This year’s legislative session starts Tuesday, Jan. 16. Ahead of their return to the Capitol, lawmakers are using pre-session bill filings to lay out priorities for the months to come.
The first batch of prefiled bills was released Monday. The wide-ranging proposals from members of the House and Senate touch on everything from energy policy and the Alaska Permanent Fund to psychedelic medicine and teacher pay.
One bill from Rep. George Rauscher, the chair of the House Energy Committee, would seek to ease a looming natural gas crunch in Cook Inlet. Though there’s plenty of gas under the surface, officials have warned that oil and gas companies aren’t drilling enough wells to keep up with projected demand, threatening the energy supply for nearly half the state’s population on the Railbelt.
The bill would zero out royalties and gas taxes on newly-explored wells as long as they offer the gas to in-state electric or heat providers. Royalties on gas offered to other customers would be cut in half. The hope is that cutting royalties and taxes might spur more drilling.
Another energy-related bill from Rauscher, a Republican from Sutton, would reduce electric utilities’ liability for damage resulting from contact between trees and power lines when the trees aren’t on the utility’s property.
A proposal from Rep. Jesse Sumner would direct the Alaska Permanent Fund to obtain a 25% stake on a potential natural gas line from the North Slope. The Wasilla Republican’s bill would set the Permanent Fund dividend at up to $1,000 per person while construction is underway. If the gas line is completed, dividends would jump to half of the Legislature’s annual drawdown from the fund.
There are also a pair of bills from Rep. C.J. McCormick, a Democrat from Bethel, related to missing and murdered Indigenous people, sometimes known by the initials MMIP. One would require police officers to receive cultural training aimed at addressing MMIP cases and direct the Department of Public Safety to employ at least two dedicated MMIP investigators. Four are included in Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s budget request. The bill would also establish an MMIP review commission and require a report from the department on what more is needed to address the problem.
A second bill from McCormick would require police to report missing persons to a national clearinghouse known as the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System within 30 days.
Among six bills filed by Anchorage Rep. Andy Josephson, a Democrat, is a measure that would sharply limit state authorities’ ability to enforce abortion laws from other states. Alaska’s Supreme Court ruled in 1997 that abortion is protected by the state Constitution.
A bill from Republican Rep. Sarah Vance of Homer would extend a program providing up to $250 monthly cash payments to low-income seniors that’s set to expire this year. Vance’s bill would extend the Senior Benefit Program through 2034.
Another bill from Dunbar would create a task force to evaluate the role psychedelic drugs could play in addressing mental health issues. A companion House bill is sponsored by fellow Anchorage Democrat Rep. Jennie Armstrong. The task force would be required to issue a report by the end of the year.
Finally, a proposal from Sitka independent Rep. Rebecca Himschoot would boost teacher pay for some new hires from out of state. Himschoot’s bill would lift statutory caps on the amount of out-of-state service that can count towards teachers’ salaries.
Since this year’s session is the second of the 33rd Alaska Legislature, hundreds of other bills introduced last year also remain up for consideration.
A second batch of pre-session filings is due out Friday.