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Three things to watch for in the state Legislature

Posted: February 25, 2013 - 1:02am

JUNEAU — The Alaska Legislature will hit its halfway point this week, with the Senate taking the lead on oil taxes as legislative leaders look at the spreading the workload and which bills should move.

An abortion bill, school vouchers and budget closeouts are among the highlights this week.

Abortion

The Senate Judiciary Committee will hold its first hearing Wednesday on a bill that would define “medically necessary” abortions.

SB49 pertains to which abortions Alaska must pay for under the state Medicaid program. It states that the Department of Health and Social Services may not pay for abortion services under the program unless those abortions are medically necessary or the pregnancy was the result of rape or incest.

The bill’s sponsor, Sen. John Coghill, dropped language that would have required the rape or incest to be “promptly reported” to law enforcement or public health authorities.

The Alaska Supreme Court has held that the state must fund medically necessary abortions if it funds other procedures deemed medically necessary for people in need. Coghill, R-North Pole, who is outspoken in his anti-abortion beliefs, has said he is seeking to clarify “under which circumstances it is appropriate for the people of Alaska to pay for an abortion.”

The political and organizing director at Planned Parenthood Votes Northwest says the bill would place “politicians between women and their doctors” and restrict access to state-funded abortions.

Coghill chairs the five-member Judiciary Committee. Two other committee members, Sens. Fred Dyson, R-Eagle River, and Donny Olson, D-Golovin, are co-sponsors of the bill.

School vouchers

The chairman of the Senate Education Committee is wasting no time in delving into the issue of school vouchers. Sen. Gary Stevens, R-Kodiak, in an at-times funny, at-times scathing floor speech last week, announced plans for hearings on school vouchers. This came just days after a proposed constitutional amendment that would allow public money to be used for private schools was pulled from his committee, without his advance knowledge, while he was out of town.

The first discussion is scheduled for Friday.

The Senate majority last week announced that SJR9 could be heard by the Education Committee if “significant education issues arise” during the legislative process. It is currently scheduled to be heard by the Senate Judiciary and Finance committees.

Senate leaders have said that this involves legal issues and the public would be allowed to debate the merits of the proposal if and when they are asked to vote on it. Critics say the proposal could have huge ramifications for the education system in Alaska.

Budget closeouts

A number of House finance subcommittees plan to close out their work on departmental budgets this week. That is a precursor to the House Finance Committee putting together its version of a state operating budget.

House Speaker Mike Chenault said he thought the full committee would have a bill in front of them by around March 11, with a floor vote on the bill possible later that week after additional committee work.

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