The chair of a Senate committee abruptly ended a rare Saturday hearing on a trio of high-profile bills, including one which would constitutionally enshrine the state's Permanent Fund dividends.

Senate Judiciary Chair John Coghill (R-North Pole) quickly brought down the gavel when Sen. Bill Wielechowski (D-Anchorage), who unsuccessfully sued against Gov. Bill Walker's decision to halve dividend checks, tried forcing a vote to move his Senate Joint Resolution 1 out of committee.

Another item on the agenda, HB 214, called for renaming a section of the Alaska Safe Children’s Act "Bree's Law" after Anchorage homicide victim Breanna Moore. Coghill expressed opposition to the bill last week, saying he was concerned about Moore's parents making the measure "their own individual industry."

The third bill, SB 127 from Sen. Mia Costello (R-Anchorage), is her effort to repeal criminal-justice reform measure SB 91. That bill, which became law two years ago, has recently been challenged as ineffective and replete with loopholes.

The rare Saturday hearing took place because Wielechowski, Costello and Sen. Mike Shower (R-Wasilla) -- who represent a majority of the committee's members -- invoked a seldom-used provision that overruled Coghill’s wishes keep the bills from being heard.

The three senators filed a formal request for a hearing with Senate President Pete Kelly, which would have moved them to another committee unless it was honored within three days.

After adjourning late Saturday morning, Coghill says he met the spirit of the Alaska State Legislature Uniform Rules to “schedule the legislation for consideration.“

“I agreed to give [Wielechowski] a hearing,” Coghill said. “I did not agree to give him public testimony. They can complain, but I followed their rule. They twisted my arm with the rule and you’ll never hear me say a bad word about that.” 

Wielechowski said there could be some unfinished business, since Coghill may still need to honor his vote request during the next hearing since a vote was never taken. In addition, the "Bree's Law" and SB 91 repeal bills may automatically leave Senate Judiciary because they didn't receive a hearing.

Several lawmakers said they are seeking opinions from the Legislature’s attorneys over the weekend. Costello said that she thought Coghill had respected legislative rules, but pointed out that "respect goes two ways: respect for the members; respect for the chair."

“I’m still optimistic that I’m going to get a hearing,” Costello said. “I feel very strongly about this issue. I’m always going to be professional, but I’m going to fight. I’m going to fight for this bill to have a hearing. We owe it to the public to have that discussion.” 

Wielechowski was also upset that Coghill did not allow for public testimony, but it was never scheduled for Saturday's hearing. Coghill had already said Friday his intent was to take only an initial briefing from each bill sponsor and nothing further.

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