AKLEG Recap, Day 65: Most House budget amendments are intent language. None would actually cut the budget.

Then-Rep. Lora Reinbold laughs after calling House Speaker Bryce Edgmon "Speaker Harris" during the House floor debate on March 22, 2018 while Rep. David Eastman looks on. On Dec. 10, 2020 they'd get top billing on a legal filing backing a meritless lawsuit aimed at overturning the 2020 presidential election. (Gavel Alaska)

Day 65 is mercifully over. The House continued to grind through operating budget with a dismal end of the day and in case you were wondering intent language amendments are still not budget cuts. Here’s what happened and what to look forward to.

Just 25 days remain.

Intent language galore

The House minority Republicans have offered amendments after amendments that would have added intent language to the operating budget in the name of budget cuts (the House majority also has more than its fair share of intent language, too). It’s an interesting move given that it seems to be generally pretty well understood that intent language carries exactly zero weight in law, isn’t enforceable and is generally the source of headaches for the departments they’re targeting.

Last year, Legislative Legal attorney Megan Wallace gave a presentation on intent language to Senate Finance (thanks to the friend who pointed it out) that laid out the following parameters for acceptable intent language have already been established by law:

  • It needs to be the minimum necessary to explain the Legislature’s intent on how money is to be spent.
  • It cannot administer the program of expenditures.
  • It must not enact law or amend existing law
  • It may not extend beyond the life of the appropriation.
  • The language must be germane.

We’re not sure any of the legislative intent language–including intent language offered by the House Majority Coalition members in committee–meet that criteria. Wallace even said if the Legislature wants reports on some subject or another–a favorite for intent language–the appropriate avenue for that is legislation, not the budget bill.

The crown jewel of the intent language amendments was one by Rep. Cathy Tilton that would have said it’s the intent of the Legislature for the Legislature to pass this year’s budget with no more than $4 billion in undesignated general fund spending. We personally missed the debate, but it sounded to be one of the more meaningful ones of the bunch. Still, as intent language it carries just about zero impact.

Some of those other intent language amendments included:

‘Speaker Harris’

House Speaker Bryce Edgmon has had a hell of a time keeping things rolling as smoothly as you can when Rep. Lora Reinbold is part of the debate. He’s had to remind her multiple times throughout the floor session to not insult or impugn the motives of other legislators (something members of the House Majority Caucus have also been guilty of over the last two days).

But it was all capped off during an intent language amendment (c’mon) that would have made it the intent of the Legislature for the state to institute a policy where it’d force people travelling to medical appointments with state funding to pay back the trip within 72 hours if they missed their appointment. It’s the sort of thing that’s targeted at rural travelers and uncomfortably tied up with Rep. David Eastman’s accusations that women from villages were getting abortions so they could go on state-funded shopping trips in Anchorage or Seattle.

House Speaker Bryce Edgmon presided over the debate with the professional detachment expected of the position, but made the mistake of calling Reinbold by Eastman’s name during part of the debate (Reinbold and Eastman sit next to each other and both had their mics up). He apologized and everybody moved on, except Reinbold.

“I like the wrap-up, Speaker Harris,” Reinbold said, with a laugh.

She was the only one laughing.

Jaws literally dropped, and in the background of the Gavel stream of the floor debate you can see legislators asking “Did she really just do that?” It’ll be brushed off by some as a joke, but it’s an insult to Speaker Edgmon that doesn’t sit particularly well given the context of the comment.

Edgmon is the first Alaska Native speaker of the House, a position that he’s held with pride, and the comment making a joke out of his position came at the end of the debate about an amendment that seemed to target rural Alaskans.

It was enough for Rep. Mike Chenault, the former speaker of the House, to stand up and apologize.

“Mr Speaker, I would like to apologize to you. Some things were said a little bit ago, in the heat of the moment I think. Mr. Speaker, you’ve got a tough job,” he said. “You’ve gotta look over 40 members of this House and get something done. Mistakes happen, but we shouldn’t kid about your position as the speaker. And so Mr. Speaker, because I respect the seat and I respect you, I apologize.”

The House adjourned after that. It’ll be back today to continue amendments.

Privacy bill heard

The House Judiciary Committee heard Rep. Matt Claman’s House Bill 328 that would require digital companies get the explicit permission from people to collect and use their biometric information. This includes GPS location on cell phones and face tracking among others. It comes at a time when there’s heightened scrutiny on how digital companies are collecting and using personal information after Cambridge Analytica was found to have exploited Facebook to collect personal information on tens of millions of U.S. voters in the runup to the 2016 elections.

Testimony from digital privacy experts said this specific bill wouldn’t have affected the Facebook vulnerability, but it appeared there might be interest for just that sort of thing.

Gun violence bill substitute

A committee substitute for House Bill 75, the bill that would create gun violence protective orders, is being drafted and should be introduced in the House Judiciary Committee sometime today. Chair Rep. Matt Claman, D-Anchorage, gave an update on the bill at the end of Wednesday’s meeting, noting that if the draft was ready in time, then they would meet in the evening to introduce it. It doesn’t sound like there’s a firm timeline to move the bill, but they’re getting close.

Marijuana records

The Senate Judiciary Committee heard Sen. Tom Begich’s Senate Bill 184, which would seal the records of past minor marijuana convictions. Similar legislation has been proposed and adopted in others states to clear the records of people who were convicted of marijuana crimes that are no longer on the books due to legalization. Begich’s bill wouldn’t expunge or clear records, but make it more difficult for those past convictions to be disclosed.

Similar legislation is already on the books that would take charges where no conviction was reached to be taken off the state’s Courtview system.

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