House passes resolution to focus on budget

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Lawmakers have talked about focusing on the state budget since their session began three weeks ago. But on Monday, they took action to make it official. The House passed a resolution that limits committees to working on bills that raise or spend state revenue.

This new rule will remain in place until the House passes a budget.

House speaker Mike Chenault, a Nikiski Republican, said putting a focus on the budget will allow legislators to be better informed about its details.

“My hope is that our members have times to actually going into the budget and actually look at programs that work, those that may not work, have more time to talk with people in the departments to find out, uh, you know, more about that budget and be able to make better decisions based on the information that they have versus what they think they might have,” he said.

House Democrats raised concerns that the rule change would also allow the public to be notified about bills the night before a hearing, rather than the normal five-day notice.

But only one House member — Anchorage Democrat Andy Josephson — voted against the resolution.

The Senate is unlikely to make a similar change, according to Senate President Kevin Meyer, an Anchorage Republican.

Meyer noted that it’s a small chamber – with only 20 members instead of 40. He added that the House will pass the budget first, giving the Senate time to consider other legislation.

In addition to the rule changes, there was another proposal today to revise how the legislature functions this session.

Democratic members from both the house and senate proposed all legislators meet as a “Caucus of the Whole.” They said this would allow them to provide input before the Republicans in the majority advance the budget.

Senate Minority Leader Berta Gardner, an Anchorage Democrat, said the change would encourage all lawmakers to work together.

“When the chips are down, and the situation is urgent, we’ve always come through, shedding our identities as Republicans or Democrats, and remembering in our core, we are Alaskans first, we are Alaskans together.” she said.

Meyer said he would consider the proposal, but wants more details about what the Democrats are looking for.

“We are going to need bipartisan support on passing any tax bills, and that’s true, but also we are going to need their help on budget reductions,” he said. “And that topic hasn’t come up yet.”

The House canceled all hearings on bills that weren’t related to the budget on Monday.