AKLEG Recap, Day 21: Sen. Egan to announce plans to retire

Senate Majority Leader Peter Micciche, R-Soldotna, fills in as Senate President for Sen. Pete Kelly on Feb 5., 2018. (Photo by Senate Majority Press)

Legislators continued with committee work on the 21st day of the legislative session, while one representative returned from a week absence and a senator announced that this will be his last session.

Just 69 days to go.

Juneau Sen. Egan to retire

Jumping the gun a little bit, KTUU has reported that Sen. Dennis Egan, D-Juneau, plans to announce his retirement from the Alaska Legislature on the radio today. The article doesn’t mention which show, but we’re told it will be on KINY radio with Pete Carran on the Action Line, which comes on around 10:35 a.m. Egan has served as Juneau’s senator since 2009, and told KTUU that his decision to retire comes out of health and not because of anything to do with the Legislature. He plans to complete his term in office, leaving it open for election this fall.

The 70-year-old Democrat has been, in KTUU’s words, “one of the Legislature’s most colorful members, and certainly its saltiest.” Egan has multiple sclerosis and has had increasing trouble with balance and dizziness, he told the TV station.

Lobbyist and election fees advance

The House Finance Committee advanced House Bill 91 on Monday. The bill would raise lobbyist fees and institute a first-ever filing fee for most candidates and groups to register. The change, sponsored by Rep. Sam Kito, is aimed to help the Alaska Public Offices Commission cover its budget after the Legislature handed down massive cuts in Fiscal Year 16 (a third of its funding).

It would institute a stepped, per-contract structure for lobbyists, replacing a flat $250 registration fee and institute a $100 registration fee for candidates and groups.

An amendment by Rep. Scott Kawasaki reworked the lobbying fees from the initial proposal as follows:

  • $150 for a contract with a value less than $10,000
  • $350 for a contract with a value of $10,000 to $24,999
  • $650 for a contract with a value of $25,000 to $44,999
  • $850 for a contract with a value of $45,000 or more

The fee wouldn’t apply to municipal candidates who’ve filed an exemption (meaning they’ll raise and spend less than a certain amount), judges seeking retention and candidates to be a delegate for a constitutional convention. The lone dissent about the legislation came from Rep. Tammie Wilson, R-North Pole, who was concerned the $100 filing fee for groups could pose a barrier to small volunteer-run political groups (like the ones she’s worked with to oppose local air quality regulations in the Fairbanks North Star Borough).

Last year, the Legislature increased the total amount that APOC can collect through fees but the agency didn’t raise that because it didn’t come along with any change to the fee structure (this is one example of budget sleight of hand).

Parks and Rec

The Legislature heard from the Division of Parks and Outdoor Recreation in two hearings on Monday. The division appears to be on the forefront of efforts to transfer over management of state facilities to private managers, something that ought to make the Senate Finance Committee happy. It turned over management of the Delta Junction-area parks to private concessions companies last year. Due to budget cuts, the Alaska Division of Parks and Outdoor Recreation stopped management of Delta five recreation sites–including the Big Delta State Historical Park–right before the July 4 weekend. Local user groups stepped up and took over management of the sites before private companies stepped in.

The state officials discussed other plans to continue working on the state budget and is considering instituting higher fees on premium campground sites and perhaps adding additional cabins to its system because cabins are a moneymaker that recoup their cost in a few years.

Environmental groups heard on spill fee bill

The House Resources Committee heard testimony on a bill that would increase the fees for oil and chemical spills in Alaska, bringing them up to line with 2018 dollars. The invited testimony almost totally came from environmental or other anti-spill groups, and the committee will hear testimony from the industry on Wednesday night. Amendments were set to be due before that Wednesday testimony, but that was changed when objections were raised by the Republican members. Also of note, Rep. Chris Birch countered one anti-spill group’s testimony by telling her that her goal of preventing the next Exxon Valdez spill has already been achieved.

“Your goal I could say has been achieved, it’s been another 29 years and we haven’t seen another tragedy like that,” he said.

Wilson returns to Juneau

Rep. Tammie Wilson was absent from the Legislature for the last week due to a health problem in the family. She returned to the House floor on Monday, where she explained that her brother, who’s a Desert Storm veteran, was able to undergo extensive health testing for his injuries. In the special order, Wilson said the health care system for veterans is particularly tricky to navigate and that her brother needed help from U.S. Sen. Dan Sullivan to figure out what was available. She urged any veteran or family of a veteran to contact legislators for help in the future.

Fansler bill transferred

Rep. Zach Fansler had five bills to his name when he announced that he would resign amid accusations that he assaulted a woman. One of those bills, House Bill 176, will continue on under Rep. Adam Wool. Wool requested the bill, which deals with payments for ground emergency medical transportation, be transferred to him during the Monday floor session.

Education early funding bill slated for Wednesday

As expected, Rep. Paul Seaton’s bill to early fund the education budget with a draw from the constitutional budget reserve was held over on Monday’s floor session. That sets it up to reach the floor on Wednesday. It’s the same day that the Legislature will meet in a joint session to hear the State of the Judiciary address, so the House could be in for an evening session.

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