Legislative Update - March 22, 2021: A report on the Alaska House of Representatives
Two months in to the three month legislative session, the Alaska House of Representatives is still struggling to organize itself and agree upon their rules of operation.
The 2021 session began on January 19, and after a month trying to choose leadership, the House finally organized on February 18. KBBI's Kathleen Gustafson listened in to KTOO Juneau's live, Gavel to Gavel, coverage of the House over the last several days for this report.
Bills discussed in this report:
HB 140 - Vision Requirement for Driver's License Renewal
HB 52 - Tutka Bay Hatchery
Last week, the Alaska House of Representatives attempted to agree upon the Uniform Rules of the Alaska State Legislature, based on Mason's Rules of Order, which sets the protocols and practices for the Alaska Legislature.
On Friday the House gaveled in an hour late and immediately adjourned until Saturday. The Juneau Empire reported that the reason was a disagreement over masking in the capitol.
In the Saturday session, the House convened and began work on amending and approving the Uniform Rules.
Representative David Eastman of Wasilla proposed that the legislature remove its restrictions on public access to the capitol building in Juneau.
Eastman was present in Washington D.C. on January 6 to protest the certification of the 2020 presidential election, where hundreds of white nationalists, so identified by the FBI, stormed the United States Capitol Building.
Representative Eastman’s proposal would have amended the state legislature's rules to allow the general public to have access to offices and areas in the state capitol now restricted to members and legislative staff only.
District 31 Representative Sarah Vance of Homer, voted yes on that proposal, but the amendment failed 18 to 14.
Representative Ben Carpenter of Nikiski proposed to solve the problem of the House's inability to organize and elect leadership in good time by moving that the House should choose its leaders by coin toss if they fail to select leadership after the first 15 days of the session.
Representative Vance spoke in favor of the motion and voted for it, though it failed 23 to 9.
When the time came for the House to approve the Uniform Rules of the House, which requires a supermajority of the assembled members, Vance voted with the nays, who carried the day.
A supermajority required 27 yes votes to approve the Uniform Rules, but there were only 26 votes in favor. Immediately after the motion failed, House Majority Leader Chris Tuck of Anchorage called for reconsideration of the motion.
Monday’s session, the 61st day of the ostensibly 90-day session, lasted no more than 20 minutes. Tuck's call for reconsideration on Saturday, necessitated a second vote on approval of the Uniform Rules. This time approval failed by an even wider margin 20 to 17.
Representative Vance, again, voted against approving the rules.
On Tuesday, March 23, committee meetings are scheduled throughout the day.
The next floor session of the House is scheduled for Wednesday, March 24 beginning at 10:30 a.m.
Representative Vance is the primary sponsor of two bills currently in committee. One is HB 52, supporting the continuation of the Tutka Bay Hatchery, which is slated for closure by the State. The bill has had one reading but is stalled in the House Committee on Fisheries and Resources.
The other piece of legislation, HB 140, would extend the expiration date of an Alaska driver's license to eight years for drivers between the ages of 21 and 69. Also, some drivers would be allowed to renew their license online or by mail every other time their license comes up for renewal. However, some drivers renewing online would have to provide the results of an eye exam, potentially adding hundreds of dollars to the cost of an Alaska driver's license. That bill has had its first reading and is now sitting in the State Affairs Committee.
KBBI has made many attempts to schedule a legislative update interview with Representative Vance, but has not been successful. Information for this story on Vance's votes and actions in the Alaska House of Representatives come from Gavel to Gavel, KTOO Juneau's live coverage of the Alaska Legislature, and from the Alaska State Legislature website, akleg.gov.