This Monday marked the pre-file deadline for legislation to be taken up (or totally ignored) during Alaska’s 28th legislative session. Nearly sixty bills and resolutions were put online for public consumption. The slate of pre-filed bills gives us a sneak peak at what the ninety day session might look like. More will be released next week. Here are a few potential lowlights worth a look:
House Bill 3: “An Act relating to voter identification at the polls; and relating to the counting of absentee and questioned ballots.”
As is the case for a whole slew of bills this session, what is old is new again. Longtime South Anchorage Republican State Representative Bob Lynn is reintroducing HB3 (HB162 last year); a voter ID law which would require voters to display photo identification at the voting booth.
Voter ID laws are derided as racist and partisan, but the larger reality is that they’re just plain stupid. As we’ve noted before, the cost-benefit ratio makes it an irrational practice. Studies show that laws exponentially disenfranchise more legitimate votes than penalize fraudulent voters. Current law requires that voters present one of a wide variety of identification; a registration card, drivers’ license, state ID card, current and valid photo identification, birth certificate, passport, or hunting or fishing license, or an original copy of a current utility bill, bank statement, paycheck, government check, or other government document. Just let it go, Representative.
House Bill 16: “An Act relating to citizenship requirements and an alcohol impairment and drug testing program for applicants for and recipients of specified cash assistance.” Remember when Florida enacted a law requiring that recipients of welfare be drug tested? It happened in 2011, and, at a cost of $35 per screening, resulted in only 2.6 percent of applicants failing. The state ended up losing just under $50,000, and a federal judge struck the law down shortly thereafter.
What has Alaska learned from this constitutionally challenged and ineffective legislation? That we should totally try it ourselves. State Representative Wes Keller’s (R-Wasilla) HB16 codifies a new policy of alcohol and drug testing Alaska Native family assistance grant applicants.
House Bill 24: “An Act relating to self-defense in any place where a person has a right to be.” If that little tag line gives you heartburn, you’re in good company. Another redux, HB24, sponsored by Wasilla Republican State Representative Mark Neuman is the latest manifestation of what we came to know last year as HB80 – Alaska’s Stand Your Ground Law.
As I wrote at the time:
The proposal sought to broaden the state’s self defense laws, adding the provision that citizens have a right to defend themselves “in any place they have a right to be.” According to the bill’s sponsor statement: “HB 80… just extends the rights that you have while you’re in your home, or place of business, to stay with you when you have a legal right to be in Alaska – out enjoying Alaska – the right to defend yourself to protect you and your family.”
But as was true last year, and continues to be true today, that right is already on the books. We covered the bill exhaustively. It was, and remains, a bad bill that radically changes self defense law by making it virtually impossible to convict violent criminals who shoot and kill the only person with the adequate testimony necessary to prove them guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. And, honestly, the timing of its reintroduction less than a month after the Sandy Hook school shooting is reprehensible.
(Bizarrely, Neuman also pre-filed a companion bill, HB33, that places new restrictions on knives. So, guns don’t kill people and we should all be permitted to fire at will, but knives absolutely do kill people and should be regulated?)
House Joint Resolution No. 1: “Proposing amendments to the Constitution of the State of Alaska relating to state aid for education.”
HJR1 is yet another sequel to failed legislation last year seeking to strip the part of Article 7 of our state Constitution that says: “No money shall be paid from public funds for the direct benefit of any religious or other private educational institution.” It was put in place to protect public education funds from being diverted to support religious education, respecting of our First Amendment rights laid out in the United States Constitution. That amendment forbids Congress from making any law “respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”
Government making a conscious decision to use public funds to promote a school that advocates curriculum with doctrinal content is promoting one religion over others and can very much deter the free exercise of one’s chosen faith. Our founders – both in Alaska and in Philadelphia – got it right. Public education has to remain agnostic and respectful of all faiths. Our constitution stands tall on her own two feet, and should continue to do so.