Bree's Law bill set free, then hits a detour
A bill to rename portions of the Alaska Safe Children’s act after homicide victim Breanna Moore broke free from legislative limbo on Monday – but only for a few hours.
The bill quickly received another Senate committee assignment – this time, Senate Finance – rather than head for a possible floor vote.
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman John Coghill (R-North Pole) on Monday first released HB 214 after holding it in committee for nearly three weeks. Coghill has long been clear he didn’t like the bill, which has been pushed by Breanna Moore’s parents. The bill is called Brees Law. It renames sections of the Safe Children’s Act covering education on dating violence prevention.
The saga over Bree’s Law and two other bills began Saturday when Coghill was forced to hold hearings under a seldom-used legislative uniform rule. The rule allows a majority of committee members to formally request hearings on bills the chairman refuses to consider. Sens. Bill Wielechowski (D-Anchorage), Mia Costello (R-Anchorage) and Mike Shower (R-Wasilla) placed the request.
The other two bills were Costello’s repeal of Senate Bill 91, the sweeping crime reform bill, and a bill to enshrine the permanent fund dividend in the constitution.
On Saturday, Senate Judiciary heard SJR1, sponsored by Wielechowski, who wants constitutional protection for the Permanent Fund dividend. Wielechowski tried forcing a vote and Coghill quickly adjourned the meeting with a quick gavel slam to block the motion.
Once he brought down the gavel, it rippled throughout social media, much of it criticism toward Coghill for not including public comment on the bill. Coghill never scheduled public input.
“At that point, a huge disrespect to what I had asked for them to do became apparent,” Coghill said. “Even in the press and social media, there was a lot of noise out there that was just not true to the facts of what we were trying to do in the committee. That’s too bad. That made the chairman look really bad. I’m sorry that’s the case.”
The quick gavel also left two bills unheard. The rule that governed the hearing requires the bill to be moved out of the committee if it’s not heard in three days. So, Coghill dispatched all three on Monday.
Plot twists continued when Senate President Pete Kelly (R-Fairbanks), to the surprise and disappointment of some, assigned Bree’s Law to the Senate Finance Committee rather than the Rules Committee, which is the final stop before a floor vote.
“The reality is you can see from the Moore family that they want it to be their authority to go into schools, so now we are going to be pushing schools in ways that are going to have some cost to them,” Coghill said. “Just based on that alone, I think the finance referral is appropriate.”
Sen. Tom Begich (D-Anchorage) disagreed.
“It basically changes the name to Bree’s Law because there is a real story and a real emotional impact to that,” he said. “Consequently, giving it a finance referral, it just doesn’t make sense. I don’t think it’s a rational move.
Wielechowski’s SJR1 and Costello’s SB127 had already been assigned to Senate Finance after clearing the Judiciary Committee.
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