Contributed by Rep. David Eastman
But perhaps “hijacked” is too nice a word. Hijackers normally reroute a plane rather than simply pointing the nose to the ground and immediately ending the flight without a word of explanation, as happened in the Legislature's Senate Judiciary Committee recently.
For those who missed the fireworks, the will of Alaskan voters is slowly but steadily making its way through the legislature, despite the ceaseless efforts of a number of entrenched politicians determined to prevent its doing so. Hundreds of Alaskans have testified of the need to repeal the soft-on-crime provisions of SB91. Hundreds more have testified of the need to place permanent protections for the PFD into Alaska’s Constitution.
But popular support for these policies does not mean that legislators will immediately lend their support also. Sen. John Coghill has, singlehandedly, blocked both the repeal of SB91 and the constitutionalizing of the dividend for months now. Recently, a majority of the members of the Senate Judiciary Committee made it clear that they supported the bills whether he did or not; so as chairman, he shut down the hearing and left the room before votes could be counted to pass the bills. Having put the process on hold indefinitely, he is now making demands about all of the things that legislators on the committee will have to give up in order to get the legislative process working again. And we wonder why legislators spent 211 days in Juneau last year…
Sen. Coghill has demanded that legislators immediately abandon efforts aimed at:
1. Giving the people the opportunity to vote on putting the PFD into the Constitution
2. Repealing SB91
3. Passing Bree's Law (against dating violence)
Here’s the backstory:
After enduring more than a year of being stonewalled in this committee, a bipartisan group of legislators on the committee made a brave attempt to take back the plane yesterday. They did so by enforcing legislative procedures designed to protect the public process. Unfortunately, they were immediately blocked by a single legislator determined to crash the plane rather than see it arrive at the destination that the majority of legislators and the Alaskan people want.
A constituent asked me, “Who do you call when someone hijacks the legislative process? Is there a legislative air marshal?” The answer is, “No.” There isn't anyone in law enforcement you can call. No Parliamentarian. No bailiff. No Sergeant-at-Arms.
It's up to you, the Alaskan people in the court of public opinion. You are the sheriff. If the people of Alaska don't step in, then legislators conclude (rightly or wrongly) that what they are doing is acceptable.
For those interested, the law that governs the internal policies of the legislature is found here: https://tinyurl.com/yanuaw8z
Rule 24 requires that every committee of the legislature take action on all of the bills sent to that committee, and that they report their action to the legislature “as soon as practicable”.
Without that requirement, a single committee chairman could hold the entire legislature hostage by refusing to act on a bill until he has extracted a political ransom from all other legislators and from the public.
Rule 24 was written to prevent just that sort of thing from happening.
The bill to protect the PFD in the Constitution has been sitting in the Senate Judiciary Committee for a full 13 months without any action being taken.
The bill to repeal SB91 has been sitting in the same committee for more than 80 days without any action being taken.
Recognizing that the committee was clearly failing in its responsibilities to the people of Alaska, a majority of the members of that committee began the process of forcing the chairman of the committee to either take action on the bills or forfeit his right to do so.
The chairman chose to take action, but when the first bill came before the committee and the committee members were to vote on it, the chairman of the committee immediately halted the meeting before the votes could be counted.
He also declared that he would not allow any member of the public to testify about the bill, even though many Alaskans were waiting in line to do so.
He further demanded that all members of the committee forfeit the right to vote on these bills at any point in the future.
He expects that other legislators will fully back him up owing to the caucus pact. It is time that Alaskans take a good hard look at the caucus pact and ask each other what the point is of electing legislators if those legislators are going to simply put loyalty to their legislative caucus over the best interests of the people they were elected to represent. Enough is enough. It’s time to honor the public process. It’s time to end the pact.
Rep. David Eastman has served in the Alaska State House representing the Mat-Su since 2017. He ran on a platform of fighting for genuine conservative reform, fiscally and socially, and remains committed to delivering on that promise.