AKLEG Recap, Day 100: On final vote, the Senate agrees to call Alaska Native language loss an “emergency”

Something might be going on in there.The Alaska State Capitol building as photographed in 2010. (Photo by Kimberly Vardeman/Creative Commons)

In what was expected to be the final few days of the session, the Legislature has once again ground to a halt amid the latest revelation of unacceptable behavior by one of its members. Here’s what happened and what to look forward to.

Just 21 days to go in the 121-day session.

An “emergency” after all

What a difference a few hours can make.

The Senate unanimously approved House Concurrent Resolution 19, which calls for action to preserve and promote Alaska Native languages, and finally agreed to call the loss of Alaska Native languages an “emergency.”

The Senate Rules Committee met Wednesday morning to amend HCR 19 where it removed a call for Gov. Bill Walker to issue an administrative order on the matter, but rejected an amendment by Senate Minority Leader Berta Gardner to put the “emergency” back into HCR 19. The resolution came over from the House calling it an “emergency,” but the Senate State Affairs changed it to call it an “urgent need” for action.

“Emergency” is a term better kept to issues of life or death, the Republican leadership said on Wednesday.

But Gardner didn’t relent. She said she would continue to do some work between the 8 a.m. committee meeting and the 11 a.m. floor session, where she brought the issue up again via an amendment as well as 466 other places in state law that call non life-or-death matters like banking, wildlife management and trusts an emergency.

“I would say that threatened linguistic and cultural losses can qualify as an emergency without the cascading series of mandatory things that happen with (disaster emergency declarations),” she said.

Sen. John Coghill, R-North Pole, who had pushed for the change to “urgent need” said Gardner made a good point and he wouldn’t object to the change.

“I really hate it when I have to agree with the minority leader,” he joked on the floor.

The amendment was approved and the bill passed unanimously. The legislation heads back to the House for concurrence.

KTOO spoke with Barbara Blake, an Alaska Native who’s Gov. Bill Walker’s senior adviser for tribal affairs, fish and game and marine resources, about the matter. Blake said the administration is working closely on the issue and explained why “emergency” is an important term.

“When you say the word ‘emergency,’ there’s a sense of immediacy to that,”she told KTOO. “The governor’s office definitely recognizes the sense of immediacy and the urgency behind any language initiative.”

Senate eliminates Port of Anchorage funding

The Senate Finance Committee rolled out its committee substitute for the capital budget on Wednesday that’s largely flat compared to last year’s capital budget, but completely eliminated Gov. Bill Walker’s request for $40 million to update the Port of Anchorage.

The bottom line of the budget shows that it spends $280 million less in undesignated general funds than the governor’s budget, but that’s largely due to a ton of fund changes and reappropriations from existing funds.

Other notable changes include:

  • Cuts all $86 million for the University of Alaska’s deferred maintenance budget.
  • A $45 million cut from Walker’s proposed $70 million for K-12 major maintenance grants.
  • Eliminates all $41 million Walker requested for deferred maintenance, renovation, repair and new equipment. Replacing it with $20 million for deferred maintenance for the governor to dole out based on highest need priorities.
  • $500,000 for Senate President Pete Kelly’s contraceptive study (which appears to have died as a bill in the House).
  • A 50 percent increase in funding over Walker’s request to update and modernize the state’s election voting system at $4.8 million up from $3.15 million.

House mostly shuts down

The House saw little action on Wednesday as it cancelled the House floor session and all but one scheduled committee meeting. It sounds like it has to do with continued fallout from the revelations that Rep. Justin Parish, D-Juneau, had faced sexual harassment complaints, but the precise nature of Wednesday’s discussions were not immediately clear.

The House is back in action today with a floor session, but still with many House bills on its agenda.

New details on Parish

House Speaker Bryce Edgmon released a lengthy statement on the sexual harassment complaint that was brought against Juneau Rep. Justin Parish on Wednesday.

Here it is in full:

“Our caucus takes allegations of this nature very seriously. However, I wanted to provide some clarifying comments following yesterday’s report.

The Legislative Affairs Agency Human Resources (LAA HR) Manager, Skiff Lobaugh, on January 30, 2018, received a complaint from a local media outlet regarding an off-site allegation of sexual harassment concerning Representative Justin Parish and one of their employees. January 30 was the first time any issue was brought to me by our Human Resources Department. My conversations with the media outlet’s attorney were verbal in nature, and no documents were delivered to my office or the LAA HR Department. The media outlet investigated the complaint with full cooperation from the Alaska Legislature.

The media outlet’s human resources lawyer, after discussion with me and with the LAA Legal Services Director, proposed corrective action. After discussing the allegations with Representative Parish, and consulting with the Legislative Affairs Agency Human Resources Manager and Legal Director, the corrective action requested, which consisted of additional training, was implemented and completed. My understanding is that the corrective action requested by the employee’s lawyer fully addressed the concerns which had been raised. It was made clear to me through the media outlet’s lawyer, that the company was not seeking any further action, and in fact, did not want further steps taken.

We cooperated fully with all of the media outlet’s requests and were instructed that given the circumstances, an independent LAA HR investigation would be inappropriate; as the complainant was not a legislative employee, the allegation did not involve an event occurring in legislative space or at a legislative event, and since there was no employer-employee relationship.

The training requested by the company, in my opinion, and based on advice from LAA Human Resources Manager, Skiff Lobaugh, closed this matter. When the matter was closed, it was closed without a finding of harassment under the Legislative Council Sexual and Workplace Harassment Policy.

I’ve been meeting regularly with Representative Parish and have received no further complaints about his behavior. Again, I take allegations of this nature extremely seriously and, along with my colleagues in the Legislature, encourage anyone who has been mistreated to come forward. The Legislature’s Sexual and Workplace Harassment Policy has recently been updated and approved, and anything but strict adherence to that policy will not be tolerated.”

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