The Alaska Legislature appears to truly be in the final stretch as committees are wrapping up work, clearing the table for the big-ticket items like the budget and the still-alive pieces of the fiscal plan.
Today’s roundup covers Day 98 and Day 99. It turns out it’s really hard to keep up with the Legislature while traveling. So here’s a few of the big items from the last few days.
Just 22 days remain in the 121-day session.
Just hours after Juneau Democratic Rep. Justin Parish announced that he would not seek re-election this year, the Juneau Empire reported that he had faced a sexual harassment complaint during his term. The complaint, according to documents obtained by the paper, detail a year and a half of encounters with a woman–including flirting, phone calls and unwanted touching–that culminated in a complaint delivered to House Speaker Bryce Edgmon.
The advances began before Parish won election, but the report doesn’t note when the complaint was filed or the employment of the person who filed the complaint. The paper kept the woman’s identity anonymous as is common practice with sexual harassment complaints.
Parish was reportedly required to complete additional sexual harassment training beyond the training required of all legislators after two separate sexual harassment complaints became public. Those complaints included Rep. Dean Westlake, who’s resigned, and Sen. David Wilson, whose behavior didn’t meet the legal definition of sexual harassment (though his behavior in handling it did meet the legal definition of workplace retaliation).
Parish appears to be the third unnamed legislator named in a report by Associated Press reporter Becky Bohrer that revealed three legislators had been investigated for sexual harassment since 2008. That report named both Westlake and Wilson.
Rep. Zach Fansler, D-Bethel, also resigned for allegedly assaulting a woman outside the Legislature.
Parish appears to be planning to stay on with the Legislature through the remainder of his term.
The revelation is yet another case of sexual harassment in the Alaska Legislature and should call attention not only to the handling of sexual harassment in the capitol–a long-standing reality for many women working in the building–as well as the vetting process for future candidates.
Initiative-busting bill advances
It’s always too early to declare something dead in the Legislature.
Rep. Jason Grenn’s House Bill 44 sprung back to life on Tuesday after hitting seemingly insurmountable opposition in the Senate Judiciary Committee last week.
Despite broad opposition from Republican senators, the original legislation was greatly expanded in the Senate State Affairs Committee. The committee decided to insert enough of the Alaska Government Accountability Act (which Grenn and Midnight Sun Publisher Jim Lottsfeldt are working on) that passage of the bill is expected to knock the initiative off the general election ballot. Grenn testified that he supported the measures the Senate added to his bill.
There was some discussion of that when they moved the bill. Sen. Bill Wielechowski noted that the major difference was the House Bill 44 wouldn’t enjoy the two year protection from repeal that initiatives enjoy. Senate Judiciary Committee chair Sen. John Coghill (who last week said he neither liked the bill nor the initiative) saying that both the bill and the initiative offer pretty strong protection for the measures, but Wielechowski noted that wasn’t the case with the minimum wage bill.
House Bill 44 eventually was moved from committee without objection. It now heads to the Senate Finance Committee. It will need to return to the House for both a concurrence vote and a title change vote, which will require a two-thirds vote of the House.
It was the final meeting of the Senate Judiciary Committee for the session. That leaves four House bills in the committee: House Bill 69, which repeals the workers’ compensation appeals commission; House Bill 204 which deals with overtaking and passing work vehicles; House Bill 208 dealing with commercial property trusts; and House Bill 319, which deals with marijuana license background checks.
Tarr hit with ethics complaint
Rep. Geran Tarr, D-Anchorage, was hit with an ethics complaint for using state resources to help organize and fundraise for a 2017 community street fair. The complaint finds that Tarr used “substantial resources” from her office, including 120 hours of a part-time staffer, to organize the Mountain View Street Fair, which was held on June 10, 2017.
Though it notes Tarr violated the Legislative Ethics Act, however, the committee “determined no corrective action was warranted.” Instead, it just asks Tarr to check with the Legislative Ethics Office before undertaking similar actions in the future.
Alaska Native languages bill heads to the floor again
House Concurrent Resolution 19, which thanks to the Senate’s changes calls for the governor to recognize the “urgency” to save endangered Alaska Native languages, is headed back to the Senate floor today after it was sent back to the Senate Rules Committee for changes (we’ll have a separate write up about that).
Legislative council rejects per diem cut
Legislative Council chair Rep. Sam Kito, D-Juneau, put forward a proposal on Monday to reduce legislative per diem by 75 percent. It was soundly rejected by the committee. The move was mostly about making a point that allowing the State Officer Compensation Commission’s recommendation to altogether eliminate per diem for legislators who live near session is unfair. Kito decided to not seek re-election based on the commission’s decision earlier this year.
Today’s Senate floor calendar includes all four House bills, including House Bill 130 that deals with the state wildlife refuges. There’s a fair amount of attention to House Bill 130 because a last-minute change in the Senate Resources Committee seeks to add “and Hunting Preserve” to the names of eight state wildlife or game refuges in the state. The new names won’t change any of the existing rules governing hunting in the area.
The refuges covered include Creamer’s Field Migratory Waterfowl Refuge, Anchorage Coastal Wildlife Refuge, Palmer Hay Flats State Game Refuge, Yakataga State Game Refuge, Mendenhall Wetlands State Game Refuge, Susitna Flats State Game Refuge and the Minto Flats State Game Refuge.
Meanwhile, the House has four House bills and one Senate bill on its calendar.
Has the smoke-free workplaces bill, Senate Bill 63, been scheduled for a vote in the House?