On the official last day of the 2011 Alaska legislative session, a Conference Committee sat down to in the Capitol to hash out a point of contention.
While other legislators elsewhere in the building were trying to resolve weighty disputes over control of billions of dollars in capital projects, the six legislators on the conference committee were trying to reach agreement on a different issue: Specialty license plates.
No one really wanted to be there.
“It’s not really what we want to be spending our time on,” said Rep. Lindsey Holmes, D-Anchorage.
Legislators like introducing license plate bills on behalf of worthy causes.
Specialty plates cost an extra $30, and don’t cost the state anything.
“You have to respond to your constituents,” said Sen. Bill Wielechowski, D-Anchorage.
But legislators also realize their constituents would prefer them to be working on bigger issues than license plates, especially late in the session.
This year, one possible point of contention was removed when the hot-button abortion issue was dealt with by including pro-life and pro-choice specialty plates in the same bill, along with all the other specialty plate requests.
But Wielechowski tried to go one further, and hand the decision on specialty plates over to the Department of Motor Vehicle director.
“I like the idea of getting the Legislature out of the license plate business,” agreed Holmes.
Holmes said she had no objection to the plates themselves, and had supported a breast cancer awareness plate following her mother’s death from breast cancer.
“It’s not really what we want to be spending our time on,” she said.
The problem for the conference committee was that the Senate passed the provision handing license plate decisions to the DMV director, but the House did not.
The conference committee removed the transfer to the DMV director, but left the bill including the abortion-related plates and several others all combined in one bill.
It received final passage by the House late Sunday, with Senate agreement expected.
Some House members said they agreed with the Senate’s action to shift those decisions away from the Legislature, and would help Wielechowski advance a bill to do that next year.
Conference Committee Chairman Rep. Bob Lynn, R-Anchorage, noted that Sunday’s conference committee was the first one that he’d ever chaired.
“Let’s hope it’s the last one on license plates,” he said.
• Contact reporter Pat Forgey at 586-4816 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.