Bills don’t move, but Alaskans in Congress file away

With the bitter Congressional standoff over for now, lawmakers could turn to a practice rarely seen in Washington these days. They might pass a few bills. Each member of Alaska’s congressional delegation has sponsored dozens of bills this year. But, other than the budget, don’t bet on anything controversial becoming law.

Congress usually passes a few hundred bills a year. So far this year it has passed only 46. The House is off to a cautious start this week with measures everyone can agree on: Keeping predators out of schools, encouraging foster kid adoptions, and naming a courthouse in Texas.

But Alaska Congressman Don Young would like to work on restraining the federal government. A bill he introduced this month would let states assume management of national parks.

“The bill is very simple: If a state or an entity of recognition, like a Native Corp, could in fact apply to take over a park, and manage it as a park, they could not be denied. They’d have to be issued a permit,” he said.

Kristen Brengel, a lobbyist for the National Parks Conservation Association, says that would be a first. During the shutdown this month, some states paid to allow the National Park Service to reopen certain areas, but she believes the Service shouldn’t cede its authority to the states.

“It’s either managed by the federal government, and run by the federal government and paid for by federal tax dollars or not, but there is a strict line between state parks and national parks,” she said.

Another bill Don Young introduced this month would take away the EPA’s authority to investigate crimes.  It’s a response to an incident in which armed EPA agents enforcing the Clean Water Act confronted placer miners near the nterior community of Chicken.

“They have no right to be running around, if they’re interested in the environment , with rifles and shotguns and pistols and flak jackets. This is not the government I believe in,” Young said.

The state is investigating the Chicken incident, but an EPA official has said he’s comfortable with the agency’s conduct there.

Neither of those bills stands much of a chance in a Congress that is on track to pass the fewest bills ever. Charles Cushman is a Senior Fellow at Georgetown University’s  Government Affairs Institute. He says Congress has to move a budget, but it is just too divided to pass much of anything else

“Any other big things, like immigration, or all the many small bills members of Congress introduce for issues back home, I don’t see many of them moving this year,” he said.

Cushman says Congress members have other reasons for introducing bills. Some are aimed at pleasing their constituents. Others are introduced to get the idea in circulation, with hopes that it might pass in the future, or get rolled into a larger bill.

“You gotta get that clock started somehow, so even if the bills aren’t moving this year, you still want to get them on the record so people can start thinking about them,” he said.

Congressman Young and the two Alaska senators have been prime sponsors on a total of 103 bills, most of which are stuck at square 1.

They range from a bill to allow Huna Tlinglit people to collect gull eggs in Glacier National Park; another to require labeling of genetically engineered fish; and a fresh attempt in the decades-old battle to change the name of Mt. McKinley to Denali.

Aides say the delegation is able to be effective in other ways, such as pressing Alaska’s case to the Administration, and they have co-sponsored bills that became law, and worked on them in committee.

The Alaska delegation has had some success turning bills into law. One from Young allows the names of contributors to be posted at a visitors center for the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.  Sen. Lisa Murkowski and Young succeeded with a bill to allow an in-state gas line along the Parks Highway. And Sen. Begich got a measure through the Senate to recognize the value of tourism.

Liz Ruskin is the Washington, D.C., correspondent at Alaska Public Media. Reach her at Read more about Liz here.

Previous articleDefinition of ‘Alaska Native’ Needs Fixing In Health Care Law
Next articlePhase One Of Capitol Renovations Nears Completion