House District 36 Rep. Dan Ortiz started his political career during an interesting time in Alaska. In addition to massive budget cuts due to reduced oil tax revenue, the state also is figuring out how to deal with legal marijuana, and whether to get rid of Daylight Saving Time.
Marijuana legalization is new territory for the Last Frontier, and Alaska’s Legislature is working its way through that process.
Ortiz, whose district includes Ketchikan, Wrangell, Metlakatla, Hyder and parts of Prince of Wales Island, said that through his position on the House Community and Regional Affairs Committee, said he’s been looking into regulations related to local control, as well as more specific definitions of public spaces where marijuana use will not be allowed.
“Somebody’s got to wade into these uncharted waters and it’s been left to this Legislature to go down that path,” he said. “I’ve certainly found it quite interesting and frustrating. The initiative supporters were very clear in their goal of having marijuana treated as alcohol is treated in this state, but they’re very different substances. And you can’t entirely treat them the same.”
Ortiz says that Alaska lawmakers are looking for some guidance from Washington and Colorado, both of which already have gone through this process. He adds that whatever happens this session with marijuana will be subject to review later.
“The end result of this particular session will be more or less an experimentation, and see where it leads us, and then maybe come back again in the next session and say, ‘OK, what didn’t work out so well?’” he said. “And maybe we can make some corrections to some things that we thought were going to do well, but in the end maybe find out that they don’t work out so well. We’ll see.”
Daylight Saving Time has long been a point of angst in Alaska. Much of the state has an abundance of daylight during the summer months, anyway.
A bill moving through the Legislature this session seeks to repeal Daylight Saving Time for the 49th state. That bill has passed the Senate and now moves on to the House.
A recent proposal from the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Anna MacKinnon of Eagle River, also would switch Alaska to Pacific Time, which is an hour earlier.
Ortiz said that compromise has potential.
“That might sell. Who knows? But I do think it’s not a positive thing for business, and not a positive thing for a lot of other elements of our community, but also for the whole state, to put us five hours behind East Coast time,” he said.
The proposed implementation date for the time change is January 2017. If the bill makes it all the way through the Legislature and is signed by the governor, the switch still would have to be approved by the federal Department of Transportation.
Southeast Alaska could request an exemption.
Ortiz recently introduced a bill that would expand criminal charges for child abuse. Specifically, it would make it a crime to restrain a child unnecessarily.
He said the bill was his response to a case in Ketchikan where a 5-year-old girl was allegedly bound with tape and kept in a makeshift cage by her grandparents.
Prosecutors didn’t charge the grandparents for restraining the girl, because there are no criminal statutes that applied to the case.
“I thought, well, OK, if there wasn’t any regulations on board to prevent something like that from happening, maybe we better put them in there,” he said. “I think that one will get some support.”
The bill also provides a path for charging people with mental abuse, in situations where abuse has taken place but there’s no evidence of physical harm. House Bill 129 is still in the introduction phase. It has been referred to the Health and Social Services Committee.
The Legislature is a little more than halfway through its 90-day session, which is scheduled to end April 19.
We recently aired an interview with Ortiz that focused on the budget issues only. Here’s a link to that story: https://www.krbd.org/?p=24840