Lawmakers leave some big bills on the table

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ANCHORAGE (KTUU) — When the Legislature adjourned for good early Sunday, it left a number of bills on the table, a few of which had passed one of the chambers but found disfavor in the other.

The ideological differences between the House, controlled by a coalition led by Democrats, and the Senate, run by Republicans and a sole Democrat, had a lot to do with the outcome. Few of the bills that passed both houses were controversial.

The philosophical split probably played a part in killing other measures, such as a Senate bill to impose a state spending limit that died in the House, or the House’s refusal to advance a bill that began life there as a simple measure to adjust state refuge boundaries based on new surveys. The Senate changed the purpose of the refuges, one of which is in Anchorage, another in Fairbanks, to hunting preserves.

This was the second session of the Legislature, so every bill died that failed to pass, but each can be introduced anew in 2019, when the 31st Alaska Legislature convenes.

The Permanent Fund became a particular cause, in part because the upcoming budget is the first to use Permanent Fund earnings for general state spending. At least four constitutional amendments emerged in the Legislature to put the Permanent Fund dividend into the state constitution, where the principal of the fund resides. Backers said an amendment would prevent future legislatures from grabbing the dividend, paid to every Alaskan, for state spending, but none got very far.

One was introduced by Sen. Bill Wielechowski, D-Anchorage.

Wielechowski said he isn’t sure that his measure would give enough protection to the fund or the dividend, but it didn’t matter — the bill never got a hearing.

“It died in the Senate Finance Committee, which was disappointing because I think it’s a conversation what we need to have,” Wielechowski said in an interview. “If the Legislature doesn’t do that, I think the people are going to take it upon themselves to do that, because there will be a vote, in the next couple of years, about whether or not we have a constitutional convention.”

Some people fear a constitutional convention, proposed for every decade in the Alaska Constitution, because any part of the constitution could be changed. Voters have rejected each one since the original convention, before statehood.

Other bills that died in the Legislature include the only gun control measure to emerge this year, a bill to create “gun violence protective orders” similar to domestic violence orders that could lead to the confiscation of firearms from people judged to be dangerous. The NRA opposed the bill. Another bill, that would allow teachers to be armed, also failed to get support.

The Legislature also failed to pass a child marriage ban sought in Senate and House bills. It didn’t approve measures that would guarantee “net neutrality,” the idea that no website could be disadvantaged by an internet service provider. It failed to pass a bill that would add protections for salmon habitat, opening the way for a ballot initiative that would do the same thing.

After a bill overhauling alcohol rules was changed in the House to cut the number of drinks that a brewery, winery or distillery could serve, its sponsor, Sen. Peter Micciche, withdrew the measure from further consideration, saying he never intended to give traditional bars a competitive advantage over pubs that serve their own beers.

Other bills that didn’t make it: one that was called an “ag-gag” bill by opponents because it restricted the information on animal and plant diseases that could be released by the state; a House bill to increase oil taxes also died, as did a bill to require insurance companies to cover contraceptives and allow Alaskans to get a year’s supply rather than three months.

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