Elections, daylight saving and more: Alaska lawmakers release first batch of draft legislation
Alaska legislators prefile 63 bills and five constitutional amendments in first look at upcoming bills
The Alaska State Capitol is illuminated by the sun on the morning of Jan. 9, 2023. (Photo by James Brooks/Alaska Beacon)
Alaska legislators released the text of 63 bills and five constitutional amendments on Monday, giving Alaskans a first look at legislation prefiled before the Alaska Legislature convenes Jan. 17 in Juneau.
A second batch of prefiled bills will be released Friday, and still more will be made public on the first day of the legislative session.
The bills cover a wide variety of topics, including gold coins, electric bicycles, insurance, retirement and education. Some, on topics such as election reform and a long-term fiscal plan, have been previously heard in the Capitol but must be reintroduced to be heard during the 33rd Alaska State Legislature.
In some cases, prefiling a bill is about sending a message, lawmakers say.
“Yours is the third call today from a reporter for me,” said Rep. Andy Josephson, D-Anchorage. “On March 15, if I file a bill, you’re not as likely to call me. There’s more going on.”
Josephson filed eight bills, including one that would restore a state pension program for public safety workers, and a proposed constitutional amendment that would eliminate the state’s ban on same-sex marriage.
Rep. Sarah Vance, R-Homer, prefiled three bills, including one to create a shared insurance system for the state, school districts and municipalities, and another that would repeal the state’s new ranked choice voting system and nonpartisan primary elections.
“It gets media attention and it gets the word out there to our communities that we’re trying to start out the session with a clear priority,” she said.
Vance said a bill reflects the priorities of an individual legislator. She said it would be a stretch to say that prefiled bills by one legislator define a caucus position.
Josephson disagrees, saying the bills have wider relevance.
“It’s illustrative. Whoever’s in the majority can advance their agenda, and it’s often important,” he said.
Members of the House’s Republican caucus have prefiled bills that would restrict the ability of transgender students to play school sports, require insurers to ignore political affiliation, and move legislative sessions to Anchorage instead of Juneau, among other topics.
Members of the House’s predominantly Democratic coalition caucus have proposals to end daylight saving time, increase penalties for oil spills, and declare October as Filipino-American History Month, among others.
Republican and Democratic legislators in both the House and Senate have a variety of election-reform bills and measures dealing with social issues that include abortion and the availability of contraception. Lawmakers have previously said they do not expect controversial legislation to advance during the upcoming session.
Few prefiled bills become law, but the odds of passage for a prefiled bill are better than they are for legislation in general.
Of the 91 bills released in the first prefile of the 32nd Alaska Legislature in 2021, 24 were eventually signed into law, slightly over one in four.
In the two years of the 32nd Legislature, 686 bills of all kinds were introduced and 111 became law, fewer than one in six.
Josephson and Vance said prefiling a bill can jump-start discussion, enabling faster legislative movement. Many prefiled bills were heard by the Legislature in prior years, meaning they’ve at least partially been through the legislative wringer.
Sen. Robert Myers, R-North Pole, prefiled a bill this year that’s intended to limit the cost of textbooks and course material at the University of Alaska.
He introduced an identical bill last year, he said, but the University of Alaska asked him to postpone action while it addressed some issues on its own.
He did so and has now introduced the bill again. He also has some help, from Democratic Rep.-elect Ashley Carrick of Fairbanks, who prefiled an identical bill in the House.
Legislators can coordinate their prefiled work — Myers and Sen.-elect James Kaufman, R-Anchorage, have different versions of a constitutional amendment dealing with a state spending cap — but it’s not mandatory.
Vance’s prefiled bill dealing with ranked choice voting is almost identical to one also prefiled by Rep. George Rauscher, R-Sutton.
Josephson said that in his view, prefiling helps legislation get attention before observers get distracted.
“This place becomes a bit of a zoo,” he said, “and there’s just no reason not to prefile something.”
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