AKLEG Recap, Day 56: House plan to add PFD to constitution slammed after Coalition goes all in

House Finance Committee co-chairs Paul Seaton and Neal Foster listen during a meeting. (House Majority Coalition photo)

Day 56 is in the books. The House Majority Coalition was blasted for its proposed constitutional amendment, Medicaid has the money to run through mid-may and the Iditarod is coming down to the final stretch.

44 days to go (and 19, including today, to apply for your dividend).

The pitfall of the PFD

Putting the Permanent Fund Dividend in the constitution sounded like a great idea, at least politically. Putting a reduced PFD and a method to spend the earnings reserve of the PFD on state government turned out to be a pretty terrible idea, at least politically.

The House Majority Coalition went all-in on pushing for a constitutional amendment guaranteeing the dividend and establishing a percent of market value draw to fund government on Monday. After toying with the idea for the last week, the House Majority Coalition put the House Finance Coalition’s seal of approval on Majority Leader Chris Tuck’s House Joint Resolution 23. The resolution, which would require a ⅔ vote of each chamber, would ask voters to approve a constitutional amendment guaranteeing the PFD.

The House Finance Committee then promptly held public testimony on the legislation last night. It didn’t go well. According to social media reports not a single caller during the more than two hour public testimony session supported the legislation.

Taken together, it’s not altogether that surprising for legislation like this to get panned. It doesn’t go far enough in any one direction to satisfy anyone’s politics on the permanent fund and the PFD. Hardcore PFD defenders will see anything less than a full, guaranteed dividend (and in most cases a return of the missed dividends) as unacceptable. Most folks who support mixed use of the permanent fund will likely consider it folly to etch such rules into the constitution.

Perhaps the House Majority Coalition should take a page out of Sen. Cathy Giessel’s book after her abortion bill, Senate Bill 124, was blasted by both anti-abortion and pro-abortion testifiers and say “I guess we hit a middle ground.”

Supplemental passed

The Alaska Marine Highway System is one big step closer to having the money (about a $23.9 million fund transfer) to continue running for the rest of the fiscal year after the House approved the fast-track supplemental budget on a 32-7 vote Monday. The delayed vote was held Monday with the return of Reps. Ivy Spohnholz and David Guttenberg, who were both sidelined with health issues, and the arrival of Rep. Tiffany Zulkosky.

The bill had been pared down to just items that the co-chairs of the House and Senate finance committees agreed upon, leaving out funding to keep Medicaid operating for the rest of the fiscal year. That changed after an outcry and both chambers have reportedly agreed to fund the program.

That came when the House also approved $45 million to keep Medicaid running, oddly, through the end of the 121-day legislative session. It’s a date that should still leave plenty of unease about the fate of the program. The governor had requested $93 million.

All told, the fast-track budget spends about $68 million of undesignated general fund.

Marijuana board withdrawal

The House got notification on Monday that North Slope Borough Police Chief Travis Welch withdrew from consideration for the Marijuana Control Board. He would have filled the public safety seat, which was left vacant after Soldotna Police Chief Peter Mlynarik. Mlynarik left the board after U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions rescinded the Cole Memo, which gave states latitude to loosen laws on marijuana and operate legal and regulated commercial industries without interference from the feds.

Welch’s withdrawal of course would have no connection to Mlynarik’s resignation. Instead, it’s because he’s no longer the North Slope Borough police chief.

House approves other bills

The House approved two other bills on Monday, including House Bill 79 an omnibus reform to workers’ compensation and House Bill 301, Rep. Adam Wool’s bill to update alcohol laws regarding road houses.

Judiciary hears from mass shooting survivors

The House Judiciary Committee also held public testimony on Monday when it reopened testimony on House Bill 75, Rep. Geran Tarr’s legislation proposing gun violence protective orders that would give judges the tools to take away the guns of people who are at immediate risk of harming themselves or others. It was much of the same as what we’ve heard before: mostly supportive testimony focusing mostly on suicide with a few opponents claiming a liberal conspiracy.

What was notable, though, was the testimony from two survivors of the Las Vegas shooting at the Route 91 Harvest Music Festival. Juneau residents Ivana Barrick and Hillary Rehfield-Green testified in support of the measure, saying that House Bill 75 was a reasonable measure to address gun violence.

“Just within the last five and a half months we’ve heard the hashtag #VegasStrong and within the five and a half months we’ve had more people join our club,” Barrick said, through tears. “I stand behind this bill because we do have a gun violence problem. We do need to address this issue because we do not need any more people to join this club because since then we’ve had #SutherlandStrong and #ParklandStrong. Enough is enough.”

Two Alaskans were killed in the Las Vegas shooting and others were seriously injured.

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