‘As I was surprised to find on Wikipedia…’ AKLEG Day 9 Recap

Rep. David Eastman, R-Wasilla, cites Wikipedia while making the case to discharge his anti-abortion bill from committee during a floor session on Jan. 29, 2020. (Screenshot from Gavel Alaska.)

This is my third year of doing mostly daily recaps of the legislative session and I still really haven’t figured out an effective workflow for it, yet. Perhaps one day I will get ahead of these things so I’m not working on them in the middle of the next day’s hearings, but in the meantime, you can find long and rambling coverage on Twitter.

State of the University

University of Alaska President Jim Johnsen was in front of a joint meeting of the House and Senate education committees on Wednesday, where he once again gave an overview of the disastrous year that was 2019 and some of the budget ahead.

Legislators are still quite wary about the whole deal the UA Board of Regents cut with Gov. Mike Dunleavy to make stepped reductions over three years. It seems like several legislators would like to restore funding to the university or—at the very least—soften the blow under the agreement that they had no say in.

The question, though, is whether Dunleavy would just veto any increase above the specified reduction. Johnsen didn’t really say but seemed to indicate that the university is pushing ahead as if the agreement will stand. Its budget request to the Legislature accommodated the planned cuts.

Johnsen also pointed out that the cumulative impact over the three years of the stepped reduction down $70 million is far, far smaller than Dunleavy’s veto that would have cut state funding by about $130 million. We’re talking $145 million less in state funding over those three years versus $405 million.

Still, Dunleavy-aligned legislators continued to hound the university, looking for studies on a whole litany of things ranging from student enrollment to faculty turnover and more. They don’t appear to believe that headlines about “gutting” the university sparked by the governor’s vetoes could have led to this week’s headlines about enrollment at the University of Alaska Anchorage falling off a cliff this fall.

House spikes abortion bill attempt

The House had two bills on the agenda but didn’t take either up. Instead, the chamber spent some time dealing with Rep. David Eastman’s attempt to extract House Bill 178 from the Health and Social Services Committee. Committee vice-chair Rep. Ivy Spohnholz, D-Anchorage, has already made clear that she has no intent on moving the legislation, which would treat an abortion like a murder under state law.

“This is not the way we do business,” said Majority Leader Steve Thompson, R-Fairbanks, noting that the normal committee process should be followed.

Eastman attempted to cite Wikipedia as evidence that Spohnholz didn’t want to hear the bill.

“As I was surprised to find on Wikipedia,” he said before getting a warning, and continuing with, “I discovered recently on Wikipedia that the vice chair of this committee has declared that this bill…” before being interrupted again.

Eastman finally settled on “leadership of the committee.”

The effort failed on a 25-7 vote with several of the minority Republican members—Reps. Gillis, Merrick, Shaw—joining the House Majority in voting against it.

For a minority that griped about the veto overrides playing politics, this was an odd look.

Pitney’s back

Newly hired Legislative Finance Division Director Pat Pitney—who worked as Gov. Bill Walker’s OMB director—was in front of the Senate Finance Committee on Wednesday as the Legislature’s nonpartisan budget analyst. The meeting was relatively short and non-contentious, especially when compared to Office of Management and Budget Director Neil Steininger’s appearance before the committee the day before.

Pitney also reminded folks that anyone can subscribe to the Legislative Finance Division’s new email list for publications, which sent out a report Wednesday that compiles all the legislative intent the Legislature crammed into last year’s budget and the status of each report.

Check it out here.

‘Basically zero’

That’s the chance Alaskans have of contracting novel coronavirus, according to Gov. Mike Dunleavy.

The flight evacuating Americans from Wuhan City, the epicenter of the outbreak of novel coronavirus, touched down in Anchorage on Wednesday for a refueling stop on its way to California. Passengers were screened several times for the virus and no individuals showed symptoms of the virus, according to state health officials.

In a Wednesday afternoon briefing, Dunleavy thanked federal officials for their work on the effort.

“The chance of any Alaskan getting sick as a result of this plane landing and then going through this screening is basically zero,” Dunleavy said. “It’s extremely, extremely low.”

It’ll be different… THIS TIME

Leadership from both the Senate and House minorities and majorities spoke in front of the Alaska Chamber of Commerce on Wednesday and, according to a story by Juneau Empire’s Ben Hohenstatt, they’re promising that things will be different than last year’s “fiasco.” They talked about being more settled this time and said the Dunleavy administration is finding ways to work with–instead of against–the Legislature on things like the Alaska Reads Act.

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