Legislature Leaves Some Bills for 2025

By JAMES BROOKS
Alaska Beacon
    In the last days of their two-year session, Alaska lawmakers passed dozens of bills on topics ranging from Juneteenth to carbon dioxide.
    While legislators will surely count their successes in the months before this year’s legislative elections, some high-priority items and hundreds of smaller bills failed to pass through the Capitol and must start anew when the 34th Alaska State Legislature convenes in January.

Sen. Lyman Hoffman, D-Bethel, listens to discussion on the Senate floor on Wednesday. (Photo by James Brooks/Alaska Beacon)


No long-term financial plan
    Lawmakers weren’t able to finalize any part of a plan intended to bring the state’s revenue in line with expenses over the long term.
    In 2022, a bicameral, bipartisan working group recommended changes to the Permanent Fund dividend formula, a revised state spending cap, new taxes and constitutional changes to guarantee the dividend and limit spending from the Permanent Fund.
    While the state Senate passed a new formula for the Permanent Fund dividend in 2023, the state House did not consider the Senate bill before the session ended.
    The Senate’s proposed formula would have split the annual transfer from the Permanent Fund to the state treasury 75%/25%, with the larger share paying for state services. The formula could have changed to a 50/50 split if lawmakers enacted substantial new taxes or other revenue measures.
    While legislators approved a 75/25 dividend in 2023 and 2024 (plus one-off energy relief payments), they did so by fiat, without a new formula.
    The House failed to pass a proposed constitutional amendment guaranteeing the Permanent Fund dividend, and no new major taxes or spending cap proposals received a final vote in the House or Senate.
    The House and Senate also failed to pass a bill or constitutional amendment addressing the Alaska Permanent Fund Corp.’s concern that the fund may run out of spendable money within a few years, but the state budget contains a measure that reduces the amount of Permanent Fund money that will be transferred into a constitutionally protected account, effectively buying more time to address the issue.
    Gov. Mike Dunleavy could choose to reduce or veto that reduced transfer.

Pension bill fails to pass the House
    The state Senate voted to revive a pension program for state employees, part of an effort to attract workers to vacant state jobs, but the state House declined to take up the bill in a series of procedural votes throughout 2024.
    Lawmakers did pass a resolution urging Congress to address a law that reduces Social Security benefits for many Alaska public employees, and they increased salaries for some employees.

No cost break for Cook Inlet oil and gas companies
    Energy legislation was a high priority for members of the House and Senate, and lawmakers did pass two big energy bills, but they failed to complete work on a bill that would have reduced the royalty paid by Cook Inlet oil and gas producers to the state.
    Members of the House who supported the bill said it would encourage additional drilling and production, but the Senate asked for independent financial modeling to analyze the costs and benefits, and that process began late due to delays by the Legislative Budget and Audit Committee.

Gubernatorial veto kills long-term education reform
    In March, lawmakers passed a multipart education bill with bipartisan, bicameral support, but Gov. Mike Dunleavy vetoed it and House Republicans declined to vote in favor of a veto override despite supporting the original bill.
    Senate Bill 140 would have permanently increased the state’s per-student funding formula, among other components, and while legislators passed smaller education bills before the end of the regular session, they did not manage to pass a replacement for SB 140.
    One-time bonus education funding equivalent to SB 140 is included in the state budget.
Transgender sports ban stays in regulation, but not in law
    Republican members of the House prioritized a bill that would ban transgender girls from girls sports teams, but as expected, the Senate declined to take up the bill before the legislative session adjourned.
    Elements of the bill, which limits membership on girls’ school sports teams to students who were female at birth, have already been passed into regulation by the state school board, and the Alaska School Activities Association has been enforcing that regulation since last year.
    There are no transgender girls openly competing in school sports within Alaska.

Elections bill fails in House’s last hour
    The House was roiled on the last day by an attempt to take final action on an elections bill that would have allowed Alaskans to register to vote on the same day as an election and other provisions opposed by many House Republicans.
    As originally written, the bill was limited to measures that would have helped the Alaska Division of Elections refresh the state’s voter rolls more rapidly. Those ideas had bipartisan support, but senators amended the original bill into a bigger, multipart elections proposal during the legislative session’s last days.
    “I really thought the elections bill should have passed, because it was an election year,” said Sen. Scott Kawasaki, D-Anchorage and the sponsor of the Senate changes.
    The bill’s original sponsor, Rep. Sarah Vance, R-Homer, opposed the changes, and when members of the House minority tried to bring the amended bill up for a vote, House Republicans objected, and the House deadlocked for nearly an hour before adjourning Thursday morning.

No marijuana tax cut
    Six days before the Legislature adjourned, the House voted to cut the state’s tax on marijuana and switch it from a wholesale, per-ounce tax to a sales tax paid at the retail level.
    Alaska’s marijuana tax, set during the 2014 ballot measure that legalized recreational marijuana in the state, is the highest in the nation, and industry officials have asked for tax relief, saying that current tax rates are driving growers out of business and contributing to the survival of black-market sellers.
    After the Senate balked at the House’s original bill, House lawmakers added the marijuana tax changes to an antismoking, antivaping bill written by Senate President Gary Stevens, R-Kodiak. The Senate declined to take up that bill as well, killing both proposals.
    Stevens said he killed the bill because the Senate hadn’t had the time to consider the marijuana tax issue.
    “You can’t get too much in love with your own legislation,” he said.

Other legislation
    After the state Senate passed a bill removing some public notices from Alaska newspapers’ print editions, the state House failed to take a final vote on the bill, causing it to fail.
    Rep. Stanley Wright, R-Anchorage, proposed a bill restricting interest rates on payday loans, and while the bill passed the House, the Senate Finance Committee failed to hear it in committee, and it died when the Legislature adjourned.
    Anchorage Democratic Sen. Forrest Dunbar had several bills die at adjournment, but “the one that really bothers me” was the failure of a bill that would have given more funding for the Alaska Legal Services Corp., which provides legal help to poor Alaskans dealing with issues in civil court. The bill passed the Senate, but not the House.
    House Majority Leader Dan Saddler, R-Eagle River, said he was disappointed by the failure of bills that would have asserted the state’s ownership of all land beneath navigable waters. The state and federal government have been fighting over that ownership for years, and without a state law directing legal action, a new governor might change the state’s approach.
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https://alaskabeacon.com/james-brooks

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