Alaska Legislature has new bills on fiscal policy, elections, COVID-19 mandates ahead of next session

The exterior of the Alaska State Capitol in Juneau, Alaska.
The exterior of the Alaska State Capitol in Juneau, Alaska.(KTUU)
Published: Jan. 7, 2022 at 4:35 PM AKST
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JUNEAU, Alaska (KTUU) - Dozens of new bills have been published online ahead of the next legislative session, dealing with a wide variety of subjects, including campaign contribution limits, COVID-19 vaccinations and fiscal policy.

The first set of prefiled bills were released on Friday with the second batch set to be announced next Friday. They will be formally introduced before the Alaska Legislature when it convenes for the second regular session, starting on Jan. 18.

Forty-two new bills are currently set to be introduced by members of the House of Representatives along with 14 in the Senate. Many deal with the Permanent Fund dividend or aspects of fiscal policy.

Legislators across the aisle have said that trying pass a long-term fiscal plan should be focus this year as budgeting is made easier with a windfall from high oil prices.

And there will be discussions on how to spend $500 million from last year’s federal COVID-19 relief legislation. Dunleavy has proposed using $375 million from that package to replace state spending in this year’s budget, but there are some concerns on the fiscal gap that would create in 2023 and beyond.

“There’s going to be a lot of conversation about the infrastructure money and how we invest it,” said Sen. Jesse Kiehl, D-Juneau. “How much of that the Legislature has a say in and how much is delegated out to the governor.”

Legislators’ pay and per diem expense payments could also be discussed after a commission advanced a plan earlier in the week to shrink legislators’ overall compensation packages.

The next state election is in November. Any bills that have not passed before the next Legislature convenes in 2023 will need to be introduced again, meaning time is running out to pass legislators’ personal bills onto the governor’s desk.

Rep. Andy Josephson, D-Anchorage, is set to introduce several new bills. One would change how the members of the Alaska Permanent Fund Corp.’s Board of Trustees are chosen after its director, Angela Rodell, was abruptly ousted last month.

“I think there is a lot of evidence — a lot of evidence — that for the first time in state history that the Permanent Fund Board of Trustees has politicized the hiring and firing of the director,” Josephson said.

A legislative committee is set to investigate Rodell’s ouster on Jan. 17.

Another of Josephson’s bills aims to protect the Higher Education Investment Fund that has been used to pay scholarships to Alaska college students. That fund was emptied last year due to a failed procedural vote, leading four students to sue the Dunleavy administration earlier in the week, saying that was unconstitutional.

Three legislators, including Josephson, are proposing legislation to implement new campaign contribution caps. The state’s old $500 annual limit on contributions from individuals to candidates was struck down by a federal appeals court.

Dunleavy said during a press conference last month that he wants the Legislature to pass an election reform bill. That bill is set to be introduced when the Legislature convenes the regular session.

Last year, the Legislature had long and divisive debates about how to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. Legislation expanding telehealth failed to pass after sharp divides over vaccinations and hospital visitation policies.

Some of those same debates could occur again. Rep. David Eastman, R-Wasilla, has several bills ready to be introduced, pushing back against COVID-19 vaccine mandates. One strives to prevent vaccine passports being used in Alaska.

Eastman said if a federal vaccine passport is implemented he wants to ensure that “the state of Alaska is not going to help them bring that about.”

Rep. Tom McKay, R-Anchorage, has two bills he wants passed, addressing priorities popular with conservatives nationally. One would prohibit transgender athletes participating in girls’ sports teams. It’s similar to another bill introduced by Sen. Shelley Hughes, R-Palmer, last May.

“I just feel like biological boys should not be competing in biological girls’ sports,” McKay said.

Another of his bills would prohibit the teaching of critical race theory in Alaska schools which has become a hot button issue across the United States. Both bills could face a tough time passing the House and Senate with its sharp ideological divides.

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