Legislature approved lower than usual number of bills this session
June 21, 2023
Alaska’s legislative session ended last month, and Gov. Mike Dunleavy has yet to consider most of the 31 bills passed by both House and Senate this spring.
The Legislature’s 31 bills are the third fewest of any first-year session since statehood.
The biggest bills of the year are the budget bill and the annual mental health budget. Dunleavy could veto or reduce line items within the budget before the start of the state’s fiscal year on July 1, but with a couple weeks to go, he hasn’t given any clues about his thinking.
Other bills waiting for the governor’s signature cover a wide range of issues.
Wasilla Sen. David Wilson was stymied last year in his attempt to criminalize the harassment of 911 operators and dispatchers; the Legislature passed the bill this year.
Speaker of the House Cathy Tilton, of Wasilla, urged the Legislature to restrict the state’s ability to close shooting ranges and halt gun and ammunition sales during a declared disaster. The request came as a result of actions taken during the COVID-19 pandemic, and both House and Senate passed the measure before the end of the session.
Fairbanks Rep. Ashley Carrick won legislative approval for her bill to deregulate electric bicycles.
Ceremonial holidays are a common occurrence in the Legislature, and lawmakers approved three this year. The Legislature declared October as Filipino-American History Month, made Sept. 10 Alaska Community Health Aide Appreciation Day, and established June 9 as Don Young Day in honor of the late congressman.
Veterinarians were exempted from the state’s opioid-abuse-fighting prescription drug database.
In his State of the State address, Dunleavy said the passage of a bill extending Medicaid coverage for new mothers was a priority. Legislators agreed, passing that bill in early May after Fairbanks Rep. Will Stapp expanded it to cover even more women than the governor had proposed.
Separately, before the end of the session, the Legislature combined two bills expanding the availability of Medicaid-covered home care for seniors and the disabled, then passed them under one umbrella. The original bill was one proposed by the governor.
Also during the State of the State, Dunleavy asked lawmakers to pass a pair of bills that would allow the state to make money from the emerging market in carbon dioxide sequestration — storing it underground or in trees. Legislators passed one of those bills, which allows the state to set up a system of carbon credits using state forest land.
The Legislature didn’t pass a bill that would allow the state to make money from companies that collect carbon dioxide and inject it underground. That bill remains alive for next year.
Alaska Native corporations got help from the Legislature this year after lawmakers voted to change the threshold needed for them to change their articles of incorporation.
Corporations established before July 1, 1989 — which includes almost all Native corporations — need shareholders representing two-thirds of outstanding shares to approve amendments to their articles of incorporation, the corporate constitution.
Many Native corporations have been expanding their shareholder base, making the two-thirds threshold increasingly difficult, and they sought a change requiring only a majority to approve. The Legislature passed the bill, which was sponsored by Anchorage Rep. Craig Johnson.
The Legislature voted to ban the use of PFAS — toxic chemicals contained in some firefighting foam. Lawmakers also voted to clarify the oil-spill regulations covering boats that transfer fuel to other boats, stating in a new law that oil barges and tank vessels should be regulated as ships, not the same way that land-based oil terminals are.
In an attempt to help local sawmills and homebuilders, the Legislature approved a program that will allow locally trained sawmill operators to test and stamp their lumber for quality. Currently, that lumber must be tested by a Lower 48 organization, something that adds costs.
The lumber could be used in small residential projects, and the bill was a rare measure that got support from both environmental groups and pro-construction organizations.
Legislators passed a pair of bills dealing with ID cards. In one move, they waived the one-year waiting period between the time someone gets a driver’s license and the time they’re eligible for an Alaska commercial driver’s license.
Backers of the bill said that waiting period, which isn’t in federal law, penalized immigrants and rural Alaskans who get their licenses later in life.
In a separate bill, lawmakers mandated that the Alaska Department of Corrections help newly released prisoners obtain an ID card if they don’t already have one. Experts in rehabilitation said the lack of an official ID is a hurdle preventing people from reentering society after prison.
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