The Alaska Legislature got to work on Wednesday, holding two committee meetings and mandatory sexual harassment training. Here’s what happened and what to watch for.
Just 88 days (plus an unknowable amount of extra time) to go.
Senate Finance’s new budget concerns
The Senate Finance Committee met with Office of Management and Budget Director Pat Pitney on Wednesday morning in one of the more eventful start-of-session budget overviews in recent memory.
The Senate majority has had enough with big supplemental budgets, with Senate Majority Leader Peter Micciche likening the process to a “blank check.” What’s got them particularly upset this year is a bigger-than-expected request relating to bigger-than-expected Medicaid enrollment in 2017. It’ll cost the state about $100 million, which will negate a large portion of the cuts made last year.
It seems like it’ll give fuel to the anti-Medicaid expansion crowd, but Pitney pointed out that a vast majority of the growth in the 2017 Medicaid population was due to increases in children and single-parent families. Sen. Click Bishop, a moderate Fairbanks Republican, suggested that the uptick might have something to do with the 11,000 jobs the state’s lost in the recession. Medicaid is supposed to be a social safety net, right?
Still, it left Micciche wondering if there’s a point where the state should start considering a cap of some sort on Medicaid. With Trump in the White House, there could be cover for implementing some sort of cap or work requirements, but probably not as long as Walker and Democrats have a say about it.
Changes could still be in store for the state’s public health care programs. Pitney said the state would have to reconsider who it covers if Congress fails to reauthorize the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) or tinkers with the federal reimbursement rate for Medicaid expansion.
“It’s uncertain, but the news today is better than the news a week ago,” Pitney said about the future of CHIP.
Senate Education considers new budgeting
The Senate Education Committee held a hearing on Sen. Gary Stevens’ Senate Bill 131, which would set up a separate budget for education that, by law, would need to be to the governor’s desk by April 1.
The idea is that it would give municipalities more time to plan for the budget as they have their own tight deadlines that have been increasingly encroached upon by the state’s glacial budgeting. The bill got high marks from the local school officials that testified at the meeting. They said it would solve a lot of headaches at the local level, allowing them to stop spending a few months every year wondering just how many teachers, if any, they’ll need to lay off. If it’s passed this year, it would go into effect for the 2019 session.
Sexual harassment training
Legislators attended the newly mandatory sexual harassment training Wednesday afternoon, clearing the schedule of all other meetings. As expected, Rep. Tammie Wilson didn’t attend as part of her ongoing feud with Rules Chair Rep. Gabrielle LeDoux and the House leadership. Wilson, who’s demanding LeDoux’s resignation and a third-party investigation, could lose her staff for the move, but no official decision has been made yet, according to KTVA.
— Ivy Spohnholz (@IvySpohnholz) January 18, 2018
What we’re reading
- Don’t be afraid to speak up, leave the pre-made script at home and be clear about your position. Those are just some of the tips that staffers have for members of the public who’re considering testifying this session. Read: Staffers suggest tips for good public testimony via Juneau Empire.
- Gov. Bill Walker wants to institute tougher penalties for drug traffickers in Alaska. He’ll need the Legislature’s approval to create a new Class A felony charge with a maximum sentence of 20 years, but there’s worry such a proposal could get “Christmas tree’d.” Read: Alaska Gov. Walker’s administration wants a new felony charge for drug dealers via Anchorage Daily News.
- Juneau’s Rep. Sam Kito and Sen. Dennis Egan might not run for reelection. Egan’s citing health problems, and Kito’s citing legislative compensation problems. Read: Two of Juneau’s three lawmakers may not run for re-election via Juneau Empire.
- In what could be a preview of state legislative races in 2018, Democrats flipped a rural state Senate seat that was long-held by Republicans in a special election Tuesday night. Democrat Patty Schachtner won the seat by nine points, having run a campaign that focused the opioid crisis, access to health care and jobs. Read: The Daily 202: Unexpected defeat in rural Wisconsin special election sets off alarm bells for Republicans via The Washington Post.
9 a.m. Senate Finance—Leg. Finance Director David Teal’s FY19 budget overview
10 a.m. House Fisheries—HB 199 by Louise Stutes, fish/wildlife habitat protection
11 a.m. Senate floor session
1:30 p.m. House Finance—OMB Director Pat Pitney’s FY19 budget overview
Senate Labor & Commerce—How Can We Boost Alaska’s Economy?
3:30 p.m. Joint working group on oil and gas—Scoping Meeting Schedule for 2018
6:50 p.m. House floor session
7:00 p.m. Governor Walker’s state-of-the-state address