JUNEAU, Alaska (KTUU) — Day 90 came and went in Juneau with both the Senate and House passing a flurry of bills with little controversy.
But just as the House was set to adjourn for the day and come back again Monday, Wasilla Rep. David Eastman, a Republican, stood and asked that the session adjourn “sine die”— meaning it was over.
Eastman’s motion set off consternation on the floor while leaders tried to figure out how to handle it. Speaker Bryce Edgmon banged his gavel for an “at ease,” or a break in the action.
“No budget,” Rep. Steve Thompson, a Republican from Fairbanks, said to no one in particular as he swiveled his chair toward the visitor gallery.
Eastman was noting the 90-day limit to a session passed in a citizen initiative in 2006. But the Alaska Constitution allows for a 120-day session, and lawmakers said they had planned to just keep working until they finish their jobs and at least pass a budget.
The main parts of the operating budget are in a joint House-Senate conference committee to work out differences between the two chambers.
When the House came back in session, Edgmon agreed to hear Eastman’s motion — but quickly.
“Motions like this take time, they take energy and they factor into us staying here in Juneau longer,” Edgmon scolded.
“I fear that we will be here longer than 90 days so it’s important that we pare it down so this is the best way to do so,” Eastman said.
Eastman’s motion created a burst of bipartisanship, though that probably was not his intent. His motion was defeated 39-1.
Earlier in the day, the Senate passed an education bill to speed up internet connections to schools — moving the minimum acceptable connectivity speed from 10 megabits per second to 25, a standard several years old. In 2015, the Federal Communication Commission defined “broadband” service as being at least 25 Mbps.
The Senate Finance Committee bill, Senate Bill 102, was left over from last spring. It offers grants to local schools to achieve the faster internet speed and allows the state to receive matching federal money. It set the source of state money — $13 million in the bill — as the Higher Education Investment Fund, a pot of money originally set aside for college scholarships.
“For every state dollar, the state receives about eight dollars from the federal government,” the Senate majority said in a prepared statement.
The bill passed 18-1, with Sen. Bill Wielechowski, D-Anchorage, opposed — he said he was concerned about draining the scholarship fund. The measure goes to the House.
Before the House got into its adjournment pickle, it passed a bill to eliminate from the court system’s searchable public database, CourtView, any reference to a conviction for possession of a small amount of marijuana — as long as the conviction wasn’t part of a plea bargain for a much more severe charge.
The author of the bill, Rep. Harriet Drummond, D-Anchorage, called the measure, House Bill 316, a “jobs bill” because such a conviction and its public record could prevent someone from finding work. Now that the state has legalized pot, she said, it was mistake to make people suffer for small violations involving the plant.
Rep. Tammie Wilson, a North Pole Republican who began her speech by saying she “hates” CourtView, said she supported the measure but wanted to assure Alaskans that the Legislature wasn’t trying to conceal crimes.
Rep. Dan Saddler, R-Eagle River, said he opposed the bill because it would prevent disclosure of people who broke the law — even if the law has since been repealed.
“It dilutes the trust that people have in our public records,” he said.
The bill passed 30-10 and goes to the Senate.