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Alaska Legislature

Public schools, fishing licenses and disposable plastic bags are in Alaska lawmakers’ crosshairs

The Alaska State Capitol last year. (Marc Lester / ADN)

Have you ever lost your fishing license? Or used a plastic bag at a grocery store? Send your kids to school? If so, Alaska legislators unveiled bills Monday that would affect you if passed into law.

Rep. Andy Josephson, D-Anchorage, wants to institute a 20-cent tax on each disposable plastic bag, to be paid by the people using them — not the stores that would sell them.

Rep. Dan Saddler, R-Eagle River, wants to make it legal to keep your hunting or fishing license on your phone, instead of requiring people to show hard copies.

And Kodiak Republican Sen. Gary Stevens wants to create more certainty for public schools by budgeting for them separately, instead of as part of the state's annual budget process that's been delayed in recent years amid polarization and gridlock.

Those ideas are among more than two dozen proposals released Monday, in what lawmakers refer to as a batch of "prefiled" bills. They're called that because they're unveiled before the Legislature's annual session, which starts Jan. 16 in Juneau.

A second and final round of prefiled bills will be released Friday.

The first batch includes several proposals that target the state's multibillion-dollar budget deficit — an issue that's consumed much of the Legislature's attention over the past three years. Subjects of other prefiled bills include abortion, marijuana, taxation and the once-a-decade process in which the state redraws its voting districts.

Take these proposals with a grain of salt: Of the 127 prefiled bills introduced in the previous two-year legislative term, just 26 ultimately passed and were signed into law.

Here are some highlights from Monday's prefiled bills. For a full list, click here.

House Bill 256

Wasilla Republican Rep. David Eastman wants to allow Alaskans to donate portions of their Permanent Fund dividends to state agencies or municipalities.

House Bill 257

North Pole Republican Rep. Tammie Wilson wants to bar the posting of protective orders, if publishing them would "likely" reveal the identity or the location of the person being protected.

House Bill 260

Saddler, the Eagle River Republican representative, wants to allow people to show fishing and hunting licenses in electronic form, rather than requiring people to have a hard copy.

House Bill 264

Josephson, the Anchorage Democratic representative, is proposing the 20-cent tax on each disposable plastic bag.

The legislation would require the tax to be passed to consumers; the state would get 75 percent of the fees, while stores could keep the rest and use them to pay for a required recycling program.

House Bill 266 / Senate bills 123 and 124

Wasilla Rep. Cathy Tilton and Anchorage Sen Cathy Giessel, both Republicans, are proposing identical new requirements related to abortions.

House Bill 266 and Senate Bill 124 would require doctors to do abortions in the way that gives the fetus the best chance at survival after being removed from the womb, as long as that method doesn't present serious health risks to the mother. Their proposals also include provisions that would allow parents to "surrender" the child, and let the courts declare it "in need of aid."

Sen. John Coghill, R-North Pole, had his own prefiled bill, Senate Bill 123, to bar doctors from performing abortions if a fetus could survive outside the womb, with exceptions for medical problems as well as pregnancies stemming from rape or incest.

An initial version of his proposal, however, was quickly removed from the Legislature's database. Coghill, in a phone interview, said he was unaware that Giessel had her own abortion-related bill; he added that he'll try to merge his ideas with hers instead of pushing his own legislation.

House Joint Resolution 26

Anchorage Democratic Rep. Les Gara wants to amend the Alaska Constitution to ensure more balance in the once-a-decade process of drawing state voting districts.

Currently, the districts are drawn by a five-member board. Two members are appointed by the governor, one each by the state House speaker and Senate president and one by the chief justice of the Alaska Supreme Court.

Gara says that makeup can allow for "gerrymandering" — drawing districts to benefit one political party over another — if that party's members control the governor's office and the Legislature. Instead, he wants the board to be made up of four members selected by political parties — two each from the state's largest, which are currently Democrats and Republicans.

The fifth member, a sort of swing vote, would be an independent.

Senate Bill 127

Anchorage Republican Sen. Mia Costello wants to repeal Senate Bill 91, the criminal justice overhaul that she co-sponsored two years ago.

Senate Bill 128

Giessel, the Anchorage Republican, wants to direct one-fourth of the state's marijuana tax revenue to an education and treatment fund. The total tax revenue in the state's last fiscal year was a little less than $2 million, but the industry has been growing.

Giessel's bill would require the state health department to run a new marijuana education and treatment program, including "misuse prevention," public education and treatment.

Senate Bill 130

Anchorage Republican Sen. Kevin Meyer wants to require a public vote before any sales or income tax passed by the Legislature would take effect.

Such a requirement, however, could likely be waived by any subsequent Legislature as part of a sales or income tax bill, since the Alaska Constitution bars one Legislature from surrendering the taxing power of subsequent Legislatures.

Senate Bill 131

Stevens, the Kodiak Republican senator, wants to require lawmakers to pass a standalone bill to pay for public schools by April 1 of each year.

Traditionally, the state schools budget has been incorporated into a broader spending plan for state government. But schools advocates have increasingly criticized that approach as lawmakers have been later and later in passing state budgets — this year's came in late June — leaving districts uncertain about how many teachers they can keep on their payrolls.

Senate Bill 133

Anchorage Democratic Sen. Berta Gardner wants to raise Alaska's minimum age for marriage to 18, or 16 for "emancipated minors" — those granted adult status by the courts.

Currently Alaskans can marry at 14 with a judge's approval; between 2006 and 2015, there were four cases of marriage involving children under 15, Gardner said, citing state records.

Senate Joint Resolutions 9 and 10

Sitka Republican Sen. Bert Stedman wants to amend the Alaska Constitution to manage the $63 billion Permanent Fund under an endowment model. His Senate Joint Resolution 9 would direct 2 percent of the fund's value to be paid out each year as dividends for individual residents, while as much as 2.5 percent more could be used to fill Alaska's budget deficit.

Anchorage Democratic Sen. Tom Begich's Senate Joint Resolution 10 would also use an endowment model for the fund. He wants to use 5 percent of the fund's value each year, with 40 percent for dividends, 40 percent to fill the deficit and 20 percent staying in the fund to help it keep up with inflation.

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