Week ahead: Senate set to unveil its budget, House gets underway with crime legislation

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

With the 121-day deadline of session looming (today’s day 98), the agenda for the remaining session has pretty much come together: Pass the budget, figure out the PFD and do something about crime. This week, the Senate will take its turn with the operating budget and the House has much of its agenda this week dedicated to crime.

Senate operating budget

The Senate Finance Committee is expected to have its version of the operating budget out at its 3 p.m. hearing today. The budget is expected to cut deeper than the version passed by the House, but not nearly as deep as the governor’s proposal.

Some of the notable changes include a slight boost to the University of Alaska over what the House approved. While the governor pushed for a $134 million cut to the state funding for the university, the House proposed a $10 million cut. The Senate approved a $5 million cut targeted at the University of Fairbanks and the University of Anchorage.

There’s also a plan in the Senate budget to keep Sen. Bert Stedman’s “beloved marine highway” running through the winter on markedly reduced service. Instead of the governor’s near-elimination of the program, the Senate proposes $44 million in cuts, a much steeper reduction than the $10.9 million cut proposed in the House.

The Senate has also proposed a $25 million cut to Medicaid on top of the $58 million proposed by the House.

House crime bill

Update: The bill was not introduced on Monday and the Monday House Judiciary Committee was canceled.

After passing the budget two weeks ago, the House announced that its next steps would be to tackle the size of the PFD and crime. Today, the House is set to introduce an omnibus criminal justice reform bill and it’s already scheduled to be heard in the House Judiciary Committee at 1 p.m.

The governor has four crime bills he’s introduced, including one increase sentencings, one reducing the leniency in pre-trial process and giving more discretion to judges, another that would rework parole and finally one dealing with sex crimes.

The Republican-led Senate seemed skeptical of the bills taken in total, particularly when the price tag for the increased sentences would increase the corrections budget by more than $40 million because more people would be staying behind bars for longer. The Senate has, however, pushed ahead with its own sex crimes bills that targeted laws that contributed to the controversial no-prison sentence of Justin Schneider.

The details of the House omnibus bill will be clearer once it’s introduced at the 11 a.m. House floor session, but the committee notes include references to the sex crime bill, controlled substances, sentencing and the possession of motor vehicle theft tools. The last part is similar to House Bill 98 by Rep. Matt Claman, which would make it a crime to posses lock pullers, jiggler keys, slim jims or shaved keys with the intent to use it for vehicle theft.

Meanwhile the House Finance Committee has planned multiple hearings on crime, including a 4 p.m. hearing today to get an update on criminal justice reform with “The Story of Offender Joe,” a 9 a.m. Tuesday meeting on community perspectives on crime, a 9 a.m. Wednesday hearing on prison programs and sentencing programs, a 9 a.m. Thursday hearing on the unsentenced prison population, and 9 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. Friday hearings on the House omnibus crime bill.

Things are set to move quickly.

The dividend

The House budget omitted the dividend altogether while the Senate’s plan appears to be to include it in the budget.

Continuing along the line of scheduling hearings for yet-to-be-introduced legislation, the House State Affairs’ 3 p.m. Thursday meeting includes a hearing on the governor’s resolution to enshrine the PFD in the constitution, a statutory rework of the PFD and a-yet-to-be-introduced resolution amending the constitution for the PFD.

Also on the agenda

The free conference committee on the legislative ethics rewrite is scheduled for noon today, pending the appointment of the House members of the conference committee. Both chambers took markedly different approaches to the legislation with the Senate opting for a wholesale repeal of the law, while the House offered a more narrowly targeted rollback.

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