The 42nd day of the session is behind us. The Senate is finally whole and the House is pressing ahead with its budget.
Here’s what happened and what to look forward to.
Just 48 days to go.
Shower sworn in
The Senate welcomed its newest member on Monday, Sen. Mike Shower. Shower takes over the seat vacated by Sen. Mike Dunleavy, who quit to pursue the Republican nomination for governor. Shower’s swearing in on Monday brings an end to a lengthy and messy appointment process that took nearly half of the legislative session. The Senate is finally whole again.
Sullivan’s legislative address
U.S. Sen. Dan Sullivan was in front of the Alaska Legislature on Monday to give his annual address. He certainly got more applause (albeit often more divided) than U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski did earlier in the week. Sullivan distanced himself some from the bombastic, often distracting conduct of President Donald Trump in order to focus on the progress he’s seen under the administration (giving special shout outs to Alaskans Tara Sweeney and Joe Balash, who hold key positions in the Interior Department).
“Now, I disagree with a number of statements and tweets made by President Trump,” he said, “but in terms of a federal government that is finally working to help us grow our economy, we are making significant progress.”
Much of the speech focused on energy development and the strategic military importance of Alaska.
The House Finance Committee took up the budget recommendations from the House Finance subcommittees on Monday afternoon. The committee approved the $19 million increase to the University of Alaska budget on an 8-3 vote with Republican Rep. Steve Thompson crossing over to join the House Majority Coalition members on the vote.
The summaries of the budget closeouts were included in yesterday’s recap, but somehow I also left out the report on the Department of Health and Social Services. That budget includes $110,000 of UGF and $47,000 of federal funds for a security officer to respond to threats targeting the Office of Children’s Services. The Fairbanks and Kenai OCS offices would also get part-time security guards at a total cost of $129,000 UGF and $72,000 federal funds. There’s a $1.9 million three-year grant for hospital-based mental health care and $4 million in a split of UGF and federal funds to address the public assistance backlog over the next three years.
Gov. Bill Walker has ordered flags to be lowered today in honor of the late former House Speaker Joe Hayes, who passed away earlier this month. Hayes had a lasting impact on Alaska politics, including giving Midnight Sun publisher Jim Lottsfeldt his first “real” job.
“Joe Hayes was a gentleman among gentlemen: he always sought out the good and believed in compromise,” Walker said in the announcement. “This belief in compromise led to the formation of a coalition majority in the Alaska State House, which allowed legislators from across the aisle to work together for the benefit of all Alaskans. Donna, Byron, Toni and I extend our sincerest condolences to his family, friends, and community.”
Retired teachers teaching
The Senate Education Committee heard public testimony on Sen. Peter Micciche’s Senate Bill 185, which would allow school districts to hire retired teachers on a limited basis. The bill would allow retired teachers to be hired for six months if they’re under the age of 62 or 60 days if they’re over 62.
Juneau School District Superintendent Dr. Mark Miller was particularly excited about the bill, bringing out a quote from one of Gotham’s greatest villains.
“Riddle me this, Batman,” he said, explaining that the current situation would bar him from returning to the schools to teach if he were to retire, but he would be allowed to head over Home Depot and be a greeter. “To me, this is not just about deepening a talent pool. It’s about resources. Alaska’s greatest resource is not oil or natural gas or fish or even the permanent fund, it’s Alaskans. In tough times, our most important job is to leverage our resources to the maximum good of the state and I believe this bill does that.”
Confidential voter information bill to be heard
Sen. Anna MacKinnon’s Senate Bill 192 has a hearing in the Senate State Affairs Committee this afternoon. The bill would allow people to keep their addresses confidential on the voter record. The change is intended to protect vulnerable people, such as victims of domestic violence. The bill’s sponsor statement explains that the information, which is currently available to the public for $20, is “In some instances, this information is being used to track individuals and placing them in unsafe situations.” The bill would also raise the price for the voter list to $1,000.
Plastic bag ban moves on
The House Community and Regional Affairs Committee advanced the plastic bag tax bill from committee on Friday, but not before adding an exemption for smaller communities. The communities that would be exempted from the law would have fewer than 5,500 people and retailers that make less than $250,000 in annual gross revenue. The bill is now in the House Labor and Commerce Committee.
What we’re reading
City of Fairbanks Mayor Jim Matherly was pushing a pretty dramatic rewrite of how marijuana businesses are treated and regulated in the city limits. The proposal would cap the number of retailers and extend buffer zones. It was met with stiff opposition at the city council on Monday night and has been postponed. Read: Fairbanks marijuana ordinance postponed via Fairbanks Daily News-Miner.