AKLEG Recap, Day 22: Bill to spare K-12 teachers from pink slips heads to the floor

The Alaska House chambers. (Photo by Mark Hogan/Flickr Creative Commons)

The 22nd day of the Alaska Legislature is in the books. Here’s what happened (not much) and what to look forward to today.

Just 68 days to go.

Education budget on the house floor

Rep. Paul Seaton’s bill to early fund key parts of K-12 education is due on the House floor today (probably in an evening session with the State of the Judiciary scheduled for 11 a.m.). The legislation would fund education with a draw from the constitutional budget reserve, which requires a three-quarter vote and the help of minority Republicans. Those minority Republicans have so far largely opposed the bill, arguing it complicates the budget discussions and is an early admission of defeat in passing a budget before the 90th legislative day.

Expect the legislation to pass, but likely fail the three-quarter vote on this go around. Minority Republicans won’t want to give up any leverage this early in the session, but could come on board when and if the bill returns from the Senate.

The bill has received rave reviews from school districts and municipalities that have been dealing with years of headaches caused by the Legislature’s predilection for passing budgets so late. Supporters argue it would spare teachers from the annual pink slip routine caused by the Legislature’s late budgeting (Read: Legislature could fund schools early, but some Republicans say not so fast for more). The bill covers just this year, while a bill in the Senate Finance Committee by Sen. Gary Stevens, R-Kodiak, would institute an early school budgeting process starting next year.

Patriot Day

Over in the Senate today, Sen. Kevin Meyer’s “Patriot Day” bill will be on the floor in its second reading. Judging by the speed of the single hearing Senate Bill 152 had, the Senate could almost take up and pass the bill while waiting for today’s joint session.

45 percent more hospitals

The Senate Labor and Commerce Committee heard Sen. David Wilson’s Senate Bill 62 that would largely repeal the certificate of need system for health care providers. The system basically requires groups that want to build new health care facilities to go through the Department of Health and Social Services to make sure it fits a need in the community and doesn’t duplicate services.

Most of the initial invited testimony came from conservative, libertarian-leaning think tanks like the Goldwater Institute. They argued that the legislation would allow greater freedom and innovation in the health care industry, which would push costs down. One testifier said that without the certificate of need program, Alaska would have 45 percent more hospitals (something Sen. Gary Stevens commented was an odd selling point for Alaska).

It wasn’t lost on Becky Hultberg, the head of the Alaska State Hospital and Nursing Home Association, that the testifiers weren’t from Alaska. She argued that most of the research done by the Outside think tanks doesn’t directly apply to a large, sparsely populated state like Alaska (like the 45 percent more hospitals). She also argued that libertarian free market principles don’t perfectly translate to health care, where you have hospitals that are required to provide service to everyone regardless of their ability to pay.

Still, there was Alaska-based testimony in support of the legislation. The group behind the Delta Junction-based Interior Alaska Medical Center said certificate of need system was overly burdensome on the group, which argued that it shouldn’t have to jump through hoops to open up a care center when the closest emergency facility is more than 100 miles away.

There was a fair amount of skepticism of the bill, but its promise of innovation and lower costs are likely to gain some traction with Senate Republicans that are looking for ways to cut state spending on health care.

House Finance hears public testimony on marijuana board

The House Finance Committee had a lengthy public testimony session on Tuesday on a series of bills to extend various boards including the marijuana control board. We missed the meeting, but like all things related to the Alcohol and Marijuana Control Office, the public testimony was, uh, “spicy.”

State of the Judiciary

(From earlier in the week): The State of the Judiciary is scheduled for 11 a.m. today. The annual address by Chief Justice Craig Stowers typically doesn’t get much headlines, but it’s always a worthwhile watch because it provides a window into a branch of government that seems to mostly have its act together. The court system has been dealing with all the problems that the Legislature and governor’s office have been grappling with–budget cuts, crime and drug abuse–but has been quietly making practical policy choices like cutting back on Friday hours and opening new court practices to handle drug abuse.

Capitol coverage returns to Fairbanks airwaves

The University of Alaska Fairbanks-based KUAC has been hit particularly hard by state budget cuts because it relies on both the public broadcasting dollars and the University of Alaska dollars. It’s caused all sorts of cutbacks for the station’s radio and television offerings, and many noticed that the Gavel Alaska was absent from KUAC’s offerings this year, but it looks like they’ve worked things out.

What we’re reading

Make Anchorage radio weird again! Read: This revived Anchorage station wants to ‘bring weird back to radio’ via Anchorage Daily News.

The notorious Ambler mining road is back in the news. Gov. Bill Walker is pushing to continue funding for the development and design of the road that would reach across the northern Interior to the Ambler mining district over the opposition of local communities along the way. Read: Walker re-funds Ambler Road Project to EIS process via Fairbanks Daily News-Miner.

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