AKLEG Recap, Day 58: Proposed increase to K-12 funding advances in the House

Hundreds of students rally outside the Alaska Capitol Building as part of a nationwide demonstration against school shootings on March 14, 2018. (Photo by the House Majority Coalition)

Day 58 has come and gone. The biggest story of the last week–the PFD–took a backseat on Wednesday as legislators drilled down into regular committee work while students rallied on the stairs of the capitol. Here’s what happened and what to look forward to.

Just 32 days remain.

Increase in school funding

The House Education Committee advanced a bill that would increase the base student allocation by $100. Rep. Les Gara’s House Bill 339 would increase the base of the per-student funding formula from $5,930 o $6,030. It would result in an overall increase in statewide education spending of about $25.9 million.

The bill received multiple rounds of supportive public testimony in the House Education Committee and will head next to the House Finance Committee. It advanced without objection, but Rep. Chuck Kopp, R-Anchorage, recommended a “do not pass” on the committee report (other minority Reps. Johnston and Talerico were absent for the committee reports).

Like the recent action with the permanent fund dividend, a proposed $25.9 million increase to K-12 funding is almost certainly destined to die in the Senate. So far the Senate has signalled reluctance to increase education funding and most signs point to the chamber supporting flat funding of education (though there have been comments here or there that might suggest a cut could be in the cards).

Early education investment

The House Education Committee and the House Health and Social Services Committee held a hearing about early education investment on Wednesday as part of a larger continuing series exploring programs and other best practices in early education. The Legislature has held these sorts of hearings sporadically every few years, but the findings are generally the same. Invest early in education and reap significant benefits later in life: higher earnings, better jobs, less crime and fewer people relying on social safety nets.

Students rally

Hundreds of Juneau high school students rallied outside the Alaska Capitol Building on Wednesday as part of a national walkout of students in order to demonstrate against school shootings.

“We demand change and action,” said Katie McKenna, according to the Juneau Empire. “When leaders act like children, and children act like leaders, you know change is coming,”

From social media reports, it appears that some Democratic legislators, a few Republicans who’re part of the House Majority Coalition (that’d be Rep. Paul Seaton), Gov. Bill Walker and Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott were the only elected politicians to come out and show support to the students.

Gun violence bill heard

The House Judiciary held another hearing on the gun violence protective order bill, House Bill 75, on Wednesday. The legislation is the only bill aimed at reducing gun violence and would create gun violence protective orders. The orders would work similarly to domestic violence protective orders and allow immediate family and law enforcement ask a judge to intervene and temporarily take away the guns of someone who’s believed to be an immediate threat to others or themselves.

The committee heard a legal overview of similar legislation in other states and from the Alaska Court System. The only other gun violence protective order legislation that has been met with a legal challenge is the one on the books in Indiana, which was upheld after a challenge brought under the state constitution. No such gun violence measure has ever made it to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The testimony from the Alaska Court System was much more about explaining how the measure would work in practice, and it generally left some of the committee members confused. Most of the rest of the hearing was spent busting what-ifs and whataboutisms.

Abortion bill advances

Just as the the House Judiciary Committee was gathering to review the constitutionality of its gun violence bill, the Senate Judiciary Committee was wrapping up work and advancing an abortion bill over warnings that it was deeply unconstitutional. On a caucus-line vote the Senate Judiciary Committee advanced Senate Bill 124, which would compel doctors to deliver a fetus that she or he considers viable outside the womb when considering performing an abortion. The bill has been widely panned by both pro-abortion and anti-abortion groups.

Sen. Bill Wielechowski, D-Anchorage, was the lone committee member to vote against advancing the bill, saying the legislation would essentially force the very few women who seek an abortion that would fall under this bill to undergo a cesarean section.

Committee chair Sen. John Coghill, R-North Pole, brushed away the concerns of both Wielechowski and the testifiers, saying he wished he could go further in stopping abortions.

“If I could wave a magic wand and undo the Supreme Court (decision on Roe v. Wade) … I would,” he said. “We’re just not in that strata. I wish were were.”

House Finance Committee halts

The House Finance Committee was expected to continue work on House Joint Resolution 23, the widely panned but potentially salvageable resolution to add the PFD to the constitution, on Wednesday. That meeting was cancelled and many other meetings scheduled for that time were delayed into the afternoon or evening.

Today, the House Finance Committee has removed all other items except the operating budget from is schedule. The budget was sidelined in the last few days due to committee member illness and the sudden attention for HJR 23. Perhaps it’s finally time to get that bill to the House Floor for its marathon session.

Thursday floor session

The House is still catching up on a glut of bills that hit the bottleneck of absences over the last few weeks and will meet today in a somewhat uncommon at this point in the session Thursday floor session. The only measure guaranteed to be taken up today is House Bill 259, Rep. Louise Stutes’ bill on confining vehicle loads on the highway. It’d hit people with a $300 fine (which would increase over repeat violations) for not confining a load enough to prevent it from escaping the vehicle.

Other items on the calendar that could be taken up or bumped to another day include House Bill 213, the public school trust fund bill by Rep. Parish that has already been bounced back to the Rules Committee once; House Joint Resolution 21, a resolution that actually tells the feds to respect Alaska’s vote on marijuana; House Concurrent Resolution 10, relating to amending the uniform rules on the regulation review committee (which the House voted to repeal on Wednesday); and House Concurrent Resolution 19, asking Walker to declare an emergency for the Alaska Native languages.

What we’re reading

  • Beloved University of Alaska Fairbanks history teacher Terrence Cole, brother of longtime journalist Dermot Cole, is teaching his final history class this year. This is Terrence Cole’s 30th year teaching at the university–during which time he estimates he’s taught some 12,000 students (making a lasting impact on so very many)–and, as his brother wrote on Twitter, “He is wrapping up his career, but not because he wants to.” Read: History professor reflects on life and laughter via UAF Sun Star.
  • The Legislature is will be, for the first time ever, tapping into the earnings reserve of the Alaska Permanent Fund to pay for state government this year. Also, Sen. Bill Wielechowski’s lawsuit on the cut PFDs looks like it might still mean changes for how the fund is managed. Read: Lawmakers might have more control over the Permanent Fund than they think via Alaska’s Energy Desk.

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