Controversial gun bill moves quickly in Legislature while military reform stalls
The clock is ticking away the life of bills in the Legislature. If lawmakers gavel out as scheduled Sunday, all legislation not passed by then will die. There are several bills that have made it through one body of the Legislature, but are still working through committees in the other house.
In these waning days of the session, a controversial bill to allow guns on university campuses is moving quickly, while a non-controversial, bipartisan measure to reform the Alaska National Guard’s military justice code, House Bill 126, has stalled.
HB 126 passed the House unanimously at the beginning of February, but didn’t get its first hearing in the Senate until Tuesday, the 85th day of the 90-day session. Members of the Guard came down to meet with Sen. Bill Stoltze, chair of the Senate State Affairs Committee. Stoltze said that meeting convinced him to hear the bill.
“The lack of a code of military justice directly contributed to a reluctance to take appropriate disciplinary measures over the years,” Col. Lee Knowles, a commander with the Alaska National Guard, told members of the Senate State Affairs Committee Tuesday, referring in part to abuse and misconduct in the Guard that lead to a political scandal during the Parnell administration. “I’m concerned that, in time, institutional knowledge of recent events will fade and that we may find ourselves back in the same conditions that lead us to this point.”
Stoltze held the bill another day to allow more time for public testimony.
Meanwhile, a House committee on Monday rushed a public hearing on a more controversial bill by Sen. Pete Kelly to allow guns on University of Alaska campuses — Senate Bill 174. Rep. Wes Keller refused to allow a representative from the University of Alaska to answer a question by Rep. Ivy Spohnholz before pushing for a vote to move the legislation from committee.
“We’re hurrying for some of the committee members that have something else to go to, and I do want action on the bill today,” Keller told Spohnholz. When she questioned whether he would get an answer on the record, Keller replied, “No.”
SB 174 was taken up Tuesday evening in the House Judiciary Committee, but a vote was postponed to accommodate a large number of people who signed up to testify – including students, teachers and parents who oppose the bill.
Rep. Bob Lynn said he was prepared to vote yes on the measure.
“It just boils down to I support the second amendment,” he said. “I think it’s a good idea, and I don’t think you lose your privileges just because you go to the university.”
When asked whether he thinks guns should be allowed in the Alaska State Capitol, currently a gun-free zone, Lynn replied, “I think the second amendment should apply here like it does every place else, and I would support people being able to carry in the capitol building. We get some strange people that come in here.”
When asked whether he would consider introducing legislation to allow guns in the capitol, Lynn said, “I consider legislation on all kinds of stuff.”
Rep. Matt Claman said he’s prepared to vote against the measure, for financial reasons.
“Right now, I’m primarily focused on the financial impacts on the university because there’s one fiscal note attached, but what seems lacking in that fiscal note is what are the real costs of creating these secured zones which the bill actually requires,” Claman said. “We certainly shouldn’t be adding more financial obligations on the university when we’re already cutting.”
Another controversial bill to reform the state oil tax system was stalled for a vote for the third time this week. The House is scheduled to take up the measure Tuesday evening.
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