AKLEG Recap, Day 93: Senate passes House’s pro-pot joint resolution after balking at earlier attempt

The pace of legislative action slowed on the 93rd day of the legislative session with the most notable action being a concurrence vote on the education bill. Here’s what happened and what to look forward to.

Just 28 days remain in the 121-day session.

Senate signs off on pro-pot resolution

The Senate signed off on Rep. David Guttenberg’s House Joint Resolution 21, which seeks to tell the feds to respect Alaska’s voter-approved marijuana industry. The resolution was prompted after U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions rescinded an Obama-era policy that loosened federal enforcement of crimes that were made legal by states.

The approval of the resolution is also notable because the Senate balked at an earlier attempt by Minority Leader Sen. Berta Gardner, D-Anchorage, to pass a similar message onto the feds. Gardner pushed for the adoption of a Sense of the Senate on the issue, but that effort was rejected and the Senate Majority gave her a watered down replacement that actually seemed to be in favor of Sessions’ actions.

House Joint Resolution 21 emerges from the Senate with changes, but they don’t undermine the original intent like the original watered down replacement.

The new resolution recognizes the Alaska Attorney General Jahna Lindemuth’s letter to Sessions on the issue, as well as the state’s efforts to comply with the Obama-era regulations. It also notes that Sessions’ decision runs counter to federal interests. Finally, it asks that marijuana be reclassified on the federal list of controlled substances, something the Senate says will help with a broad range of problems currently facing the legalized marijuana industry like banking.

The resolution now returns to the House for concurrence.

Crime bill hearing

Today, the Senate Finance Committee is holding two hearings on Sen. Mia Costello’s Senate Bill 127, which would be a full out repeal of the Legislature’s 2016 criminal justice reform measure Senate Bill 91. Costello forced the bill out of the Senate Judiciary Committee with the help of two non-majority caucus senators last week.

The Senate Finance Committee will hold an overview hearing at 9 a.m. this morning followed by public testimony at 1:30 p.m. Testimony will be limited to 2 minutes per person and is expected to be a show.

Constitutional quandary

A new fight is emerging over the constitutionality of Gov. Bill Walker’s plan to borrow to pay off the state’s $800 million-ish bill owed for oil and gas tax credits companies accrued before the program was repealed last year.

Sen. Bill Wielechowski got a legal memo outlining concerns that the plan to bond for the debt without putting it to a public vote would likely violate the Alaska Constitution. The Department of Law fired back with a news release that stood by the constitutionality of the measure, but declined to put forward a legal memo.

The state argues that the proposed bonds don’t carry the same requirements of general obligation bonds and would be dependent on that whole “subject to appropriation” language that has allowed the Legislature to back out of all sorts of obligations.

“The proposed tax credit bonds in SB 176 are not general obligation bonds under the Alaska Constitution,” says Attorney General Jahna Lindemuth.  “We’ve carefully reviewed the legal issues and are confident that these bonds are lawful under Alaska law.”

Regardless, the plan hasn’t really gained much traction this session and the Senate version of the operating budget contains the payments for this year. The matter will likely be a key point of negotiations in the operating budget conference committee.

Better late than never

The House’s ‘early’ funding for K-12 education bill is finally on its way to Gov. Bill Walker after the House on Wednesday signed off on the changes made by the Senate. The bill originally passed the House on the 23rd legislative day. We’ve got a full breakdown of the vote in a separate post.

Floor action

The Senate approved two House bills on Wednesday: HB 131 dealing with federal community relocation assistance and HB 196, which loosens regulations on community seed libraries. Both are ready to go to Gov. Bill Walker to be signed.

It also approved Sen. Berta Gardner’s Senate Bill 134, which allows women to more easily terminate the parental rights of rapist fathers. The state law on this issue is supposed to allow for this, but it’s unclear and widely misunderstood.

The House signed off on concurrence with Senate changes to House Bill 287, the early funding of education bill, and House Bill 275, which extends the Board of Massage Therapists.

The Senate plans to hold a technical session today, and the House is not in session today. The House will return on Friday.

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