Alaska Legislature

Alaska lawmakers prefile bills ranging from more Cook Inlet gas to studying psychedelic medicines

JUNEAU — Alaska legislators prefiled 43 bills Monday just over one week from the start of the next regular legislative session in Juneau.

The measures proposed by legislators range widely: From a bill reducing royalty rates to incentivize more natural gas production in Cook Inlet to another that would establish a task force to study how psychedelic medicines could address Alaska’s mental health crisis.

Here’s a rundown:

Cook Inlet gas

Alaskans on the Railbelt are facing a looming shortage of natural gas from Cook Inlet. Utilities are exploring ways to fill the gap, including importing liquified natural gas, which could see significant increases for what many Alaskans pay for heat and power.

Sutton Republican Rep. George Rauscher prefiled legislation to eliminate royalties paid by producers to encourage new gas production in Cook Inlet. Gov. Mike Dunleavy, a fellow Republican, previewed plans to introduce a similar bill in October — before a royalty-free lease sale drew a lackluster response from the industry in December.

“The idea behind it is to make a different pathway to secure gas in the Railbelt, and hopefully we can entice the producers out there,” Rauscher said.

Anchorage Republican Sen. Cathy Giessel, co-chair of the Senate Resources Committee, has been skeptical of the difference royalty relief would make in Cook Inlet. She questioned how effective state tax credits had been when they were paid to producers during previous threats of a natural gas shortage.


“I don’t see what the governor is offering as a game changer,” Giessel said last week.

A long-sought gas pipeline has been touted by Dunleavy as a way to potentially address the Railbelt’s energy woes. Rep. Jesse Sumner, R-Wasilla, has a bill that would set aside Permanent Fund earnings to pay for up to 25% state ownership in a gas pipeline.

Under Sumner’s bill, the Permanent Fund dividend would be annually set to $1,000 per person until the state ownership threshold is met. The dividend would then increase to a 50-50 formula model, which would have paid roughly $2,700 per eligible Alaskan in 2023.

Education bills

School funding is set to be a major topic of discussion this legislative session, with school districts reporting that years of flat funding had increased the chances of bigger class sizes and fewer enrichment programs, among other impacts.

Lawmakers are set to debate boosting the state’s per-student funding formula after legislation stalled last year to make a permanent increase. Two education bills have so far been prefiled ahead of the 2024 regular legislative session.

Currently, the state is limited to using eight years of out-of-state teaching experience as a substitute for in-state experience when establishing salary scales. Rep. Rebecca Himschoot, a former teacher and non-affiliated legislator from Sitka, has a bill that would eliminate those restrictions.

She said it could “make it easier for districts to hire people with more experience” and incentivize more of those teachers to come to Alaska. The idea came from the governor’s study into improving teacher retention and recruitment, Himschoot said.

Rep. Will Stapp, R-Fairbanks, introduced a bill that would create a fund to address the University of Alaska’s deferred maintenance backlog — estimated at over $1.4 billion. Stapp’s bill would follow the university’s own strategy, which would set aside $35 million each year to maintain older buildings.

Psychedelic medicines

Sen. Forrest Dunbar, D-Anchorage, prefiled legislation to study how psychedelic medicines could be used to address Alaska’s mental health crisis.

Oregon became the first U.S. state to legalize psilocybin or “magic mushrooms” for therapeutic use in 2020; the state’s first therapy program opened in January to treat people with depression and PTSD. Colorado voters approved a similar ballot measure in 2022, and the state is set to launch programs in 2025.

Unlike Colorado and Oregon, Dunbar said the psychedelic drugs to be studied in Alaska would need to first be approved by the FDA. The bill does not define the types of psychedelic drugs for the task force to research, but Dunbar said that could include MDMA and psilocybin, which is found in psychedelic mushrooms.

He said there have been encouraging clinical trials for how psychedelic medicines can be used to treat addiction and PTSD, particularly among law enforcement officers and veterans. Rep. Jenny Armstrong, D-Anchorage, introduced a similar bill in the House, which would also direct the new task force to examine to how to legalize and regulate the drugs.

No state attorneys for ethics complaints

The Alaska Department of Law announced in August that it was proposing rules that would allow the state to represent a governor, lieutenant governor or attorney general in complaints against them alleging ethics violations. Those officeholders could decline department representation and hire their own attorneys if they wished, under the rules that went in effect Nov. 11.

Sen. Matt Claman, D-Anchorage, filed a bill that would prohibit the state from representing senior executive branch officials in ethics complaints, and restore what he said was “the status quo for decades.”

Claman said those officeholders had been required to hire their own attorneys to represent them in ethics complaints, but that they could be reimbursed by the state if they were exonerated. Rep. Andy Josephson, D-Anchorage, introduced a similar bill in the Alaska House.

A second set of prefiled bills is set to be released Friday. The 33rd Alaska Legislature will convene its second legislative session Jan. 16.

Sean Maguire

Sean Maguire is a politics and general assignment reporter for the Anchorage Daily News based in Juneau. He previously reported from Juneau for Alaska's News Source. Contact him at