Alaska Legislature’s preseason starts today

With eight days to go before the start of the 2018 Legislative session, the Alaska Legislature’s unofficial preseason starts today with the release of the first round of prefiled bills.

While lawmakers will devote most of their attention to Alaska’s $2.7 billion annual budget deficit this year, the 121-day session offers time for other matters as well. Filing legislation before the official start of the Legislature allows lawmakers to spread their ideas to colleagues and the public, possibly generating momentum that can carry over into the session.

In the Senate’s Republican-led majority, Sen. Mia Costello, R-Anchorage, will unveil today a bill that aims to almost completely repeal the controversial criminal justice legislation known as Senate Bill 91. That legislation, passed by lawmakers in 2016, was rolled back in 2017, but Costello told the Empire by email that she is releasing a bill that will eliminate it entirely. The only things that would remain are tougher penalties for murder, and increased fines for Class A misdemeanors.

On the other side of the aisle, Senate Minority Leader Berta Gardner, D-Anchorage, will offer a bill to increase the age limit for marriage, part of an effort to eliminate child marriage in Alaska.

In the House, Rep. Les Gara, D-Anchorage, will pre-file legislation intended to change the way the state appoints members to its redistricting commission. By email, Gara said he’s concerned about partisan gerrymandering, and his legislation will be an effort to fight that problem.

From the Republican House Minority, Rep. Dan Saddler, R-Eagle River, plans legislation that would require Legislative approval if the Alaska Department of Transportation plans to levy fees or taxes on aircraft. Another bill planned by Saddler would allow hunters and fishermen to carry digital copies of their hunting and fishing licenses on their cellphones.

Legislator pay discussed

The preseason will continue Tuesday with a meeting of the State Officers Compensation Commission, the board that recommends the pay of lawmakers and other elected state officials. That board previously recommended a cut to legislators’ per-diem expense payments but may revise that recommendation in a telephonic meeting that begins at 11 a.m. Anyone interested in following the meeting can call 1-800-315-6338, and use access code 46544031.

State population revealed

On Wednesday, state demographer Eddie Hunsinger is expected to reveal Alaska’s updated population figures. While the U.S. Census Bureau officially measures the state’s population every 10 years, the state does its own measurement annually using Permanent Fund Dividend applications and other figures. State population is a critical measurement of the state’s social and economic health, and the figure is closely watched. Alaska’s population declined last year, and given the continued economic recession, the new figure is also expected to show a decline.

More prefiled bills

Lawmakers will release a second round of prefiled bills on Friday, and the legislation is again expected to touch on a wide range of topics. At least one bill will touch on the topic of Net Neutrality, it is expected. In addition, the Legislature’s select committee on Legislative Ethics will hold meetings starting at 8:30 a.m. in the Capitol. The meeting will continue throughout the day, with subcommittees devoted to specific House and Senate issues. Follow the discussions online at http://akl.tv.

Monday finale

The Legislature’s Legislative Budget and Audit Committee will meet at 4 p.m. next Monday in Room 519 of the Capitol. The audits of the Alcohol Beverage Control Board, pharmacy board, tourism marketing board and social work examiners board are on the agenda. Those audits may be released at the end of the meeting.

Since this year is an election year, the preseason will conclude on the night of Monday, Jan. 15 with a pair of blockbuster fundraisers, one held by the Republicans, the other held by the Democrats. The Republican fundraiser will take place 5-7 p.m. in the Hangar Ballroom. The Democratic fundraiser will take place the same time in the Juneau-Douglas City Museum.

Those fundraisers will be the last until the end of the session: Lawmakers aren’t allowed to fundraise while the session is in progress.


• Contact reporter James Brooks at james.k.brooks@juneauempire.com or call 523-2258.


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