Medicaid bills in first batch of early filed legislation

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JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) — Bills related to Medicaid and the governor's power to accept additional federal money for a budget item are included in the first batch of measures filed ahead of the upcoming legislative session.

They follow Gov. Bill Walker's actions last year to expand Medicaid to provide health care coverage to more lower-income Alaskans after legislators tabled the issue for further review.

Walker followed a process in state law by which a governor can go through the Legislative Budget and Audit Committee when seeking to spend more in federal or other funds than allocated by lawmakers for a budget item. Even if the panel disagrees, a governor can proceed.

Legislation proposed by Rep. Mike Hawker, R-Anchorage, would provide a way for lawmakers to restrict that ability with budget language. In a written sponsor statement, Hawker says the bill, HB 222, would give substance to legislative intent language in budget bills and codify a process for the Legislature to expressly prohibit the governor from accepting and spending additional federal money or program receipts on an existing budget item.

Hawker, who chairs the Legislative Budget and Audit Committee, said last summer that he considers increasing access to health care one of the state's most pressing issues, but he doesn't want the state to create "an inappropriate downside risk for our budget."

He said then that it wasn't too late to put parameters around expansion to help protect the state budget, and another bill he proposed, HB 219, is geared toward that end.

It sets out four conditions, any one of which could trigger the end of expansion. Those are a reduction in the expected federal match rate; enrollment exceeding administration projections by at least 10 percent; a failure to achieve at least 90 percent of cumulative net general fund savings projected by the administration; and the state failing to possess federal certification for its Medicaid provider payment system, according to a sponsor statement. It lays out a timeline for termination if it's triggered.

The state health department expects to apply for certification soon.

Another measure released Friday, HB 227, from Rep. Paul Seaton, R-Homer, is aimed at reforms to the Medicaid program.

Other bills include:

— A proposal from Rep. Sam Kito III, D-Juneau, to repeal the 90-day legislative session. The constitution allows for regular legislative sessions of up to 121 days, with a possibility to extend up to 10 days.

— Proposals from Sen. Peter Micciche, R-Soldotna, and Rep. Dave Talerico, R-Healy, that state that clergy would not be subject to criminal or civil liability for refusing to solemnize a marriage. The bills come after same-sex marriage became legal nationwide.

Micciche said that across the country, anti-discrimination laws are increasingly being used against the clergy. He said some clergy members may feel a particular marriage compromises the doctrine upon which they have taken an oath.

— A proposal from Rep. Bob Lynn, R-Anchorage, would prohibit marriages at state correctional facilities and disallow conjugal visits.

The new legislative session begins Jan. 19. Bills that were still alive during the last legislative session also remain in play.

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