Lawmakers, staff and other workers inside the The Alaska State Capitol are preparing this week for the upcoming session of the Alaska State Legislature that starts Jan. 17, including the release of the first round of prefile bills published Monday by the Legislative Affairs Agency. (Clarise Larson / Juneau Empire)

Lawmakers, staff and other workers inside the The Alaska State Capitol are preparing this week for the upcoming session of the Alaska State Legislature that starts Jan. 17, including the release of the first round of prefile bills published Monday by the Legislative Affairs Agency. (Clarise Larson / Juneau Empire)

Election changes dominate first round of legislative bills

Ranked choice voting, security are hot topics; state pensions, ‘capital move’ among repeat proposals.

Three measures to repeal ranked choice voting, several altering election “security” and other rules, a few restoring state employee pensions and various boosts to obtaining Permanent Fund dividends are among the first batch of prefile bills released Monday for the upcoming session of the Alaska State Legislature.

Then there’s the bills that didn’t get filed, such as the income tax state Sen. Jesse Kiehl of Juneau wants to see implemented, but doesn’t think is likely to become law with the current collection of lawmakers.

Another batch of prefiles is scheduled to be released Friday, the last official working day before the sessions begins next Tuesday.

While some of the most colorful proposals will grab headlines for a day — or more, if they get hearings — they’re viewed as unlikely to go anywhere.

“I think anything way wacky left and far right probably is not going to make it,” Kiehl said Monday in an interview from the Alaska State Capitol, where he will be a member of a Senate majority made up of nine Democrats and eight Republicans.

The first five of 34 House prefiles include repealing ranked choice voting in two bills, prohibiting discrimination against Israel in transactions, establishing gold and silver as legal tender, and a de facto capital move by convening legislative sessions in Anchorage.

The top Senate prefiles among the 34 filed as of Monday are similarly provocative.

Five of the first seven are by a single senator seeking to modify elections. The other two seek to allow health coverage that’s exempt from Affordable Care Act requirements and gut the Legislature’s traditional majority/minority caucus structure by mandating the expulsion of lawmakers who require other caucus members to commit to certain votes, such as on budgets, which is long-standing fundamental understanding.

For people thinking it’s not worth reading to the end of the list, the final four prefiles include one proposed constitutional amendment eliminating abortion rights and three constitutional amendments guaranteeing what are commonly referred to as “statutory” or “full” Permanent Fund dividends.

Renewed efforts from Juneau’s delegation

Kiehl prefiled three bills, all similar to legislation he’s introduced previously including restoring a state pension system. But he plans to talk further with his colleagues at the Capitol before deciding whether to introduce an income tax bill and what provisions it might contain.

“I still believe that it’s the best policy direction,” he said. But “the makeup of the Senate and the governor does not suggest it’ll be a big winner this year.”

He added: “On the other hand, I think there is a better chance than we’ve seen in along time for a pension.”

Kiehl’s other prefile bills include providing free hunting/trapping licenses to certain military enlistees/veterans (SB 10), and establishing a confidentiality program for law enforcement officials to make their home addresses and phone numbers confidential (SB 12).

Rep. Andi Story, a Juneau Democrat, also has three prefile bills that are carryovers from the past session. Among them is expanding PFD eligibility to members of the “uniformed services” rather than “armed forces” (HB 25), which she said is intended for people working at agencies such as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

“It doesn’t affect that many people statewide, but they serve our country,” she said.

Story is also seeking to expand seats and rename an Alaska Native language council (HB 26) and speed up the process for the Alaska performance scholarship program so students know earlier if they’re approved.

“If you stay in the state you’re much more apt to stay in our workforce,” she said.

Juneau’s other Democratic legislator, Rep. Sara Hannan, has one prefile (HB 7) modifying various procedures for the state Office of Administrative Hearings, which functions as an independent hearing panel for various executive branch agency and other governmental body hearings.

Sorting through the virtual statewide stacks

A heads-up for people perusing the prefile list: most of the sponsor statements intended to offer plain-English explanations were missing as of Monday afternoon, with links redirecting users to a variety of sites such as the House Republicans’ homepage (an odd connection for the bill filed by Hannan of Juneau, among others), bills with identical numbers from previous years and “404” messages that are the technical standard for missing links. The links are expected to be updated with sponsor statements as they are filed or other up-to-date redirects during the coming days.

The election and caucus bills were introduced by Sen. Mike Shower, one of three Republicans excluded from the bipartisan majority. His previous election reform bills have generated considerable controversy and Kiehl said he doesn’t see any big changes getting far this session.

“My sense is most legislators aren’t looking to repeal the (open) primaries or ranked choice voting,” Kiehl said.

Lawmakers came close to a compromise election bill with provisions from members of both parties, and Kiehl said he can envision something similar this session allowing for changes he’s seeking such as allowing mistakes on absentee ballot envelopes to be corrected and enacting more procedural safeguards some conservatives favor.

He said refinements to open primaries and ranked choice voting, rather than doing away with them, are also realistic possibilities. Residents, meanwhile, may decide whether to vote again on ranked choice in time for the 2024 election since a petition seeking to put it on the ballot is circulating.

Among some other notable first prefile bills by lawmakers outside Juneau:

— SB22: Adds Juneteenth (June 19) as an official state holiday, bringing the total number of designated holidays to 12, by Sen. Elvi Gray-Jackson, an Anchorage Democrat.

— HB 2: Making it illegal to refuse to do business, a terminate business, or another take other action to limit business relations with Israel or its citizens for reasons specific to that country’s policies, by Republican Rep. Sarah Vance of Homer.

— HB 3: Establishing gold and silver coins as legal tender, although merchants would not be required to accept them, by Republican Rep. Kevin McCabe of Big Lake.

— HB 6: Requiring at least one hour per school year of opioid abuse awareness and prevention instruction for students in grades 6-12, by Republican Rep. George Rauscher of Sutton.

— HB 27: Restricting school-sponsored sports teams to students’ biological sex, except for designated coed teams, by Republican Rep. Tom McKay of Anchorage.

— HB 30: Year-round daylight savings time, by Dan Ortiz, a Ketchikan independent.

— HJR 1: A proposed constutional amendment elimimating a provision that bans gay marriage, which has been superceded by federal legalization of such marriages, by Democratic Rep. Andy Josephson of Anchorage.

• Contact reporter Mark Sabbatini at mark.sabbatini@juneauempire.com

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