House, Senate at loggerheads heading into session's final day
No deal on crime. No deal on a capital budget. No deal on a Permanent Fund dividend.
Neither those compromises nor a vote on the operating budget from the state House or Senate occurred Tuesday — all with just one day left in the Legislature’s 121-day session, practically assuring a special session.
“There is certainly potential for that,” Senate President Cathy Giessel, R-Anchorage, said early Tuesday evening.
The Senate kicked off day 120 by unanimously passing a sweeping crime bill aimed at restoring confidence in public safety by increasing sentencing, parole and probation guidelines for misdemeanors and all classified felonies. It unanimously passed House Bill 49, viewed as a repeal of three-year-old omnibus bill — Senate Bill 91 — which has been blamed for soaring crime rates.
This forced the House to agree with changes that pushed a 73-page bill to a 96-page document. The House failed to concur in a 22-18 vote with majority members Andy Josephson and Chris Tuck, both Anchorage Democrats, and former majority member Gabrielle LeDoux, R-Anchorage, joining the 15-member minority.
“Rubber-stamping changes of this magnitude is irresponsible,” said Rep. Chuck Kopp, R-Anchorage, also a former police chief. “There is not a single member here that can go down and say they understand everything that happened in the other body. It doesn’t mean we’re not going to accept much of that. It doesn’t mean that not-good things were added in but what it does mean we have a duty to our constituents to know what we are voting on."
HB 49 drew from four of Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s bills that he introduced in January. He responded to the House’s vote with this Facebook post:
“Twenty-two members of the House just voted to take it easy on criminals and ignore the safety of law abiding citizens. UNBELIEVABLE! I applaud the eighteen members of the House who voted with the Senate (where the bill passed unanimously -- Republicans and Democrats) to hold criminals accountable and fix our broken public safety laws.”
House Speaker Bryce Edgmon, I-Dillingham, countered with his own about an hour later:
“Our vote today is not a rejection of the changes made by the Senate but instead an assertion of our belief that we must do the work necessary to get this right so we do not repeat the mistakes of the past. This is a huge omnibus crime bill that has grown even larger and more complex in the past few days.”
A conference committee made up of three members each from the House and Senate will be tasked with working out the differences. The Senate appointed Judiciary Committee chair Shelley Hughes and Mike Shower, both Wasilla Republicans, and Anchorage Democrat Bill Wielechowski. The House named Judiciary Chair Matt Claman, Kopp and Minority Leader Lance Pruitt.
The two chambers still have a capital budget to pass and an operating budget to approve with or without a Permanent Fund dividend.
The Senate recommended a $3,000 payout in its budget. The House did not recommend a sum, acknowledging it would have be agreed upon later.
Dunleavy didn’t put a dividend in his budget, either, but he placed it in two bills that would also have repaid reduced dividends from each of the last three years.
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