Senate votes down amendment to protect the PFD in the Constitution

Alaska’s PFD is defined by statute, not by the constitution, which allows the Legislature and governor to alter its amount or eliminate it entirely

The Alaska State Capitol. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire File)

The Alaska Senate has declined to advance a proposed constitutional amendment to guarantee the Alaska Permanent Fund Dividend.

 

In a 6-14 vote Wednesday, the Senate turned down a request by Sen. Bill Wielechowski, D-Anchorage, to bypass the Senate Judiciary Committee, which currently holds the amendment proposal.

Currently, Alaska’s Permanent Fund Dividend is defined by statute, not by the constitution, a fact that allows the Legislature and governor to alter its amount or eliminate it entirely. For the past several years, Wielechowski has pushed the idea of constitutional protections for the dividend, going so far as to challenge in court the idea that the governor could veto a portion of the dividend. (Wielechowski lost a lawsuit about this last year.)

Wielechowski latest attempt at a constitutional amendment passed the Senate State Affairs Committee last year and was referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee for further vetting.

The chairman of the judiciary committee, Sen. John Coghill, R-North Pole, was the sole person to vote against passing Wielechowski’s idea out of the state affairs committee. In a 2017 interview with the Empire, he said he’s “no great fan of putting a constitutional right to a dividend in our constitution.”

“The way he wrote that,” Coghill said of Wielechowski’s amendment, “it would look like a constitutional right equal to free speech.”

On Wednesday, Wielechowski attempted to bypass Coghill’s committee, but his maneuver failed. It was opposed by all 13 members of the Senate’s predominantly Republican majority and independent Republican Sen. Mike Shower of Wasilla.

Sen. Shelley Hughes, R-Palmer, joined the Senate’s five Democrats in support of Wielechowski’s move.

Had the move succeded, the amendment would have been next considered by the Senate Finance Committee.

House approves militia bill

The Alaska House of Representatives has voted 37-0 in favor of a bill to update Alaska’s Code of Military Justice.

House Bill 307, introduced by Rep. Chris Tuck, D-Anchorage, adds nationally recommended provisions to the code. Among those provisions are one that requires any serviceman convicted of a relevant sexual crime by court-martial to register with the state’s register of sex offenders.

The bill goes to the Senate for consideration.


• Contact reporter James Brooks at jbrooks@juneauempire.com or call 523-2258.


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