The third week of the session is underway. Legislators are grappling with the latest allegations of unacceptable behavior by one of their colleagues with mixed success, the fight over the smoke-free workplaces bill is heating up and Ronda Rousey is apparently now part of the WWE.
Here’s a recap of what happened and what to look forward to this week.
Just 77 days (and 69 to Wrestlemania) to go.
Deferred maintenance dilemma
As part of continuing budget overviews, the Senate Finance Committee heard an update on backlog of deferred maintenance spending on Alaska infrastructure on Friday. Thanks to a skeleton capital budget, the total of deferred maintenance has grown to $1.87 billion (including $205.6 million for local school districts) and is trending upwards. It’s a conversation that’s been scaring a lot of local municipalities and the University of Alaska, which both are staring down hefty deferred maintenance backlogs that have been traditionally funded by the Legislature. Fairbanks North Star Borough Mayor Karl Kassel has taken the message public in a number of recent and upcoming meetings that essentially ask the public, “What should we cut?”
The Senate Finance Committee’s response was to ask the state about privatizing anything and everything it can, leasing back what’s needed. This prompted a lot of discussion on Twitter, with this point being made:
Because you’d get nothing for the asset with all the deferred maintenance needs and then have the improvements and additional costs built back into your rent. You don’t get made whole after ignoring basic upkeep.
— Andrew Halcro (@AndrewHalcro) January 26, 2018
After two weeks of Senate Finance Committee meetings, the Senate’s overall position on the budget is becoming more clear. In its opposition to all things taxes (though they’re OK with tapping the Alaska Permanent Fund), the Senate is continuing down the route of a cuts-first, right-sizing approach to government. If that’s the case, hopefully they’ll be able to do better than another round of unallocated cuts.
A police investigation into Rep. Zach Fansler for alleged assault became public over the weekend in a report published by the Juneau Empire. The report details Fansler’s alleged assault of the woman, which resulted in a ruptured eardrum. The House leadership has called for his resignation and Fansler’s staff has been transferred to the House Rules Committee, but Fansler is refusing to resign and says he’ll challenge the claims in court.
While we await potential charges and a police report, the Legislature will need to weigh whether or not it wants to eject Fansler through a two-thirds vote. In the meantime, it’s worth checking out the KYUK interview with Juneau Empire reporter James Brooks. Here’s a particularly important part about reporting on these kinds of things:
“I think the biggest thing for me is that reading through her text messages, I get a sense of what she was feeling. And you always expect someone to realize immediately after the fact that something serious has happened. I guess when you’re in a car accident you know, ‘Hey I’ve just been in a car accident.’ But she said that there tends to be a sense of downplaying. You want to say, ‘Oh it wasn’t that bad; it couldn’t have been as bad as I remember.’ And she concluded after thinking for a while that yes, it was serious, and that was why she went to the police; that was why she contacted me. Because she felt that it shouldn’t be hidden.”
Smoke-free workplace due in House Rules Committee
The most dramatic of early session drama is the battle between the backers of the smoke-free workplace bill, Senate Bill 63, and Rep. Gabrielle LeDoux. LeDoux has been blamed for sitting on previous versions of the legislation and has already registered stiff opposition to the bill, which is notable because she chairs the House Rules Committee that sets the floor vote calendar. That committee will be meeting tonight to discuss Senate Bill 63 in some capacity.
The sponsor of Senate Bill 63, Sen. Peter Micciche, talked about the bill during the Monday morning Senate press availability. He seemed to distance himself from the fight, saying whatever happens in the House will happen.
“If they want to send it to finance to slow things down so there’s not a spotlight on one individual, then we’ll take it from there,” he said.
New abortion bill
Sen. David Wilson (who’s reportedly been found guilty of retaliation for the handling of his own harassment allegations) introduced a bill targeting abortion providers last week. Senate Bill 162 would prohibit all Department of Health and Social Services grants from going to any abortion providers or groups that maintain any facilities where abortions are performed.
There’s already anti-abortion legislation on the books in Rep. Cathy TIlton’s House Bill 266 and Sen. Cathy Giessel’s Senate Bill 124. Those bills are similar and would effectively ban any late-term abortions, forcing physicians to deliver a fetus, if possible, so it could be put up for adoption.
With Democrats in charge of the House, and Rep. Ivy Spohnholz at the head of the Health and Social Services Committee, we don’t expect either legislation to get traction this year.
What we’re reading
Former ADN columnist, Dermot Cole is having a feud with the oil industry over what he calls a “secret tax benefit.” Read: Alaska oil tax amendment creates undisclosed bonus for big oil companies and The oil industry says I am ‘disingenuous’ in account of secret tax. Not True. via DermotCole.com.
Alaska-grown Portugal. The Man took home a Grammy on Sunday for best pop duo/group performance for “Feel It Still,” which was on Obama’s 2017 playlist. Read: Alaska-rooted band Portugal. The Man wins a Grammy for ‘Feel It Still’ via Anchorage Daily News.
What’s in store for Day 14
These take forever to write, and the day is already underway so check out the Akleg.gov schedule.