Senator Bill Wielechowski (D – Anchorage) made a bold move today during a senate floor session. He motioned for the senate to vote to move his bill, Senate Joint Resolution (SJR) 1, out of the Senate Judiciary Committee. The bill, which would enshrine the permanent fund dividend in the Alaska Constitution, has yet to have a hearing in the Senate Judiciary Committee. It has been in the committee since March of last year. Senator John Coghill (R – North Pole) is the chair of Senate Judiciary.
Wielechowski took advantage of a rarely used procedural rule that allows a member to call for a vote of the body to move a bill out of a committee. When he called for the vote, Senate President Pete Kelly (R – Fairbanks) seemed to be caught off guard and took an immediate “at ease.” He appeared to consult the Senate Secretary, who acts as the senate parliamentarian. The rules do not allow this type of motion to be tabled, likely what the parliamentarian told Kelly.
Kelly then told Wielechowski that he was not permitted to talk about the merits of the bill, only why it should be moved out of committee. After Wielechowski spoke, Kelly again called an “at ease” and then Senate Rules Chair Kevin Meyer (R – Anchorage) and Senate Majority Leader Peter Micciche (R – Soldotna) were seen moving around the senate floor and talking to staffers. I don’t think anyone in the majority wanted to vote on this motion.
The senate came back to order and the vote was taken, failing 14-6.
The vote is interesting for a few reasons. First, Senator Shelly Hughes (R – Palmer) was the only Republican to vote yes. Why might she have done that? The answer is likely because she is no longer a member of the Senate Majority. The Senate Majority caucus require members to vote for the budget and also vote with the presiding officer for procedural votes. This vote was a procedural vote. Ironically, Hughes is no longer in the majority because she voted against the budget last year. So now she is not constrained in how she votes.
The other interesting part is this is the first major vote of newly confirmed Senator Mike Shower (R – Wasilla). Several members of the majority were seen talking to Shower during the “at ease.” I’m sure they were giving the Colonel his orders on how to vote. Which he followed. The irony there is he replaced Mike Dunleavy, who resigned to focus on his campaign for governor. Dunleavy was also kicked out of the caucus for voting against the budget last year. He is also strongly aligned with Wielechowski on the permanent fund dividend. I wonder how Shower’s constituent feel about this vote?
Wielechowski has continually introduced this bill since 2013. He has also tried in the past to force a floor vote to restore the PFD, but the rules allow for a tricky maneuver to prevent that. If someone motions to table a bill, the motion to table is not debatable and then a vote to table must happen. In the past, his bill has always been tabled, or indefinitely delayed, by the majority. This makes it difficult for the public to see exactly what is and is not being voted on.
This move today was different because you can’t table a motion to move a bill out of committee. And such, this motion was debatable. Even though his motion failed, it looks like Wielechowski is having the last laugh on this one.