The 50th day of the Alaska legislative session saw the first bill signing, a continued slog through budget amendments and the scratch of iconic musher DeeDee Jonrowe. Here’s what happened and what to look forward to.
Just 40 days left in the regular session.
Are they not listening?
Perhaps taking cues from the newly improved video production of the House Majority Coalition, the House Republicans are out with their own video about the budget.
It also comes amid skepticism about just how serious Republicans are about the budget process. Alaska columnist Dermot Cole called the hearing “political theater” in a post outlining just why the dozens of amendments offered by Rep. Tammie Wilson, R-North Pole, are a waste of everyone’s time. He argues they’re based on “phony” budget statistics.
Multiple times during operating budget amendments yesterday, legislators asked Rep. Tammie Wilson if she knew the impact her amendments would have on the daily operation of the budget. She couldn’t say because she didn’t ask.
Rep. Les Gara, D-Anchorage, pounced on admission to point out that legislators need to do their homework when making the budget. Not just swing blindly with cuts.
“We’re not just appropriators, we’re policymakers. We’re both. You can’t be one without being the other. If you just say here’s a number and don’t know what that number does, anybody can do that,” he said. “On the last two amendments, we’ve been specifically been told that the maker doesn’t know what the amendment would do, hasn’t spoken to the department, hasn’t figured out what the impacts will be and here’s a number in a department that has been cut by 35 percent since 2015.”
Amendments continue this afternoon.
Testimony favored the university
Oh, and by the way budget testimony from listening to or seeing other accounts has largely been supportive of the action the House has taken so far on the budget. Perhaps it’s like Sen. Shelley Hughes suggests and all the real, hardworking Alaskans were at work or taking care of their families, but it hasn’t sounded like there’s been a particularly big outcry during testimony, either phoned or emailed in, that has called for another round of budget cuts.
Either way, the top priority according to Rep. Paul Seaton, R-Homer, has been in support of the increases to the University of Alaska’s budget. The House has proposed increasing university funding by $19 million.
No big fans of Walker’s oil tax credit bill
We’re past halfway through the session, and no one is making much progress on Gov. Bill Walker’s proposal to borrow to pay off the state’s oil tax credit bills. When asked about it during Tuesday’s House Majority Coalition press conference, Rep. Geran Tarr said the House Resources Committee would eventually take it up, but didn’t seem to be in any particular hurry.
The whole issue, though, is complicated by the House’s new reading of the oil tax law, and just how the state should calculate the statutory payments of some credits each year. The House has decided on a new reading of the law in its budget to the alarm of the administration and others. When asked about it, Seaton defended the action.
“People need to read the statute,” Seaton said.
A bill signing
Gov. Bill Walker signed House Bill 186 into law yesterday. This is the legislation by Rep. Dave Talerico that makes it easier for grocery stores and restaurants to donate excess food by lifting liability rules on them. The bill passed both chambers unanimously.
Today I signed HB 186, which was sponsored by Rep Talerico and Sen Wilson championed the effort in the senate. Many businesses like hotels, restaurants and stores want to donate excess food but they don’t because of liability concerns, this bill removes that liability concern pic.twitter.com/c0i3YDNcDM
— Governor Bill Walker (@AkGovBillWalker) March 7, 2018
Abortion bill hearing
The Senate Judiciary Committee will be holding the first of two hearings on Sen. Cathy Giessel’s Senate Bill 124 this afternoon at 1:30 p.m. The bill would require doctors performing abortions to take into account the viability of the fetus and if the doctor believes the fetus could be viable outside the womb would be required to deliver the baby so it could be put up for adoption. The bill was panned by both anti-abortion and pro-abortion testifiers during its one and only hearing in the Senate Health and Social Services Committee hearing. Giessel, at Monday’s Senate Majority press conference, said that meant “I guess I hit a middle ground.”
Rep. Geran Tarr’s House Bill 326 gets a hearing in the House Labor and Commerce Committee. The legislation would allow accredited naturopaths to prescribe non-controlled substances and do minor surgeries. Similar proposals have actually passed the Senate but got snagged up in the House out of concerns raised by the medical industry. We’ve been told that some of those snags in the House have since left, so there’s hope that naturopaths could get a bump this year.
What we’re reading
- Iconic musher DeeDee Jonrowe scratched from the Iditarod yesterday amid concerns for her health. Reporter Tegan Hanlon had this bittersweet quote from Jonrowe’s husband: “She was more concerned about whether or not I would be disappointed,” Mike Jonrowe said in a phone interview Tuesday. “It was a silly thing to say because I’m never disappointed in her. I’m very proud of her.” With the larger-than-life status we give to Alaska’s top mushers, it’s easy to forget that they’re real, sometimes fragile people like the rest of us. Read: Her last great race? Why Iditarod icon DeeDee Jonrowe is going home via Anchorage Daily News.
- Speaking about the Iditarod, there’s another crazy scandal unfolding based on a conversation that occurred just 30 minutes before the thousand-mile race began. Read: Musher Wade Marrs accuses Iditarod drug-testing director of threat, intimidation via Anchorage Daily News.
- They might not be operating as many shipyards in Alaska anymore, but Vigor Alaska found a way to reduce turnover by nearly half at its Ketchikan shipyard after introducing its burly–and not-so-burly–workers to “soft skills” like meditation and other interpersonal skills not all that common in an industry dominated by toxic masculinity. Read: The Alaska shipyard where the ‘manliest men’ meditate each morning via The Guardian.