With the swearing-in of the 30th Alaska Legislature just eight days away, a first round of pre-filed bills was released Monday.
Pre-filed bills tend to reflect the priorities of legislators and their caucuses.
As one might expect, there is a lot of red meat to satisfy legislators’ partisan constituents. There are bills addressing voting rights, a potential religion-based registry, mandatory contraception coverage, and government spending.
Due to continued budget deficits, estimated to be $3 billion this year, the Permanent Fund and its dividends are going to be a focus of the legislature for a second straight year. Consequently, a number of the bills released Monday involve the PFD. We’ll address those bills in a separate article.
The pre-filed bills have two full regular sessions (through April 2018) to pass both legislative chambers.
With a complete disregard for brevity, here are most of the bills:
HB 1 — Voter Registration
Across the country, the trend in recent years has been to restrict access to the polls through voter ID laws and reduced early voting opportunities. Rep. Bob Lynn (R-Anchorage) repeatedly introduced a bill that would have mandated Alaska voters show a government-issued ID to vote, though it never passed.
The bill also would allow people who register on election day to cast a provisional ballot. Current law prevents anyone from voting who registers to vote within 30 days of an election.
HB 2 and HB 3 — Veteran Hiring Preference and National Guard Leave
Tuck reintroduced a bill (HB 2) that would allow private employers to show a preference for hiring military veterans.
Nearly two-thirds of veterans express difficulty transitioning from military life to civilian life. Unemployment is one of the barriers to a smooth transition and is a contributing factor to high suicide rates among veterans.
Some Alaska employers have gone on record that they would prefer to hire veterans for their skill sets and discipline, but the federal Civil Rights Act prohibits such a preference because veterans tend to be male. However, employers can avoid lawsuits if states pass bills like HB 2.
Tuck’s bill passed the House unanimously in 2015.
Before it died, the bill sat in the Senate Rules Committee for a year, blocked from a floor vote, likely for political reasons. Senate Rules was chaired by a military veteran, Sen. Charlie Huggins (R-Wasilla), who made a recommendation of “do pass” in another committee.
Tuck has also introduced a bill (HB 3) this year that would require employers to provide a leave of absence to Alaska residents who are called to National Guard duty in another state.
HB 5/HB 23 — Death Benefits for Dependents of Police, Firefighters
Lawmakers are once again trying to maintain benefits for dependents of peace officers and firefighters killed in the line of duty.
A year later, Trooper Gabe Rich and Trooper Sgt. Scott Johnson were killed in Tanana by Nathanial Kangas. Johnson’s wife Brandy and their three children were told their medical benefits would expire at the end of that month.
The legislature failed to advance a bill preserving benefits for these dependents, even after Gov. Bill Walker added it to the special session agenda last year.
House Minority Leader Charisse Millett (R-Anchorage) reintroduced HB 5 extending medical and retirement benefits to surviving spouses and dependent children. The bill is retroactive to January 1, 2013, meaning Nikki Toll, Brandy Johnson, and their children would be covered.
Rep. Andy Josephson (D-Anchorage) pre-filed an identical bill (HB 23). With both majority and minority sponsorship, there is a strong likelihood that one of the bills will make it out of the House.
HB 8 — Foreign and Tribal Protective Orders
New House Speaker Bryce Edgmon (D-Dillingham) reintroduced HB 8 to bring the State in line with the federal Violence Against Women Act (VAWA).
Before 2015, the Alaska Department of Law required tribal protective orders to be filed in State court. This led to enforcement delays and higher rates of domestic violence, particularly in rural Alaska.
HB 8 would require the State to recognize and enforce protective orders from tribal courts and other states like Alaska protective orders. A recent attorney general opinion already honors VAWA, but the bill would clean up the statutes.
Edgmon pre-filed the same bill last year. It died in House Rules.
HB 11 — Public Employee Retirement Incentives
One of the few bills aimed at addressing the deficit, HB 11, sponsored by Rep. Scott Kawasaki (D-Fairbanks), would allow the State to offer retirement incentives to public employees.
