Lawmakers set agenda for coming session
Alaska's budget may be the main issue facing lawmakers in the coming months, but bills filed ahead of the state Legislature's Jan. 20 start date indicate that money won't be the only thing on their minds.
Although the budget and Alaskan's Permanent Fund dividends are major issues for lawmakers, it's not the only one that is being set forth. Several of the bills included in the first round of pre-files, which were released Jan. 9, are ideas that have popped up in past years, and are back on the table again. Others are new changes entirely. None are guaranteed to pass, but all offer an indication of what will be up for the discussion in Juneau this winter and spring.
Among those ideas are a handful that could affect Tribal members and organizations.
Rep. Bryce Edgmon, D-Dillingham, filed legislation that would change how the state handles foreign protective orders — including those issued by Tribal courts.
Under the proposed law, the state would help enforce those protective orders, even if they aren't filed with the court in the way that was previously required.
The Legislature considered similar changes last year but those ultimately didn't pass.
United Tribes of Bristol Bay Executive Director Alannah Hurley wrote in an email that the change would be good for Tribal members, and that the bill reflects Edgmon's knowledge of rural communities, and the role Tribal courts play in rural justice.
"We applaud [Edgmon's] efforts to improve the ability of Tribal and state courts to work together to ensure all Alaskans are safe in their home communities, and look forward to working with his office this session on this critical issue," she wrote.
On the Senate side, Kodiak Republican Gary Stevens introduced a bill that would allow Alaskans to make donations directly to Tribal Governments with their permanent fund dividends. Residents are already allowed to do so for non-profits, but this could allow similar contributions to federally-recognized Tribes.
Hurley wrote that such a change is a step toward recognition of Tribal governments, which the State of Alaska has not always provided.
Also on the table this year will be a bill to enhance the protections for the Bristol Bay Fisheries Reserve.
Anchorage Rep. Andy Josephson, a Democrat, again wants to change the protections for the Bristol Bay Fisheries Reserve to make it more difficult to build a large mine, like the proposed Pebble project, here.
In addition to the requirement that the Legislature OK permitting of a major mine, Josephson wants certain state department commissioners to review the project and affirm that it would not have a negative impact on fisheries.
The bill also defines permitting more closely than the previous statute that required Legislative approval of the mine's permits. Josephson said that definition may still need adjustment, because the intent is to scrutinize future work, but not to make it difficult to do reclamation.
Josephson said he'll also look at other protections for the region in the months to come.
Last session, Josephson said his bill was heard in the House Fisheries committee, and referred onward, but then not discussed again. This year, he's hoping to see it go further with the new majority coalition, and committee chairs that also support it.
Those bills, and the others filed in advance of the session, will be referred to various committees for hearings when the Legislature begins its work.
Molly Dischner can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.