In First Batch Of Early Bills, No Big Ticket Items

In a little over a week, the 29th Legislature will gavel in. In preparation, lawmakers have released the first batch of bills they plan to consider. APRN’s Alexandra Gutierrez joined us to talk about what’s been offered.

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How is the Legislature’s workload shaping up?

The number of pre-filed bills is actually pretty standard. 59 bills and 4 proposed constitutional amendments were released today, which is comparable to the number of early bills filed in the past few sessions. A lot of are bills from the last Legislature that, for whatever reason, just didn’t make it across the finish line — like a bill that would regulate smoking in restaurants, bars, taxis, really any public or semi-public indoor space.

The thing that stands out to me, though, is that unlike the last Legislature, we’re not seeing any ambitious infrastructure bills in this early release. Last cycle, we had early bills to let the state build a small-diameter gasline on its own, or let the state move forward on the development of a bridge over the Knik Arm. Many of the bills offered this go round don’t even look like they’ll need a fiscal note to determine how much they could cost the state.

That’s almost certainly by design. With the state looking at a multi-billion dollar shortfall, any bill that isn’t going to be zero cost will face an extra level of scrutiny.

So, are most of these bills small-bore then?

That depends on your definition. A lot of them do seem to be pretty narrow in scope, like a bill to create a Great Alaska Earthquake Remembrance Day and legislation to exempt Alaska from daylight savings time. There’s one bill that caught my eye that would prohibit the manufacture or sale of cosmetics containing plastic beads — like those exfoliating body washes. (Apparently they’re mearly impossible to deal with when they end up in the water supply.)

But there are some pre-filed bills that tackle important issues even if they don’t cost money . Legislation known as Erin’s Law deals with the problem of child sexual abuse, and has a good shot of passing this Legislature. It nearly made it through last year, but was held up in what looked like a legislative game of chicken between the House and Senate, where the respective bodies wouldn’t advance legislation until the other side did what it wanted. It also didn’t help that it was originally introduced by a member of House’s Democratic minority, as minority bills often have a hard time of moving through the Legislature.

Now, two separate versions of the Erin’s Law bill have been introduced, one by the Democrat, Rep. Geran Tarr, who pushed for it last time, and one by House Majority Leader Charisse Millett. Because who introduces it matters, having a Republican in leadership push for it increases its odds of getting through.

Can you tell us about the constitutional amendments that are being introduced?

Well, an amendment to change the structure of the judicial council has been introduced again, by Fairbanks Republican Pete Kelly. That amendment would have added more public members to the board and weakened the influence of the attorney representatives. It made it all the way through the committee process and was even scheduled for the floor, but it was ultimately pulled after it didn’t have enough votes from senators who were concerned it could politicize the way justices are selected.

There’s also an amendment that would strike the definition of marriage as being between a man and a woman from the Alaska Constitution. Gay couples are already allowed to be married because of a circuit court decision last year, but this would clean the language up from the Constitution.

What we’re not seeing is any amendments to create dedicated funds for, say, transportation. There’s also no revival of an amendment to let public funds go to private schools. Of course, just because these things haven’t been filed yet, doesn’t mean they can’t come later.

Another batch of early bills will be released next week. Is there anything in particular you’re watching out for?

Well we know that the Legislature plans to deal with marijuana. Rep. Bob Lynn has said he wants to introduce legislation to keep marijuana retail sales far from school, and Sen. Lesil McGuire has said she’s thinking of legislation to create a marijuana control board. But the only bill released today that has anything to do with marijuana is one dealing with industrial hemp.

Because there’s a strict implementation timeline for the marijuana regulation initiative that passed this year, the nascent marijuana industry in this state will be keeping an eye on how quickly the Legislature decides to take up the issue.