Fifty-six bills and three resolutions were released, including proposed measures creating a pilot program for a shortened school week, heightening identification requirements for would-be voters, and establishing a schedule and process for state agency performance audits, as the first set of prefiled legislation for the incoming 28th Alaska State Legislature Monday.
The prefiled legislation constitutes the first new bills and resolutions offered for consideration in the upcoming legislative session, which starts next Tuesday.
Reps. Peggy Wilson, R-Wrangell, and Tammie Wilson, R-North Pole, teamed up to co-sponsor House Bill 21, which would formally establish a pilot program under which one school district could enter a pilot program allowing them to have a four-day school week.
Tammie Wilson said the idea for the bill came about after the Southeast Island School District expressed interest in having school from Monday to Thursday only while extending the hours of each school day.
“Particularly for this one, from my understanding, most of their travel is done by plane to get supplies, for athletics, all kinds of things,” Tammie Wilson said Monday. “They tend to have lower attendance on Fridays.”
The four-day school week has worked in some school districts outside Alaska, Tammie Wilson said.
“This may be a new idea for Alaska, but it has been very successful in the Lower 48,” said the North Pole legislator.
The pilot program is limited to one school district, which would have to prove to the State Board of Education and Early Development that it could implement a four-day school week that is “the educational equivalent of a five-day school week” and that its desire for a four-day school week commands majority support from the public in its community, under the proposed legislation.
The district would also have to submit annual reports to legislative committees as a “progress report” comparing district performance to before schools went to a four-day school week.
“There’s going to be quite a bit of information that’s required from the school district,” Tammie Wilson said. She said the goal will be to “start out small and see how one district does, and if they’re successful, leave open the possibility of opening it up to more.”
Both Reps. Wilson are also among 26 representatives — including Speaker Mike Chenault, R-Nikiski — co-sponsoring House Bill 30, establishing a schedule of years in which entire agencies, including the Alaska Court System, the University of Alaska and the office of the governor, will be subject to performance reviews. The bill is being introduced again for the 28th Legislature after stalling in the Senate Finance Committee in 2011.
The Alaska Department of Corrections would be the first agency audited under the bill, with the department slated for its review next year under the proposed schedule.
In 2015, the governor’s office, courts and legislative branch agencies would be audited. The Department of Health and Social Services would be audited in 2016, the Department of Education and Early Development in 2017, the university system in 2018, and so on.
The Department of Military and Veterans Affairs and the Department of Labor and Workforce Development would be the last agencies audited, in 2023.
In 2024, the Department of Corrections would be due for an audit again, under the 10-year repeating format of the schedule.
The legislative audit division conducting the reviews would hold public hearings in Anchorage, Juneau, Fairbanks and elsewhere “to review agency activities and identify problems or concerns” during the year in which each audit takes place.
Rep. Cathy Muñoz, R-Juneau, one of the bill’s cosponsors, said she signed onto the bill because she thinks it “provides an opportunity to better understand operating budgets.”
“It’s a good analytical tool that can be used to determine and to better understand where the money is going,” said Muñoz. “It provides an opportunity to engage the public and allows the public to better understand where operating dollars are being spent, and it allows legislators to determine whether programs are meeting their constitutional mandate.”
The Legislature set a schedule for reviews of state programs and agencies in 1977. According to Chenault’s written statement as a sponsor of H.B. 30, those dates expired in 1983, but he wants to bring the audits back.
“The information provided by these reviews will include authority, accountability, effectiveness, efficiency and necessity of departments and their programs,” Chenault’s statement read in part. “The report, along with draft legislation to fix issues, will provide the House and Senate finance committees with in-depth information needed to fund state budgets appropriately.”
In the Senate, Sen. Cathy Giessel, R-Anchorage, prefiled Senate Bill 2, which would enact the Interstate Mining Compact into law in Alaska, effective immediately, giving the state a vote on the Interstate Mining Compact Commission.
Alaska is already an associate member in the IMCC, but it has yet to join 19 states that are already full members.
“It’s time for us to step up and actually join,” said Giessel, who sponsored a similar bill last year. “It would give us a very significant voice at the table as we talk about mining development.”
Of her bill last year, Giessel remarked, “It just kind of ran out of time. But this year, I expect that it will be addressed, and I’m very hopeful that it will pass and we’ll get our seat at the table.”
According to the IMCC’s website, “The Commission does not possess regulatory powers, as some Compacts do. The Commission provides a forum for interstate action and communication on issues of concern to the member states.”
House Bill 13, prefiled by Rep. Max Gruenberg, D-Anchorage, would change Alaska’s system of pitting party nominees selected in closed primary contests against one another in the general election, moving to a open primary system under which the top two vote-getters would advance to the general election irrespective of their party affiliation. Louisiana, Washington and California have already adopted this “nonpartisan blanket primary” model.
“Hopefully, it will increase voter turnout,” said Gruenberg. “Hopefully, it will allow more centrist candidates to be nominated. And I think it will in some senses bring the control of the electoral process back to the people from the political parties.”
Like H.B. 30 and S.B. 2, Gruenberg’s H.B. 13 is a bill the sponsor has unsuccessfully introduced before. He acknowledged the chances of it passing this time are “not great.” He said he hopes the matter can at least be decided by voter initiative.
Gruenberg said he is confident the system would be legal, saying it cleaves to the Washington model upheld in the 2008 United States Supreme Court case of Washington State Grange v. Washington State Republican Party.
“The purpose is not to jockey the system,” Gruenberg said. “The purpose is to retain the right of the people to choose who goes on the ballot.”
Gruenberg, who also prefiled several other bills ahead of the upcoming session, is not the only legislator proposing changes to state elections law.
Reps. Bob Lynn, R-Anchorage, and Wes Keller, R-Wasilla, are co-sponsors of House Bill 3, legislation that would change the voter ID requirement in Alaska to require would-be voters to show either one piece of ID including a photograph or two pieces of ID without a photograph to establish their identity to an election official before voting.
State law currently requires voters to show only one piece of ID, which may or may not include a photograph, and allows them to cast a questioned ballot even if they cannot produce ID.
The bill would also amend a provision in state law allowing an election official to waive the ID requirement if she is able to personally affirm the voter’s identity. Under the legislation, two officials would have to be able to identify the voter in order for the requirement to be waived.
Neither Lynn nor Keller returned calls to their offices for comment Monday.
• Contact reporter Mark D. Miller at 523-2279 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.