AKLEG Recap, Day 70: Budget faces uncertainty after caucus-splitting PFD vote

Representatives discuss an issue during a floor session early in the 2018 legislative session. (Photo by House Majority Coalition)

The 70th day of the Alaska legislative session saw the House finish work on one more operating budget amendment on Monday before things seemed to grind to a halt on the budget. It’s getting increasingly late in the session, but other committees are continuing to grind away on bills. Here’s what happened and what to look forward to.

Just 20 days to go (and five more days to apply for your PFD).

House on hold

After taking a break from the operating budget for the weekend, the House returned to the floor session on Monday where it passed one amendment and then took a break for the rest of the day. That amendment, of course, was the caucus-splitting move to fully fund this year’s dividend to the tune of $2,700 per PFD and nearly $900 million spent from the earnings reserve of the Permanent Fund. It passed on a 21-19 vote that split both the House Majority Coalition and the minority House Republican caucus.

The House also voted down to amendments to the PFD amendment by Rep. David Eastman that would have sought to restore the past years’ dividends. Those were both broadly opposed.

Things must be particularly troubled for the House not to return to session for the rest of Monday. There’s about a dozen amendments left for the House to consider and it’s possible that they could contain similarly caucus-busting issues. It’s hard to imagine that the PFD alone would be holding the budget up because there should be pretty high confidence the Senate or Gov. Bill Walker would nix the spending.

Either way, there’s not a lot of confidence the House will pass the operating budget today.

Senate on hold

The Senate Finance Committee had ambitiously scheduled multiple days of public testimony on the operating budget this week in anticipation of having the operating budget in-hand. Senate Finance co-chair Sen. Anna MacKinnon said at the end of the Monday meeting that the Tuesday public testimony session had been cancelled. As of the end of the meeting, she said Wednesday’s public hearing scheduled was still planned, but could (very likely) be cancelled, too.

She said the committee will use the time to go through its previously heard bills (the only ones that it can bring up without public notice) and see what can be done while the committee twiddles its thumbs.

New, narrower gun violence bill

The House Judiciary Committee released an updated version of House Bill 75, the legislation that would create gun violence protective orders, during its Monday night hearing. The much-anticipated new version makes significant changes to narrow the scope of the protective orders with the biggest change being to make it so only law enforcement officers can petition a judge to temporarily take away someone’s guns.

The previous version allowed immediate family to also petition judges. They’d now have to go to law enforcement with their concerns that someone was at immediate risk of harming themselves or others.

The committee also took public testimony, mostly hearing from high school students who were supportive of the bill and energized by the weekend marches against gun violence. Almost predictably, Rep. Lora Reinbold, R-Eagle River, later suggested that the testimony was coached by mayors or the governor.

The bill is set to be heard again on Wednesday night and amendments are due by Wednesday at 4 p.m.


Kelly’s long-term contraceptive bill heard

Sen. Pete Kelly’s Senate Bill 198, which would commission a UAA study on providing long-term contraceptives to women involved in programs targeted at mothers who are recovering from substance abuse (like the Alaska Regional Hospital’s Neonatal Abstinence Evaluation Support Treatment program). It got pretty high marks from groups that are combating fetal alcohol spectrum disorder and other health problems caused by substance abuse during pregnancy. One testifier said that all pregnant women should be screen for substance abuse.

It’s part of a continuing effort by Kelly and others to tackle and prevent fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (the first part being the pregnancy tests in bathrooms resolution).

This bill was met with a more lukewarm response from Planned Parenthood lobbyist Allison Curry who said she supported broadening access to contraceptives, but said that she was concerned that the study might coerce women into using long-term contraceptives by not fully informing them of their options. She said women should be given unbiased information to make an informed decision for themselves. Similar concerns were echoed by a testifier from Bethel, who said she was similarly concerned about forcing contraceptives on women.

Thoughts and prayers

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