The bill’s intent language explains,
Retirement incentives are management tools that have been used extensively by the private sector, the federal government, and other state and local governments across the country. The purpose of this Act is to make those management tools temporarily available to the state and to municipalities and school districts in the state. This Act will enable those entities to reduce operating costs by allowing certain positions to become vacant and then eliminating those positions or leaving them vacant. The legislature intends that state agencies that adopt retirement incentive programs under this Act adopt an accompanying policy that prohibits hiring of new employees.
Under Kawasaki’s plan, early retirement will only be available to State workers over 50 years of age with 20 years of service, or 17 years of service in the case of peace officers and firefighters.
The State must project a savings within three years for a retirement application to be approved.
HB 13 — Racial or Religious Registry
The bill, sponsored by Josephson, would prohibit the expenditure of State or municipal money on any federal registry based on race or religion. State law already prohibits similar expenditures for a federal action that would restrict Second Amendment rights.
Last month, the administration of President Barack Obama dismantled a surveillance system targeting Muslims that was established under George W. Bush.
HB 16 — Disability Training for Law Enforcement
Rep. Steve Thompson (R-Fairbanks) reintroduced HB 16, a bill that would establish training for law enforcement personnel, teaching them to recognize and interact appropriately with people with disabilities. The bill would also allow people to voluntarily carry a mark on their IDs noting a disability.
In hearings during the last legislature, Thompson, his staff, and numerous people who testified pointed out certain disabilities might not be immediately obvious to law enforcement, increasing the possibility of escalation or negative outcomes.
Last year, in North Miami, police shot a caregiver in the leg while he was trying to aid an autistic patient. The incident changed that police department’s training.
Thompson’s bill passed the House unanimously last year before dying in Senate Rules.
HB 19 — Neonicotinoid Restrictions
HB 19, sponsored by Rep. Harriet Drummond (D-Anchorage) would prevent the use of a group of pesticides called neonicotinoids outside an enclosed greenhouse.
Neonicotinoids have been tied to the inability of bees to navigate properly, causing hive populations to decline dramatically.
Bee populations globally are under threat, thereby threatening the food supply. Seven species of Hawaiian bee were added to the endangered species list in October.
Drummond pre-filed a neonicotinoid bill in 2014, but it never received a hearing.
HB 25 — Mandatory Contraception Coverage
HB 25 would require Alaska health insurers offering plans in the group or individual market to cover birth control. They would have to reimburse medical providers for at least 12 months of prescription contraceptives.
In a sponsor statement for last year’s version of the bill, Rep. Matt Claman (D-Anchorage) noted that women in Alaska have a harder time accessing contraception. For those on Medicaid, unintended pregnancy represents a cost to the State.
“Fisherwomen working on a boat for two or three months at a time need longer supplies of prescription oral contraceptives,” Claman wrote. “A research study shows that women who were dispensed a 12-month supply of oral contraceptives were 30% less likely to have an unintended pregnancy than women who received a 1- or 3-month prescription.”
Claman was able to get the bill out of the House Health & Social Services Committee last year, but it died in House Finance.
HB 26 and HB 30 — Worker Protections
Another issue for women — the ability to breastfeed or pump milk at work — is addressed in HB 26. The bill would mandate that employers provide unpaid breaks for breastfeeding or pumping, as well as a private and sanitary space to do so.
“The space may not be a toilet stall,” the bill specifies.
In addition to HB 26, Rep. Geran Tarr (D-Anchorage) has reintroduced HB 30, a bill mandating paid sick leave.
The lack of paid sick leave prompts many low-wage workers to report to work sick. This includes food prep workers, who are largely responsible for outbreaks of norovirus.
This is the third legislature in which Tarr has introduced a sick leave bill. Neither last year’s version nor a companion bill sponsored by Sen. Bill Wielechowski (D-Anchorage) received a hearing.
HB 27, HB 28, HB 29, and HB 32 — Consumer Protection
With a background as a botany professor and environmental scientist, Tarr pre-filed a number of bills dealing with the composition of consumer products.
HB 27 would require the Department of Environmental Conservation to publish a list of “chemicals of high concern” that could potentially impact children. It would also prohibit the manufacture or sale of clothes, toys, car seats, or crib mattresses containing flame retardants.
Previous bills to restrict flame retardants in Alaska were derailed after Dr. David Heimbach invented stories about children being burned. Heimbach was being paid by flame retardant manufacturers when he testified before the legislature.
