Day 64 is in the bag. The House is underway with the budget, Rep. Sam Kito won’t be running for reelection and Daniel Bryan is headed back to the WWE wrestling ring.
Just 26 days to go.
Piecemeal approach putters out
This year’s House minority Republican approach to the budget process has been to submit amendments to the House clerks a few amendments at a time. Rep. Les Gara, D-Anchorage, complained about the maneuver throughout the day, saying it didn’t give anyone any real opportunity to examine the amendments ahead of time. Many of the amendments, he said, were days old, but by introducing them in the piecemeal approach, it forced the House to take multiple at-eases throughout the session (there were north of 20 by my last count).
A few amendments, like Rep. Jennifer Johsnton’s amendment to cut funding for over-the-phone homework help, even seemed like they could have gained traction if given time beyond just the introduction on the floor.
The whole thing came crashing to a spectacular finish during the House’s evening floor session. Legislators returned from dinner only to discover some sort of fatal drafting flaw in two amendments by Rep. Tammie Wilson. Wilson withdrew both amendments simultaneously to send back to the drafters and the House was left without anything to do. The next just-submitted amendment was still being copied so the House adjourned.
The whole floor session didn’t even last eight minutes.
In total 18 minority Republican amendments were rejected, one minority Republican amendment was accepted and one House Majority Coalition amendment was accepted. Here’s a rundown of some of the more notable ones.
- Amendment 2 by Rep. Tiffany Zulkosky restores about $200,000 to the state defense force funding for a more rural presence. Rep. Dan Saddler argued against it, saying the state’s best served by a consolidated forces. It passed 22-17.
- Amendment 5 by Rep. Lora Reinbold would have straight up eliminated the position of president at the Alaska Gasline Development Corporation, who’s the state’s highest-paid employee. It was based on one of her Facebook posts highlighting the state’s highest-paid employees. It failed 27N-12Y.
- Reinbold had a lot of amendments but she didn’t swing .000 on Tuesday. Her amendment 25, which adds intent language directing the state not to sign up for any specialty memberships that aren’t explicitly mentioned in state law. It passed 21-18 with Reps. Grenn, Ortiz and Kawasaki joining minority Republicans. A similar amendment passed in last year’s budget, but was removed in the conference committee.
- Amendment 22 by Rep. Tammie Wilson would have added in intent language for the Department of Corrections that would direct the department to get prior approval from a community for any facility that houses sex offenders. Rep. Neal Foster, the Finance co-chair from Nome, said he was inclined to support the measure because such an issue came up there. The amendment was eventually tabled 21-18 vote.
It’s time to pick
One of the most hardline amendments offered during Tuesday’s floor session was Rep. Lora Reinbold’s Amendment 23, which would have reduced funding in the adult public assistance programs. Effectively the amendment would have forced recipients of adult public assistance to choose between their PFDs and public assistance.
“Some people have their hand in a whole lot of cookie jars,” Reinbold said, “and we need to say you need to choose.”
Gara opposed the amendment, saying it was easy for wealthy people who didn’t understand the struggles of being poor to support (coming dangerously close to the whole impugning the motives of fellow legislators that Reinbold’s been so frequently dinged with). He also pointed out that state law is set up to hold income eligibility and dividends separate, and such a big change should be considered through statute not a bill.
Reinbold ultimately withdrew her amendment.
Back at it
The House is back today at 10 a.m. There’s no solid estimate on just how many amendments there will be in total because, as Gara explained, the House minority Republicans are submitting amendments a few at a time. The counts reported on social media put it somewhere north of 50 amendments for now (the House Finance Committee hit nearly 200). The deadline for additional amendments is noon today.
Most everyone supports Senate Bill 63, Sen. Peter Micciche’s smoke-free workplaces bill, but it’s been stuck sitting in the House Rules Committee for most of session. That’s because House Rules Committee Chair Rep. Gabrielle LeDoux, R-Anchorage, is one of the few legislators to express opposition to the bill, at least in its current form. She’s talked about amending the bill, but nothing’s materialized on that front.
House Majority Coalition members were peppered with questions about the bill during the caucus’ Tuesday news conference and none had a particularly good answer about why it’s still in committee. Members said they’ve asked LeDoux about moving the bill, and when reminded that they could simply vote the bill out of committee (there are 20 still-sitting co-sponsors in the House), they deflected.
Jonesville public use area
Speaking of bills that are stuck in the House Rules Committee, the Senate is pushing ahead with its own version of Rep. George Rauscher’s House Bill 6. HB6 and SB65, by Sen. Mike Shower, would designate the Jonesville Public Use Area. It’s a long-time project for Rauscher and others to establish a public use area in the the Sutton/Jonesvill area.
The bill doesn’t come with any extra funding to set up the park so it has zero fiscal notes, but the Department of Natural Resources notes that in effect not a whole lot will change at the area. Even putting together a plan for the area could take years with the existing staff already facing a big backlog of planning.
Appropriation limit up
The Senate’s spending limit bill is scheduled for today’s floor session (though it could be bumped to the following floor session). Senate Bill 196 would set a statutory budget limit (which means it can be repealed or ignored by any Legislature). It’d cap most parts of the operating budget to $4.1 million (excluding PFDs, the capital budget and a few other items) that would increase annually with inflation.
What we’re reading
- It’s pretty much tradition in the Legislature for there to be a major, under-the-radar battle over nominations to the Board of Fisheries. A new battle is brewing over Gov. Bill Walker’s pick of Kodiak commercial fisherman Duncan Fields, who’s becoming the target of sport fishing groups who say the governor is breaking the unwritten rule about the balance of the board. Read: Fairbanks sport fishing groups line up against Walker’s fish board pick via Fairbanks Daily News-Miner.
- Speaking of controversial Board of Fisheries nominees, Roland Maw’s felony PFD fraud charges have been dropped. Read: Juneau judge again tosses former Alaska Board of Fisheries nominee’s felony PFD fraud charges via Anchorage Daily News.
- When students across the nation walked out of class last week to protest gun violence the students in the Fairbanks North Star Borough were on spring break. They did so on Tuesday, just hours after the latest high-profile school shooting at a high school in Maryland. Read: Fairbanks students stage a walkout against gun violence at schools via Fairbanks Daily News-Miner.