JUNEAU — A bill updating Alaska’s alcohol laws is likely dead after a late-in-the-night standoff in the Legislature early Monday morning.
Senate Bill 165 was a trimmed down version of an overhaul of the state’s alcohol laws, which haven’t been updated in any significant way in decades, that sought to reduce penalties for underage drinking and update membership requirements for the Alcoholic Beverage Control board. It also included background check provisions necessary to get the legalized marijuana industry running.
It passed both the Senate and House with broad support, but faltered early Monday morning when the Senate rejected some controversial last-minute changes the House made to the bill.
The House grafted on a bill to update the Board of Barbers and Hairdressers during its House floor, which itself was a move to avoid a grafting on of an unwanted Senate bill to the barber’s bill.
The sponsor of Senate Bill 165, Sen. Peter Micciche, R-Soldotna, said he wasn’t concerned with politicking in the run-up to the change, but said he was concerned the change could jeopardize the bill.
A legal memo he requested said the House changes likely would violate the Alaska Constitution’s rule that bills are on a single subject. The memo concluded, “if a court found that the amendment violates the single subject rule, then the provisions of the entire bill would be at risk of being invalidated under the constitution.”
Micciche said he couldn’t take that risk, and, at his request, the Senate voted down the bill with the changes.
“That’s what this is all about,” he said after the Senate floor session ended work around 3 a.m. Monday. “I hope the House will realize the single subject rule and rescind their action.”
It’s not necessarily the end of the road for the bill. The House could capitulate on its changes to the bill or the bill could head to a conference committee to be negotiated, but both are unlikely.
“We’ll see what they do,” said Senate Majority Leader Sen. John Coghill, R-North Pole. “It’s less likely now.”
With very few bills still moving, there’s little opportunity for any additional maneuvering on the bill. The one potential vehicle for the changes related to minor consuming alcohol would be Coghill’s Senate Bill 91, a sweeping overhaul of the state’s criminal justice system. But already the target of multiple add-ins in the House, Coghill said he was hesitant to add anything else.
“I’m resisting adding any other bills to this,” he said. “Everything added could hurt its support.”
House Majority Leader Rep. Charisse Millett, R-Anchorage, said the process relating to Senate Bill 165 and LeDoux’s hairdresser was messy but said there was no definitive plan the alcohol bill.
The final option to revive the bill would be to look to the all-but-certain special session Gov. Bill Walker is expected to call if the Legislature comes up short on the state’s multi-billion fiscal gap.
“I hope they have the wherewithal and sense to rescind their actions on the bill,” Micciche said. “But if they don’t I’m going to respectfully request that it goes on the special session calendar.”
In an interview with Walker, the governor said he’ll consider bill requests as they come in.
“It’s not unusual for individual legislators to bring something to me when I’m working on the call for the special session,” he said. “I pretty much keep an open mind until I have a chance to hear their reasoning for why it should be on the special session call.”
Contact staff writer Matt Buxton at 459-7544. Follow him on Twitter: @FDNMpolitics.