HB 32 specifically targets genetically-modified organisms (GMOs). Currently, GMO labeling of food sold in the United States is voluntary.
Tarr told the House Resources Committee last year that her GMO bill was a precautionary measure meant to give consumers more choice, but the bill was not well-received by majority members. It died in committee.
As a freshman legislator, Tarr was able to pass a resolution opposing genetically-modified salmon. Now, as a member of the new House majority, Tarr has introduced a bill, HB 29, banning all GMO fish in Alaska.
The bill would likely receive strong support from the state’s powerful fishing industry.
HJR 1 — Repeal Definition of Marriage in Alaska Constitution
In 2014, a federal judge struck down a section of the Alaska Constitution limiting marriage to one man and one woman. The next year, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of marriage equality nationwide.
But the discriminatory language in the Alaska Constitution remains.
Josephson reintroduced HJR 1, a proposed constitutional amendment to repeal the unenforceable “one man, one woman” language. The resolution did not receive a hearing in the last legislature, despite also being pre-filed in the first session.
In the same vein, Josephson pre-filed HB 15 to neutralize language in statute referring to “husband” and “wife.”
SB 5 — Financial Contributions From Lobbyists
Sponsored by Senate Rules Chair Kevin Meyer (R-Anchorage), SB 5 is a response to Gabby’s Tuesday PAC, a political action committee created by House Rules Chair Gabrielle LeDoux (R-Anchorage).
During the last election cycle, LeDoux’s PAC collected money from lobbyists and spent it on Republican candidates, including those that joined her in the House Majority Coalition or were targeted in the primary by the Alaska Republican Party.
LeDoux’s actions were deemed legal by the Alaska Public Offices Commission.
The Republican Party put her on notice for her efforts to support moderate Republicans.
Meyer’s bill would prohibit lobbyists from contributing to candidates or their PACs for one year after registering as lobbyists, unless they contribute to the candidate in their own district.
SB 12 — Education Facilities and Construction Head Tax
Sen. Click Bishop (R-Fairbanks) pre-filed SB 12, which would tax all those with income from Alaska to support education facilities, maintenance, and construction.
Bishop filed a similar bill in the previous legislature, but it did not have the support of the Senate majority leadership. It died without a hearing.
The tax Bishop proposes is quite regressive.
SB 12 would tax Alaskans at a minimum of $50 per year. Those earning between $20,000 and $50,000 would pay $100. Those making over $500,000 would pay $500.
For those who are not self-employed, the taxes would be deducted from the first two paychecks of the year.
Despite the deficit, Bishop’s bill is the only proposed tax found in the first round of legislators’ pre-filed bills.
SB 13 and HJR 3 — Limit Legislator Salary and Per Diem, Session Length
Wielechowski reintroduced SB 13, which would stop legislators from receiving a salary or per diem if they have not passed a fully-funded operating budget within 90 days, the statutory limit on the length of legislative sessions.
A salary and per diem bill from Wielechowski did not receive a hearing during the last legislature.
Claman has a similar proposed constitutional amendment (HJR 3) in the House that would match the 90-day length of a regular session set by voters in a 2006 ballot initiative.
SB 14 — Uber and Transportation Network Companies
SB 14, sponsored by Sen. Mia Costello (R-Anchorage), establishes the rules under which transportation network companies (TNCs), like Uber, would operate.
Uber discontinued Alaska operations in 2015, partly because it could not come to an agreement with the State or the Municipality of Anchorage over its responsibilities.
SB 14 mandates things that TNCs have previously fought: government background checks for drivers; a nondiscrimination policy; and liability.
Uber argued in the past that drivers were not working unless they had a passenger in the car, creating a grey area for private insurers who were covering drivers while en route to pick up a passenger. Under SB 14, as long as a driver is logged on to a TNC app, an insurer is not liable under the driver’s personal auto policy.
SB 14 also makes it clear that TNC drivers are independent contractors, not employees. As such, TNCs are not required to pay workers’ compensation in the event of an injury.
With Senate Finance Co-chair Anna MacKinnon (R-Eagle River) as a cosponsor, SB 14 is poised to sail through the Senate.
For those who didn’t get enough in the first round of pre-filed bills, a second round is scheduled for release on Friday.