As the end of Legislative session approaches, lawmakers expressed differing views on whether the job will get done, and get done right, in time.
Sen. Bert Stedman, the co-chair of the Senate Finance Committee, told reporters Thursday morning that he was confident that the Legislature can get a budget to Gov. Mike Dunleavy and a robust package of crime bills done, all by the 121st day of session on May 15.
The constitutional limit for sessions is 121 days, but the governor or Legislature can call a special session of up to 30 days. Thursday was the 101st day of session.
Stedman, R-Sitka, said the budget will likely hit the Senate floor sometime next week. He said many aspects of the Senate’s current proposal are similar to the House proposal that rejected many of Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s proposed cuts.
“My conversations with him are pretty direct, frankly,” Stedman said of talking with Dunleavy. “I expressed to him that there’s no way we can deliver the budget reductions in one year. It can’t be done. We need legislative action, the agencies need time to prepare themselves, there’s a litany of things. We’re delivering what we can deliver.”
Others aren’t so happy with the pace of the Legislature’s progress.
At a press conference Thursday morning, House Minority Leader Lance Pruitt lamented that crime legislation still hasn’t been passed. Even more frustrating, Pruitt said, is that the House Majority proposed a criminal justice bill that he called too soft, and that the bill appears to be moving quickly (it was introduced Wednesday and the House Judiciary Committee met about it Thursday).
Rep. Matt Claman, D-Anchorage, introduced House Bill 145 on Wednesday, which makes a variety of changes to criminal justice laws in the state. It increases sentencing ranges for sex and drug offenders and seeks to close loopholes in sex offense and sex offender registration loopholes.
In Pruitt’s eyes, though, it doesn’t go far enough. He said that if this bill — instead of Dunleavy’s stricter proposed bills — is passed by the Legislature, he would encourage the governor to veto it and call a special session to take a more serious look at crime.
“We shouldn’t have to be in a special session to deal with this,” Pruitt said. “We should have talked about this a long time ago. That’s part of where, I hope the public is as frustrated as I am.”
The governor’s crime bills are moving, but are going slowly. The Senate Finance Committee heard Senate Bill 32 on Thursday afternoon, which ramps up penalties for drug offenses.
Senate President Cathy Giessel, R-Anchorage, told reporters Thursday morning that she still believes legislators are dedicated to passing a complete, effective crime package. Stedman was also confident that crime bills will be finished by the end of the 121st day.
“Correcting the crime problem has been the No. 1 goal for the Senate this session,” Giessel said. “We are laser-focused on it. Clearly the budget is ahead of it in priority, but right behind it is the crime bill. Something will get passed this session. We are confident of that.”
• Contact reporter Alex McCarthy at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @akmccarthy.