Legislature heads toward close of session with both chambers passing a flurry of bills

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ANCHORAGE (KTUU) — On the Alaska Legislature’s 115th Day, the House and Senate continued to heard toward adjournment. The operating budget was moving in a conference committee, and both chambers continued to pass bills.

Under the state’s constitution, the Legislature must conclude by Day 121, next Wednesday.

The conference committee has been involved in negotiations among Legislative leaders in an effort to resolve difference between the larger House version of the budget, and the smaller Senate version.

When the committee emerged in a public session Thursday, it was hard for anyone without a scorecard — or at least a spreadsheet — to figure out what was going on.

“We’ll now take up the conferenceable items in the Department of Fish and Game,” said Sen. Lyman Hoffman, the chairman of the committee. “Representative Seaton?” He said to Rep. Paul Seaton, the vice chair. The committee itself is made up of bipartisan members of the House and Senate finance committees.

“Mr. Chairman,” Seaton said, “I move the committee adopt the following in the Department of Fish and Game’s budget: item 1, Senate in the base; item 2, Senate in the base; item 3, Senate in the base; item 4, Senate in the base.”

It continued like that. Some people who got the spreadsheets later said the committee accepted the Medicaid money that the Senate had cut, and kept most of the prosecutors that the House had sought.

Meanwhile, the House was poised to pass a major reform effort for foster children. The reform bill, House Bill 151, would hire and train additional caseworkers and require the state to first try to place children in the homes of people they know: adult relatives or their parents’ healthy friends.

The sponsor of HB 151, Democratic Rep. Les Gara of Anchorage, who himself had been a foster child, said the goal of the bill was to bring some stability to the lives of children in need of state supervision. He said the additional $1.5 million the bill would cost would be more than offset by the result of former foster children who didn’t have to be imprisoned or lead unproductive lives.

The senate passed a bill that combined criminal justice reform bills proposed by Gov. Bill Walker, including one that requires judges to consider out of state criminal records when setting bail.

Because the House passed its own version of that bill, it can accept or reject the changes, but not amend it.

Another measure, one that would reform alcohol control laws, was killed by its sponsor Thursday after the House added a provision to reduce the amount of beer or liquor that a brewery or distillery can sell. Sponsor Peter Micciche, a Republican Senator, said he never intended his bill to advance the interests of bar owners over beer makers and thought it better to kill the measure and try again next year rather than amend it so late in the session.

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