AKLEG Recap, Day 10: House Democrats confirm Kotzebue Rep. John Lincoln

Rep. John Lincoln (Photo by NANA Regional Corp.)

After the busiest day yet of the 2018 legislative season, the House has finally been made whole. Here’s what happened on day 10 and what to look forward to.

Just 80 days (enough time for another legislative seat to become vacant, be filled by appointment, become vacant again and be filled by a second appointment) to go.

The House is whole

Say hello to Rep. John Lincoln, D-Kotzebue. After a jam-packed day of meetings, House Democrats were finally able to meet in the early evening to confirm NANA Regional Corporation vice president John Lincoln to the vacant House District 40 seat. The process wasn’t without its controversy, but it brings the House back to 40 members (at least for now, there’s still a pending Senate vacancy).

House majority leadership released statements praising Lincoln’s appointment, with the following from House Finance co-chair Rep. Neal Foster, D-Nome:

“It was imperative that we fill the vacancy as soon as possible to get the appointment in place and House District 40 the representation it properly deserves,” he said. “I would also like to thank the Governor for his commitment to finding the best possible representation for the people of House District 40. I am confident that we have done so.”

Legislature expands scope of sexual harassment panel

The Legislative Council’s subcommittee on sexual and other workplace harassment met during the crowded lunch hour (there were four other meetings going on at the same time). They released a draft sexual harassment policy that’s based on Oregon’s policy, but also decided to expand the scope of their work. They appointed  Rep. Matt Claman and Sen. Anna MacKinnon as vice chairs to the committee in order to better wrangle legislators on the issue that could include civility as another way to address workplace harassment. Legislative Affairs human resources manager Skiff Lobaugh will remain as the panel’s chair. The panel didn’t do much to explain the additional work it’ll be doing, but the committee will be back next week.

Also at the meeting, Rep. Charisse Millett registered her plans to request third-party assistance to review the committee’s proposal as well as review previous handling of cases to see what could be done better. It’s essentially the same request as Rep. Tammie Wilson–who’s boycotted sexual harassment training in protest of the House majority’s handling of Dean Westlake–but devoid of the implicit accusation of wrongdoing. Put through Millett, the request for a third-party investigation sounded downright reasonable.

OCS progress

Speaking of Rep. Tammie Wilson, the Office of Children’s Services (the agency Wilson accused of “legal kidnapping”) reported significant progress in reuniting children with their family to the House Finance Subcommittee on Health and Social Services. HSS Commissioner Valerie Davidson told the committee that it’s in large part due to additional legislative funding for staff to assist families with working through case plans.

“For the first time in four years we’re starting to see more discharges from foster care than removals,” Davidson said. “It’s a really, really significant change from Fiscal Years ’14 through ’16 when 30 percent more children were being removed than were being discharged. We’re seeing that thanks to the generosity of the Legislature and some changes in the division.”

Cautiously optimistic

That’s pretty much the blanket description for legislators’ thoughts on the state’s pending deal with the China to build the 800-mile liquefied natural gas pipeline connecting the North Slope with a proposed Kenai export terminal. Legislators have been hearing updates about the project for the last few days, peppering the folks from the Alaska Gasline Development Corporation with plenty of questions. Sen. Click Bishop, R-Fairbanks, put his North Slope operating engineer experience on full display during the hearing asking a flurry of technical questions about the project.

Not everyone is as excited about the technical and permitting process as Bishop, with others focusing on the financial end of things. Legislators are concerned China hasn’t committed cash to the project, and that the Permanent Fund could get roped into the project. Though the project certainly wouldn’t mind investment from the Alaska Permanent Fund, it’s not banking on it, according to a report by KTVA.

Interior Energy Project

The Senate Community and Regional Affairs Committee was host to a rare sight on Thursday, when it hosted Senate President Pete Kelly to present his only piece of legislation of the 30th Alaska Legislature. Senate Bill 125 extends the bonding authority for the Interior Energy Project, which was created by former Gov. Sean Parnell and the Legislature in 2013 to help get widespread natural gas to the Fairbanks and North Pole area. It’s hasn’t hit paygas quite yet, but it’s getting there and the bill would give the project additional time.

Since returning to the Legislature in 2013, Kelly hasn’t carried a huge number of bills, but he’s frequently been called on to carry priority legislation for the Fairbanks area, including 2014 legislation that paid for the University of Alaska Fairbanks’ new power plant.

Smoke-free workplaces

The saga of Senate Bill 63 continues. House Rules Chair Gabrielle LeDoux has taken the unusual move of scheduling a House Rules Committee hearing on the bill for 6:15 p.m. Monday. LeDoux has made no secret of her problems with the bill, which this year have largely focused on the cost of enforcement. LeDoux attempted to add an indeterminate fiscal note to the bill in the House Judiciary Committee, a rather unusual move but the bill also isn’t scheduled to make a stop in the House Finance Committee, before it advanced from committee on Wednesday.

What we’re reading

  • Legislators might still be a little queasy about the deal Walker struck with China (with the help of President Donald Trump) to build the AKLNG pipeline project, but China’s bank is serious about the project. Read: China is ‘serious’ about Alaska gas line, Bank of China official says via Anchorage Daily News.
  • Almost everyone has moved on from the bankruptcy filings of the Alaska Dispatch News now that the bulk of the Alaska Dispatch News is now the Anchorage Daily News, but the courts are still working on settling the millions of dollars of debt genderated under the ownership of Alice Rogoff. The latest development is the federal bankruptcy trustee will be “allowed to look at bank statements, cancelled checks and documents related to a $13 million loan” Rogoff used to buy the Anchorage Daily News, which could reveal some information that Rogoff and ex-husband David Rubenstein would’ve rather not disclosed. Read: Judge gives OK for trustee to examine Rogoff finances via Alaska Journal of Commerce.
  • The U.S. Olympic cross country ski team is packed with Alaskans. There’s a grand total of ten on the women’s and men’s teams from Anchorage and Fairabnks. Read: US to send 10 Alaskan cross-country skiers to 2018 Winter Olympics by Alaska Public Media.

What’s next

  • 8 a.m. HFin. Subcommittee on Education
  • 9 a.m. Senate Finance – Deferred maintenance
  • 10 a.m. Senate floor session – citations
  • 10:30 a.m. House floor session – citations
  • 1 p.m. House Judiciary Committee – HB 13, barring state or local money from funding federal immigration registry by Rep. Josephson; HB 216 restitution by Rep. Kopp
  • 1 p.m. House Resources Committee – Invited testimony on HB 288, minimum tax on oil production by Rep. Tarr
  • 1:30 p.m. House Finance – HB 286, operating budget; HB285, mental health budget. Overviews of departments of Military and Veterans’ Affairs, Health and Social Services
  • 3:15 p.m. House Labor and Commerce – HB 240, pharmacy benefits managers by Rep. Guttenberg; HB 180 money services businesses by Rep. Fansler; HB 273, extend marijuana control board; HB 274, extend board of psychologists; HB 275, extend board of massage therapists
  • 3:30 p.m. Senate Resources – Overview of Alaska’s oil production forecast

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