s a move by the Senate in an attempt to push a reluctant House onto signing off on a structured draw for the permanent fund. The House Majority Coalition had a frosty reception to the initial Senate proposal that would have flat funded the next fiscal year. The BSA increase sweetens the deal, but it’d just be a one-time boost to funding.
There’s already some early rumblings that a special session could be in the cards if the Legislature doesn’t pass Gov. Bill Walker’s public safety bills by the end of session. Legislators got a big, unusual shout out from Walker on Twitter after the House Judiciary Committee advanced one of his proposals. We can’t think of another time a governor has applauded the movement of a bill from one committee to another.
Thank you to Rep. Claman & HJUD for passing essential pieces of the Public Safety Action Plan: allowing the AG to schedule new dangerous substances as illegal and giving judges the power to consider out-of-state criminal history when releasing people on bail. #saferalaska #akleg
— Governor Bill Walker (@AkGovBillWalker) April 12, 2018
Governor Walker signed SB 6 into law this afternoon, making industrial hemp legal in Alaska. Sponsor @AKShelleyHughes built on the work of @SenJohnnyEllis to create a great opportunity for Alaska farmers that had unanimous, bipartisan support. Fittingly? Signed with a hemp pen. pic.twitter.com/zkrFWI5TzX
— Governor Bill Walker (@AkGovBillWalker) April 13, 2018
House dead-set on oil taxes
The House Finance Committee has scheduled its version of House Bill 411, its late-in-the-game oil tax bill, for a hearing next week. It’s been panned by the industry (no surprise), the Senate (no surprise) and Gov. Bill Walker’s administration (somewhat of a surprise). Still, as we’ve said before, this is likely as much a political statement by the House Majority Coalition as anything. Still, if you’re looking for a thing that can keep legislators in business for an extra few weeks look no further than HB 411.
Gara health scare
Rumor spread like a raging brush fire in the capitol when a Senate Finance Committee meeting was delayed because Sen. Donny Olson, the Golovin Democrat who’s been known to run to the medical aid of others in the capitol, ran to the medical aid of another in the capitol. Word was it was Rep. Les Gara, D-Anchorage, who had to give the all-clear. Perhaps he found a piece of the pie he fed Rep. David Guttenberg.
I’m fine!!!! Boy, rumors spread when a doctor with a stethoscope comes into your office!:). Thanks Dr. Donny Olson!
— Les Gara (@RepLesGara) April 10, 2018
Gara’s definitely planning on running for reelection this year–he’s said as much publicly–but we’ve heard that he’s thinking this could be his last. (We were told this rumor a while ago, but got distracted by jokes about him growing a Kito-style beard and may have forgot to include it the roundup over the last two weeks.)
The Associated Press published a report that there have been sexual harassment complaints filed against three legislators. Two, for sure, are Rep. Dean Westlake (now resigned) and Sen. David Wilson (who was cleared, but later found to have committed workplace retaliation for his handling of it). The story doesn’t note the third, and we’ve heard rumors about who that may be. Without direct contact with or approval from the complainant, though, we’re reluctant to name names.
Uniform Rule 48
The weekend’s drama over the Senate Judiciary Committee came to an unsatisfying end on Monday when, surprise, all the bills that people had been battling over were advanced from committee. The explanation we heard essentially amounted to:
(Except, you know, not actually Seaton.)
But in all seriousness, it sounds like there’s some creative reading of the rules in purpose of getting on with things. The committee has one of the busier schedules next week and didn’t meet for nearly a month into session.
The House Finance Committee was hearing a fish and game bill this week that would update the fines and other elements of the state’s hunting and fishing laws, including allowing (not requiring) people to carry digital versions of their permits and licenses. It sparked what was just about the least productive discussion in a long time as finance members wondered what would happen if an law enforcement officer checking that digital license got the phone wet or dropped it. It was lengthy and painful.
Americans for Prosperity, Planned Parenthood and the Alaska Chapter of the Association of Mature American Citizens
Those were the three organizations invited to testify on Senate President Pete Kelly’s Senate Bill 193, which would institute work or volunteer requirements on some Medicaid recipients. The senators around the table all seemed to think nothing was amiss, but just about everyone watching was gritting their teeth in fury at the baldly political hearing.
Senate Finance co-chair Sen. Lyman Hoffman, D-Bethel, was clearly having trouble with the bill and its potential impact on rural Alaskans where job and volunteer opportunities aren’t exactly plentiful. At one point he asked Jeremy Price of Americans for Prosperity just how many rural Alaskans were part of his group. Price couldn’t say.
That’s how much ad time the Republican Governors Association has reserved in the final six weeks before the general election.
Lee for House
We haven’t covered much of any of the filings during the legislative session, but we have seen that former Midnight Sun columnist Amber Lee, who’s really known for her long-time business consulting business and other activities in the Anchorage area, has filed to run for House District 28 as a Democrat. The seat is currently held by Republican Rep. Jennifer Johnston.
Just what day is it again?
Last week, we pointed out one of our most unintentionally hilarious typos (as opposed to the regular, run-of-the-mill unintentional types that litter this the blog). Everyone had a great time pointing that one out, but for some reason no one pointed out that we have had the completely wrong number of days posted in our last two recaps. For the record: Day 90 is on Sunday.
Be safe. Be kind. And when things get confusing and hectic in the final days of the Legislature, go get a cup of coffee or a beer depending on the time of day.