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Alaska and Yukon Headlines
The Legislature did pass the Governor’s liquefied natural gas pipeline participation plan.
The House voted 36-4 on the measure Sunday. The Senate later voted 16-4 to agree to the House changes. Senate Bill 138 would set state participation at about 25 percent in a project also being pursued TransCanada, the Alaska Gas-line Development Corp., and the North Slope’s major players. It would allow the project to move to a stage of preliminary engineering and design and cost refinement.
It also would allow the state to negotiate project-enabling contracts but they would have to come back to lawmakers for consideration.
Because the Legislature did not meet its midnight deadline, three citizen’s initiatives are expected to be moved from the August primary to the November general election.
The switch would happen because of a constitutional rule requiring a 120-day waiting period after a legislative session before an initiative can be put to a vote. It would affect ballot questions to slow down the proposed Pebble Mine, to regulate marijuana like alcohol, and to hike the minimum wage. The rule does not apply to referenda, so a measure to repeal the new oil tax law would stay on the August ballot.
The rescheduling of initiatives is expected to help the anti-repeal effort, which the oil industry has sunk millions of dollars into. That’s because the initiatives are expected to bring more liberal-leaning voters to the polls, and that increased turnout will no longer affect the primary.
This dynamic also triggered an ugly political fight in the Legislature, when a bloc of House Republicans passed a minimum wage bill earlier this month to preempt the initiative entirely. Republicans and Democrats accused each other of trying to game the elections, and initiative sponsors came out against the bill out of concern that the Legislature would quickly gut it.
While the House majority pushed their Senate counterparts to move the minimum wage bill through, they were met with resistance. The two bodies then engaged in a standoff, with each chamber holding unrelated pieces of legislation hostage to get leverage. But ultimately, the Senate did not back down.
Rules Chair Lesil McGuire said early Monday morning that the minimum wage bill is officially dead.
“The votes aren’t there. The votes haven’t been there all year.”
McGuire says some members of the Senate Majority oppose the bill because they see it as meddling with elections, while others simply are not in favor of the policy and believe it could have negative economic consequences.
With the addition of the initiatives, the November ballot will be especially packed because of the U.S. Senate race and the governor’s race.
All session, legislative leadership had promised to gavel out early, to be home in time for the Easter holiday. That didn’t happen. In fact, the Legislature did not gavel out at all. With the House and Senate struggling to make a deal on education, lawmakers are forced into extra innings.
By 1 a.m., the second floor of the state capitol had erupted into chaos. The Legislature had blown its midnight deadline, with the capital budget still in committee and debate yet to begin on a sprawling education bill.
The halls were crowded with lobbyists trading gossip, staffers pumping out amendments from copy machines, and dozens of advocates chanting and beating drums after the Native languages bill they were supporting had been held up in the political crossfire (it later passed).
Unless you were part of the Republican leadership team huddled in a closed-door strategy meeting, you were left guessing as to what was going to happen and when you were going to leave the building.
And that applies to lawmakers, too, like Democratic Reps. Chris Tuck and Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins.
TUCK: Tonight? Well, tonight’s over, you know that? It’s morning. Depends on how many people speak under special orders. *laughter*
KREISS-TOMKINS: That’s what you call 1am humor.
When political leadership finally did emerge, details were scarce. Gov. Sean Parnell’s omnibus education bill had blown up because of a disagreement over education funding. The House had put extra money – about $75 million per year – into the base student allocation, which enshrines it in the formula. The Senate’s version increased the number to $100 million. But the boost comes outside the BSA and is only guaranteed for three years, which has disappointed education advocates.
When Senate President Charlie Huggins emerged from the meeting, he ran straight to the bathroom before reporters could surround him. And when he emerged, details on the education plan were scarce.
BOB TKACZ: What’s the problem? Why are you guys hung up so much?
CHARLIE HUGGINS: There is no problem.
TKACZ: Well, it’s past midnight. You’re not done. You were going to get done 48 hours ago, Mr. President.
HUGGINS: Well, we’re waiting on the House. As soon as we get them lined up, we’ll be ready to go.
The House and Senate stayed in session until dawn, tending to the logjam of bills that had built up during the stalemate between the two bodies.
The House passed a popular crime reform bill, a bill that would allow a $250 million power plant at the University Alaska Fairbanks, and a bill that would seal criminal records that did not result in a guilty verdict. The Senate passed a measure requiring more public information on state regulations, and legislation to extend the senior benefits program.
But the education issue remained unresolved. Finally, at 4am, the Senate decided it was time for everyone to go home. Senate Rules Chair Lesil McGuire said it just made more sense to give people some rest before debating one of the session’s priority bills.
“The concern that we had was it’s not good decision making when people are tired,” said McGuire. “We have older members, and you can just kind of see people’s energy levels lowering, and you’re not as sharp as you would be.”
Lawmakers will be coming back in the afternoon, on the 91st day of the legislative session, to take up the education bill again.
After winning Food Network’s “Cupcake Wars,” Kastle Sorensen and her “Kastle’s Kreations” food truck have turned Alaska’s cupcake scene upside down.
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