Frustrated Democrats make futile stands on House, Senate floor

Democrats frustrated at the Republican-led House and Senate majorities’ pursuit of a lawsuit against Gov. Bill Walker for authorizing Medicaid expansion attempted Friday to de-fund continued legal action.

In both bodies, the attempts were defeated along majority/minority lines.

“Personally, I don’t think we need to (appeal),” said Rep. Sam Kito, D-Juneau, speaking on the House floor. “We need to save that money.”

Instead, the House voted 26-13 with one member absent to table the de-funding motion.

Last year, the Legislative Council, a joint House-Senate body that makes decisions when the Legislature is out of session, allocated $400,000 for a lawsuit against Gov. Bill Walker. At issue was Walker’s decision to unilaterally accept federal money to expand Alaskans’ access to Medicaid.

Through last year’s regular session and a special session called specifically to address the topic (among other issues), the Legislature failed to bring Medicaid expansion to a vote.

Walker then approved expansion, and the Legislative Council voted to sue him for the action, saying it violated the separation of powers in Alaska’s Constitution.

A superior court judge ruled against the Legislative Council last month, and the body is now preparing an appeal to the Alaska Supreme Court. The appeal is believed to cost $150,000 from the $400,000 allocated to the lawsuit.

“I do think this is important enough that we really should, before we depart here, have the opportunity to have that discussion on the floor,” Kito said.

Rep. Geran Tarr, D-Anchorage, said the whole issue could have been avoided.

“We wouldn’t be having this conversation today if we’d ever been afforded an opportunity for an up or down vote on the issues pertaining to Medicaid expansion and the lawsuit,” she said.

Lawmakers didn’t get that opportunity on Friday, either. Friday’s action was instead a proxy vote, with members indicating whether to take up the motion to de-fund the lawsuit or to table it, effectively killing it.

Among Southeast lawmakers, Kito, Rep. Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins, D-Sitka; and Rep. Dan Ortiz, I-Ketchikan, voted to consider the lawsuit motion. Rep. Cathy Muñoz, R-Juneau, voted to table the motion.

In the Senate, a similar motion was made by Sen. Bill Wielechowski, D-Anchorage. As in the House, it was defeated among majority/minority lines, 15-3 with two members absent.

Sen. Dennis Egan, D-Juneau, voted to consider the lawsuit motion; Sen. Bert Stedman, R-Sitka, voted to table it.

Wielechowski had another moment of frustration as he offered two amendments to Senate Bill 154, which was suggested by Sen. Bill Stoltze, R-Chugiak, to create license plates honoring the Blood Bank of Alaska.

Wielechowski’s amendments, one of which called for recognition of the 22 known Lao and Hmong veterans living in Alaska, were criticized for not being related to the bill. Both were defeated along majority/minority lines.

“I wish that I could move bills along quicker,” Wielechowski said. “There’s been one Democratic bill that’s been passed in the past four years. I can’t move bills along. This is my means, this is my opportunity.”

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