The 105th day of the legislative session saw the arrival of cruise ships in Juneau and the last full day of service by the Legislature’s cafeteria.
Just 16 days left in the 121-day session.
Alcohol reform passes
A far-ranging bill to update the state’s alcohol laws passed the Senate 20-0 on Monday in a speedy floor session that didn’t feature much debate. Senate Bill 76 by Sen. Peter Micciche, R-Soldotna, is the product of a long-running effort to update the state’s alcohol laws ranging from everything from the regulation of the industry to penalties for failing to card minors.
On the criminal penalty side of things, the bill softens many penalties in hopes that they’ll be more likely to be enforced. The Legislature softened penalties for first-time minor in possession of alcohol a few years ago as part of this same process.
The one thing the bill doesn’t touch is the distillery cocktail issue. As is, Senate Bill 76 doesn’t settle whether or not distilleries can serve mixed drinks in their tasting rooms. The Alaska Alcohol and Marijuana Control Office argues that current law shouldn’t allow it (though their regulatory attempt to put an end to it was stymied by an improper legal noticing of the change).
The Senate drafters of the bill, the industry group CHARR and the distillers themselves have resisted adding the distillery cocktail issue into the already-fragile compromise. They largely agree that if the issue is to be brought up at all it should be done in a separate bill.
That bill, however, has stalled out in the House, where Rep. Adam Wool, D-Fairbanks, says the cocktail issue will be dealt with one way or another inside Senate Bill 76. Wool, a bar owner, has generally opposed the idea.
Distillers and brewers can breath relatively easily though because Senate Bill 76 no longer includes a measure that would force distillers and brewers to eventually sell 80 percent of their product through wholesalers as opposed to direct-to-customer sales of bottles and drinks. One distiller we talked with said it would be a bigger issue than the prohibition on serving cocktails.
House hears Senate capital budget
The Senate hasn’t passed the capital budget yet, but it’s not too early for the House to give it a look. The House Finance Committee held an overview hearing on the changes to the capital budget proposed by the Senate Finance Committee on Tuesday. The notable changes includes the total elimination of funding for the Port of Anchorage and a steep cut to Gov. Bill Walker’s proposed deferred maintenance budget.
One of the additions that caught legislators’ eyes was the addition of $500,000 for a contraceptive study at the University of Alaska Anchorage that matches Senate President Pete Kelly’s proposed study contained in Senate Bill 198. That bill passed the Senate but stalled out in the House where concerns were raised about the worthiness of further studies on contraceptives and potential coercion of the women targeted by the study.
Rep. Tammie Wilson, R-North Pole, said she was concerned the addition to the capital budget was circumventing the typical legislative process.
“There will be an amendment,” she said.
Another notable moment out of the meeting was Wilson’s repeated highlighting of when certain projects appeared like the should be counted as district projects. The state’s budgeting system assigns capital spending to certain areas of the state by House district (or group of House districts) or statewide. A handful of projects, Wilson pointed out, were counted as statewide when she felt they would be more appropriately counted as district projects.
This sort of counting hasn’t been much of an issue in recent years of anemic capital budgeting, but was a major exercise in the days of lush capital budgets.
The Senate lifted the Senate Finance Committee referral for Rep. Jason Grenn’s House Bill 44. That’s the legislative conflict-of-interest bill that the Senate added the per diem voter initiative (the Government Accountability Act that both Grenn and Midnight Sun Publisher Jim Lottsfeldt are involved with) to even though senators regularly bashed both the bill and the initiative.
The lifting of the Finance Committee referral sets up the legislation to head to the Senate floor for a vote. If it’s signed into law, the measure is expected to knock the initiative off the ballot, sparing legislators from additional attention to their per diem and votes in the general election.
The bill would still have to return to the House for concurrence as well as a two-third vote to change the title of the bill.
Speaking of election meddling, Rep. David Eastman renewed his call for the Legislature to adjourn before May 10 so referendums can appear on this year’s general election balloti in a special order on Monday.
“I think there’s a concern the Legislature is simply watching the clock tick by until we reach that deadline,” he said. “If it is our intention not to postpone that referendum for more than two years I hope this body can take action to make sure that doesn’t happen.”
Referendums appear on the first general election that’s 180 days after the adjournment of the regular session, which means the Legislature could avoid having any referendum on anything by staying past that May 10 deadline.
Is the smoke-free workplaces bill, Senate Bill 63, scheduled for the House floor?
What we’re reading:
- Just as we reported last Friday, Iditarod musher DeeDee Jonrowe is considering a run for the Legislature that would pit her against Rep. David Eastman. Gov. Bill Walker also tried to interview Jonrowe as a replacement for Sen. Mike Dunleavy but she turned it down because of the timing with her final Iditarod race. Read: Iditarod icon DeeDee Jonrowe considers a political race via Anchorage Daily News.