Rep. Sarah Vance, R-Homer, center, House Majority Leader Dan Saddler, R-Eagle River, right, and House Rules Chair Craig Johnson, R-Anchorage, talk to Rep. Jesse Sumner, R-Wasilla, about his request to have a bill discharged from the House Judiciary Committee chaired by Vance. The request was the second for a bill during Friday’s floor session, based on the belief Vance would not allow the bills to advance beyond her committee, following a floor vote when a bill she sponsored related to boycotts involving Israel failed by a 20-20 vote. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

Rep. Sarah Vance, R-Homer, center, House Majority Leader Dan Saddler, R-Eagle River, right, and House Rules Chair Craig Johnson, R-Anchorage, talk to Rep. Jesse Sumner, R-Wasilla, about his request to have a bill discharged from the House Judiciary Committee chaired by Vance. The request was the second for a bill during Friday’s floor session, based on the belief Vance would not allow the bills to advance beyond her committee, following a floor vote when a bill she sponsored related to boycotts involving Israel failed by a 20-20 vote. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

Tie vote on Israel discrimination bill sets off fury in House

Ban on public agencies contracting with companies boycotting Israel fails, may get revote Saturday.

A bill prohibiting public agencies from contracting with anyone who boycotts or discriminates against Israel failed Friday to pass the state House after a 20-20 vote.

The tally surprised many since bills typically don’t get a floor vote without enough support to pass, and there were contentions both during debate on the bill and in a flurry of legislative maneuvering that occurred afterward. The result when all was said and done is the likelihood a reconsideration vote will occur, possibly during the floor session scheduled for Saturday.

House Bill 2 by Rep. Sarah Vance, a Homer Republican, applies to contracts worth more than $100,000 with companies that have at least 10 employees “who are boycotting Israel or refuse to commit to not doing so for the duration of the contract.” An exception is made for the Alaska Permanent Fund Corp.

“The goal of this legislation is to ensure the state does not become complicit in an effort to destroy Israel, but stands with our historical ally,” she said.

Several legislators objecting to the bill said it’s inappropriate for a state governing body to get directly involved in foreign policy, especially since the policies of countries may change in ways seen less favorably by the U.S. government.

“Our state statutes should not be trying to interfere with and influence foreign policy,” said Rep. Sara Hannan, a Juneau Democrat, adding “a resolution might be in order” if the Legislature wants to put its collective opinion on the record.

Vance said Alaska has numerous business and other ties to Israel, which furthers the bill’s intention of supporting a longtime ally.

“With that said this is not a foreign policy bill,” she said. “This has nothing to do with the politics of Israel. As a matter of fact I don’t care what’s going on with the politics of Israel. They’re not perfect and neither are we.”

A total of 34 other states have similar policies, Vance said. That served as the basis for an objection by Rep. Andrew Gray, an Anchorage Democrat, who said it’s a copycat measure originated by the American Legislative Exchange Council, which he called a conservative “evangelical organization” that authors boilerplate bills seeking to achieve its agenda.

Many of the states that have adopted the Israel anti-discrimination measure are now expanding their reach to preventing contracting with companies that discriminate against oil companies or support restrictions on firearms, Gray said. He also noted boycotts have been used for purposes such as pressuring South Africa to end apartheid and Russia to end its war in Ukraine, and punishing businesses that choose to do so with Israel’s government “infringes on the right to protest without government harassment.”

“This bill in undemocratic, un-American and unconstitutional,” he said. “Last I checked Alaskans love their freedom.”

House Majority Leader Dan Saddler, an Eagle River Republican, said the bill doesn’t keep people from boycotting Israel, but it is permissible for there to be consequences.

“We have a right to express our views and not do business with you,” he said.

The divisiveness about Israel boycotts got elevated to a higher level when Kevin McCabe, a Big Lake Republican, said he didn’t understand how a lawmaker could oppose the anti-discrimination measure involving Israel while supporting another high-profile anti-discrimination bill this session — an apparent reference to a bill involving LGBTQ+ people. A protest was expressed by that bill’s sponsor shortly afterward, and helped trigger to a more prolonged and heated skirmish involving her legislation after the floor vote.

McCabe also downplayed the Israel bill mirroring the one by ALEC, saying “most of our legislation is imported.”

“I would say that virtually all of our legislation has some sort of input from somebody outside this state,” he said. “It could be the NRA, it could be any one of a number of organizations that we use.”

Concern about the exemption for the Permanent Fund Corp. was expressed by Rep. Dan Ortiz, a Ketchikan independent who voted against the bill.

“It’s like, well, we’re going to exempt the Permanent Fund so it’s OK for them to potentially discriminate against Israel because — what? They’re big and therefore it’s impactful?” he said.

The floor vote saw crossovers by both majority and minority caucus members. Reps. Cliff Groh and Andy Josephson, both Anchorage Democrats in the minority caucus, voted for the bill. Among the majority caucus members voting against were Dillingham independent Bryce Edgmon, Nome Democrat Neal Foster, North Pole Republican Mike Prax and Soldotna Republican Justin Ruffridge.

The tie vote resulted in an immediate and lengthy at-ease where clusters of legislators discussed possible next moves. When official proceedings resumed Rep. Jennie Armstrong, an Anchorage Democrat, asked for her LGBTQ+ anti-discrimination bill to be discharged from the House Judiciary Committee chaired by Vance, based on the assumption the Homer representative — who on Thursday declared “Jesus alone” is the remedy for drug addiction — has no intention of allowing it to advance.

That led to another long at-ease where it was implied that a lawmaker who voted against Vance’s Israel bill would change their vote if Armstrong’s request was approved.

“People like you make me sick,” Rep. Jamie Allard, an Eagle River Republican, exclaimed loudly in reaction to the supposed trade. (While comments during at-eases are officially off-limits to the media under most circumstances, an exception exists if the remarks can be clearly heard by members of the public in the audience galleries or elsewhere. Allard, who voted for Vance’s bill and subsequently against Armstrong’s request, also discussed the remark in media interviews after the floor session).

Armstrong’s request failed by an 18-22 vote and she said after the floor session that while that likely means there’s no chance for her bill to advance this year, “I never say never.” She also suggested a different outcome might have led to more intrigue in Vance’s bill.

“If (my bill) had been discharged it would have been interesting to see what happened next,” Armstrong said.

Vance, after the floor session adjourned, declined to comment on the failed vote for her bill and subsequent actions.

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

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