JUNEAU, Alaska (KTUU) — Three bills that came up against the power of a committee chairman in the Senate will be unleashed — but they are going to another committee with a large backlog of bills.
The three measures came up Saturday in the Senate Judiciary Committee. Using a rarely-used parliamentary procedure, a majority of committee members joined forces across party lines to get the bills heard or to be moved out of committee.
No hearings occurred Saturday, and the chairman, Sen. John Coghill, R-North Pole, adjourned the session with the matters still pending. The Senate president, Sen. Pete Kelly, R-Fairbanks, is a member of the committee and walked out with Coghill.
The three measures include a proposed constitutional amendment putting the Permanent Fund dividend into the Alaska Constitution. The principal of the fund is already in the Constitution, which protects it from being spent by the Legislature, but a majority of the Legislature can vote to spend money from the fund’s earnings, which is the source of dividends. The 2019 budget, as it currently exists, will use the earnings reserve to pay Alaskans $1,600 dividends this fall and also cover nearly $2 billion of the state’s $2.3 billion deficit.
The other two measures are a partial repeal of the 2016 criminal justice reforms in Senate Bill 91 and the renaming of a dating violence education bill to "Bree’s Law," in honor of a young Anchorage woman killed by her boyfriend.
All three bills will go to their next committee, the Senate Finance Committee.
In connection with Coghill’s action, an aide to Sen. Bill Wielechowski, an Anchorage Democrat and the author of the proposed constitutional amendment, dug up an old Anchorage Daily News column by former Gov. Jay Hammond that showed that the power of chairmen has been a regular political thread in Alaska.
“Over the years, I’ve witnessed innumerable occasions where a committee chairman single-handedly killed a bill or held it hostage until some special legislation of his own was passed by protesting colleagues who, at long last, caved in,” Hammond wrote in 1988. “This practice has cost Alaska untold millions and added weeks to legislative sessions. This year, a host of bills, rather than falling through the cracks, fell into the clutches of committee chairmen who opposed their passage.”
In a similar matter, the House Rules Committee has scheduled a meeting Tuesday afternoon on a long-held second-hand smoking bill. The bill, Senate Bill 63, passed the Senate last year in a bipartisan vote. It would bar smoking in most commercial enterprises nearly everywhere in Alaska. The bill had been blocked by the Rules chairwoman, Rep. Gabrielle LeDoux, an Anchorage Republican, who has not given a reason for her actions.
Sen. Peter Micciche, R-Soldotna, authored the bill. He said at a news conference of Senate leaders Monday morning that he had no intention of trying to force LeDoux to give up the bill and send it to the floor — but acknowledged his explanation of why was a bit tortured.
“I actually believe in the process, and I think that evolution is a funny thing. You can’t stop it. You can try as you may, you can put all of the Endangered Species Act things, but if things weren’t meant to be, they don’t happen, and if they are meant to be, adjustments will take place that will allow those things to occur. So I kind of believe in that natural transgression and I think there’s a good chance you’ll see some of that.”
He paused, then added: “Is that cryptic enough?”