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We Build Alaska

House Health & Social Services Committee meeting goes completely off the rails

A meeting of the House Health & Social Services Committee got extremely loose yesterday. On the agenda for the meeting was several board confirmation hearings. But things took a turn for the bizarre when two bills not on the agenda were unanimously passed out of the committee.

First, some background is needed. Representative Mike Prax (R – North Pole), who chairs the committee, was not at the meeting as he was sitting in on a meeting of the Select Committee on Legislative Ethics. Prax is an alternate on the Ethics committee, but he was sitting in for Representative DeLena Johnson (R – Palmer) who was dealing with the operating budget in the House Finance Committee.

Because Prax was not at the meeting, Representative Justin Ruffridge (R – Soldotna), the vice-chair of the Health & Social Services Committee, was chairing the meeting. The meeting started out normal with a confirmation hearing for Dr. David Barnes’ reappointment to the State Medical Board. Barnes talked about the challenges doctors face while dealing with insurance companies and asking the Legislature to do what they can to help.

During Barnes’ hearing, Representative Genevieve Mina (D – Anchorage) refenced a bill in the committee, House Bill 187, that would exempt certain health care providers from making preauthorization requests for certain services. This is a bill from Representative Jesse Sumner (R – Wasilla), who sits on the committee. Sumner, seemingly inspired by Dr. Barnes plea for help, made a motion to move the bill out of the committee.

The bill was not scheduled for a hearing, but bills previously heard was listed on the meeting agenda. HB 187 has had four hearings in the committee this year. So technically the motion was in order, although very loose.

Ruffridge, who was clearly confused by Sumner’s motion, asked if there was any objection from moving HB 187 out of the committee. There was none. Ruffridge then said, “I guess, Mr. Barnes, your testimony on your own medical board appointment has resulted in the prior authorization bill having extra effort put in today.” Barnes exclaimed, “Wow!” Followed with, “Thank you! I have a big grin on my face right now. I didn’t expect that at all. Didn’t even know anything about it.” To which Ruffridge awkwardly replied, “Nor did I.” Sumner could be seen visibly laughing during the exchange.

This kind of action is highly irregular. These things tend to happen at the end of session when they are in a hurry to move bills. But it’s even crazier doing something like this when the chair of the committee is absent. And they were just getting started.

After a long at ease to get the HB 187 situation figured out, Ruffridge gaveled the meeting back in. After Ruffridge closed public testimony for Dr. Barnes, Sumner – visibly smiling – raised his hand and then motioned to move House Bill 366 out of the committee.

HB 366 is a bill from Representative Maxine Dibert (D – Fairbanks) relating to residential psychiatric treatment centers. It was introduced on February 20 and has never had a hearing. Despite that, HB 366 also moved out of the committee with no objection. This is wilder than HB 187 because the bill has never has a hearing and was not on the agenda. So, unlike HB 187, it does not qualify as a bill previously heard. Nonetheless, the committee moved out the bill without a hearing.

In addition to Sumner, Ruffridge, and Mina, Representatives CJ McCormick (D – Bethel) and Zack Fields (D – Anchorage), were also at the meeting. Mina and Fields are in the minority, while Sumner, Ruffridge, and McCormick are in the majority. I guess one could argue that the committee went full bipartisan by passing out both bills unanimously.

When asked his thoughts on what transpired in the committee, Mike Chenault, a former representative who served eight years as Speaker of the House, told the Landmine, “At times the Legislature can get confusing. Sometimes a lack of communication results in poor decisions being made on legislation that is not thoroughly vetted.” When asked if this kind of thing ever happened while he was speaker, Chenault said, “We never passed a bill out of committee that had not been heard or noticed.”

In another strange twist, both bills were referred to both the House Health & Social Services Committee and the House Labor & Commerce Committee. Sumner, who motioned to move out both bills, chairs the House Labor & Commerce Committee. My bet is both of these bills quickly move out of that committee. The only caveat is there’s a possibility that the action on HB 366 will be undone as the bill had never had a hearing and was not on the agenda.

Prax actually showed up to the meeting just as Ruffridge was adjourning. He could not have been happy once he discovered what happened while he was gone

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1 month ago

“Both political sides of the legislature are working in a bipartisan effort to progress each other’s bills? They must be CRAZY!”
-this news outlet apparently

1 month ago
Reply to  andy

Just imagine the liberal heads exploding if Chris Tuck ever passed an abortion bill out of committee without a prior hearing, as a vice chair filling in as meeting chair. Then maybe you could grasp some of what is crazy about this?

1 month ago
Reply to  Nunya

You’re comparing apples to fetuses