AKLEG Recap: Battles are already brewing on Day One

Alaska State CapitolThe Alaska State Capitol as photographed in March 2017. (Photo by gillfoto/Creative Commons)

The Alaska Legislature returned to session on Tuesday for the second session of the 30th Legislature. Here’s what happened and what to watch for.

Just 89 days (plus some amount of extended session and special session days) to go.

Special orders on sexual harassment

While senators were honoring the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. during special orders on the Senate floor, the House was coming to special order blows over the handling of allegations of sexual harassment by former Rep. Dean Westlake.

Rep. Matt Claman, D-Anchorage, offered a recap of Monday’s Rules Committee Meeting where the report on Westlake’s behavior was made public. Claman added additional details, saying the report found that House leadership in House Speaker Bryce Edgmon and Chris Tuck followed the existing policies for sexual harassment when the first case was brought forward in March of 2017. He also said the report found Rep. Gabrielle LeDoux, who’s the target of Republican ire over the allegations, had no knowledge of the original complaint.

In the foreground of the Gavel Alaska stream, North Pole Republican Rep. Tammie Wilson (dressed in black as a move of solidarity with victims of sexual harassment) can be seen scoffing and shaking her head in apparent amazement at Claman’s speech. Wilson’s been a vocal critic of the House majority over its handling of Westlake, and she rose next, arguing that she felt nothing in the report cleared the House leadership of wrongdoing.

“I just disagree so much that we took this serious,” she said.

Wilson doubled down on the need for a third-party investigation into the House response to sexual harassment. Big Lake Republican Rep. Mark Neuman also joined her in calling for an investigation.

Wilson reportedly still plans to skip out on mandatory sexual harassment training in protest of LeDoux and the House Majority even though she risks losing her staff over the matter. According to KTUU, there’s an office pool for how long the staff will be around, and the earliest prediction is her staff will be canned by Wednesday.

Committee referrals

All the prefiled legislation got committee assignments on Tuesday, when they were officially introduced. The referrals each bill receives says a lot about how the majority caucus feels about any particular issue. A few stand out:

  • House Bill 266, an abortion bill sponsored by Rep. Cathy Tilton received a daunting referral to three committees. The House Health and Social Services Committee (chaired by Rep. Ivy Spohnholz), the Judiciary Committee (chaired by Rep. Matt Claman) and the House Finance Committee. Meanwhile, the Senate sister bill filed by Sen. Cathy Giessel has just two referrals.
  • The House isn’t the only one who can load up a bill with committee referrals. Gov. Bill Walker’s employment tax will go to the Senate Labor and Commerce Committee, Senate State Affairs Committee and Senate Finance Committee. In the House it’s just going to the House Finance Committee.
  • Both the House and Senate agreed on two committee referrals for their versions of Walker’s biennial budget and per diem bill.

How can we create more jobs?

That was the title of the only committee hearing held on Tuesday, which was pretty much what you’d expect. The Senate Labor and Commerce heard from a variety of different state officials and other economic gurus on potential state policies to get the economy chugging again.

A key quote: “The state economy was really set up to benefit larger organizations and corporations down south, and it’s particularly in the Seattle area,” said Meilani Schijvens, the economic development director for Southeast Conference. “I don’t think we’ve broken away from that as much as we could.”


What we’re reading

Like most of Alaska as of Tuesday evening, the roads between Alaska and Haines are iced over. Much of the roads have become so treacherous that they’ve been shut down, making for a handful of fun travel stories. Rep. Geran Tarr and Sen. John Coghill became the unlikeliest of travel buddies on their way down to Juneau after they decided to stick together on their trek to the Skagway ferry terminal. Read: Gridlock in Juneau? Not if Alaska legislators and lobbyists can’t get their cars there via Anchorage Daily News.

Senate President Pete Kelly says no to taxes, but admits earnings from Alaska Permanent Fund will have to be part of the budget through 2023. Read: Good and bad news as Legislature opens via KTUU.

The three nominees to replace Dean Westlake met with Walker on Monday and gave a quick rundown of their qualifications for the position. Two of the three talk directly about protecting the dividend. Read: Nominees for vacant House seat meet with Walker, describe qualifications via KTOO.

Up next:

Wednesday’s schedule

8 a.m. Senate Education—SB 131 by Gary Stevens, sets up a separate education budget.

9 a.m. Senate Finance—OMB Director Pat Pitney gives overview of FY19 operating budget.

1 p.m. House Judiciary—HB 216 by Rep. Chuck Kopp, PFD funding for restorative justice

5 p.m. Centennial Hall—Juneau reception

The House and Senate will meet in joint session on Thursday night to hear Gov. Bill Walker’s annual State of the State address. It’ll be live on Gavel Alaska Thursday night at 7 p.m.

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