AKLEG Recap, Week 14: Legislature plods along while end-of-session deals are worked out

(Photo by Matt Buxton)

The Alaska Legislature plodded along during its 14th week with little progress as we all hope that some sort of deal is coming together behind the scenes. Here’s what happened and what to look forward to.

Just 17 days left in this 121-day session.

Medicaid funding unresolved

Remember when the Legislature passed its fast-track supplemental budget that included just half of what the state needed to keep its Medicaid program running for the rest of the fiscal year? Funding was estimated to keep the program running and providers paid through the 121-day session (convenient, huh?). Well that deadline is fast approaching and, as KTOO reported, there’s still no deal in place to fund it.

The end result for the doctors and hospitals that provide services to Medicaid recipients is that their payments would be delayed into the next fiscal year. They’ll still get paid–that’s the law–but just not right away.

The problem’s also compounded by the fact the Senate has already cut an additional $70 million out of the upcoming year’s Medicaid budget, which is a problem because most of the program’s spending is dictated by state and federal law. Just like this year, the program’s expenses can’t be cut just by legislators under funding the program.

Sen. Anna MacKinnon, R-Eagle River, co-chairs the Senate Finance Committee and has been critical of the state’s additional Medicaid funding requests (even though the Legislature’s finance director has pointed out that it’s largely a result of the Legislature’s intentional decision to under fund Medicaid last year). She told KTOO that additional work has to be done within the departments to control costs.

“The Department needs to figure out that we have a budget crisis going on, and they need to get their house in order,” she told KTOO.

Senate Bill 26

The conference committee on Senate Bil 26, the permanent fund restructuring bill, was scheduled for a Saturday meeting, hinting that the end-of-session plans could take another big step forward. That wasn’t meant to be, though, and the meeting was cancelled after Sen. Anna MacKinnon said not every member of the committee had a chance to see the deal. She said a meeting might be held on Monday, but that meeting has since been cancelled.

Several full-PFD House Republicans were in the audience for the meeting, raising the specter of a potential referendum on whatever the Legislature produces on a permanent fund restructure.

House focuses on Senate bills

The House met in a Saturday floor session to play catch up a bit after a week that saw a whole day get scuttled. The floor session featured all Senate legislation, which was a change of pace from multiple days last week where the House floor calendar only included House bills.

Among the legislation passed by the House was Sen. Berta Gardner’s Senate Bill 134, which allows the victim of rape to more easily terminate the parental rights of a rapist, which despite some odd questioning in committee last week passed the House 36-0. The House also passed Gardner’s Senate Bill 208 that names March as Sobriety Awareness Month.

The calendar for today’s House floor session has five Senate bills, including one that makes it financially easier for large districts to consolidate schools.

Parish

Last week, Rep. Justin Parish announced that he would not be running for re-election this year and just hours later a sexual harassment complaint he faced was revealed. It seemed initially after the announcement that Parish’s fate for the rest of the legislative session could be in peril, but talk around that has seemed to have subsided for the time being.

End-of-session

With the emergence of a potential deal on Senate Bill 26 there was talk of a speedy end to the legislative session, but it appears that legislators could be considering additional action with the newfound–though limited–fiscal stability created by restructuring the permanent fund.

There’s been rumblings that a general obligation bond package could be in the works that would not only be tied to the passage of Senate Bill 26, but also the passage of the oil tax credit bonding bill that House Democrats have been resistant to support. It still seems like a plan that’s just in the early stages of coming together and could fizzle out.

New legislation

The House Transportation Committee introduced a new bill last week in House Bill 412, which proposes to set up a public corporation that will handle the operation and management of the Alaska Marine Highway. It’s a proposal that’s long been in the works, reports CoastAlaska News, with the support of Southeast Conference and agreement by the Department of Public Transportation.

The bill, according to CoastAlaska News, isn’t expected to get traction towards passage this year, but the introduction would allow the Legislature to hold field hearings on the proposal during the interim.

Is the smoke-free workplaces bill, Senate Bill 63, scheduled for the House floor?

No.

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