Tag Archives: alaska state legislature

Education and KABATA still on table as Legislature goes into 92nd day

Going past the regularly scheduled 90-day legislative session and into the 92nd legislative day, lawmakers continue to be far apart on the specifics of the governor’s education bill, forcing a conference committee to work out the differences between the House and Senate.

The House conferees are Reps. Mike Hawker, Lynn Gattis, and Sam Kito III. The senators are Mike Dunleavy, Kevin Meyer, and Lyman Hoffman. They have been given limited power of free conference. In other words, they are being given more flexibility than is normally granted to a first-time appointed conference committee. They are scheduled to meet Tuesday at 10 a.m.

The capital appropriations bill is being held on the House floor pending an agreement on the education bill so that the fiscal costs of what is agreed upon can be provided for in the appropriations bill.  The only other high profile issue remaining is a concurrence vote in the House on KABATA.

Legislators are said to be optimistic that they can expect to wind up their work on Tuesday.

Contact Amanda Coyne at amandamcoyne@yahoo.com 


Alaska state Legislature works overtime

UPDATED: Monday, 7:30 a.m.: A bill which would make 20 Alaska Native languages official languages of the state of Alaska passed after 3 a.m. The vote was 17-2, with Sens. Pete Kelly and John Coghill voting against it. Rep. Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins, D-Sitka, was the bill’s prime sponsor. However, the education bill and the capital budget, which are linked, did not. The Senate adjourned at about 5 a.m. and will be back this afternoon to debate what’s remaining. Here’s ADN’s Rich Mauer explaining what happens next:

Under the deal reached by the House and Senate leaders, (Sen. Lesil) McGuire said, the House will immediately vote on whether to accept the Senate version. If the answer is no, as is likely, a House-Senate conference committee would be quickly convened. If the conference committee couldn’t resolve the difference — McGuire said the leaders expected the versions to be irreconcilable — the House and Senate would appoint a free conference committee, which would have more authority to craft a completely new version acceptable to both bodies. McGuire said the House was keeping the capital budget in its chamber and would use it as the vehicle to absorb whatever funding changes was called for in the education bill. If the conference committee version and the capital budget were accepted by House and Senate, the Legislature could wrap up and adjourn. That could happen Monday night, she said.

ORIGINAL STORY: Alaska Legislature went past the midnight deadline on Sunday to push the Legislature into an extended session, which, among other things, means that ballot measures legalizing marijuana, raising the minimum wage, and making it more difficult to mine in Bristol Bay will be moved from the August primary ballot to the general election. It’s unclear how long the Legislature will continue. They could gavel out on Monday. It could be days. According to the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, extending the session costs up to $30,000 a day.

At 11 p.m., the Senate concurred with the House on the operating budget, which all told, is $9.1 billion, made up of $5.8 billion in state general funds, $2 billion in federal funds and $1.3 billion in other funds. That one is heading to the governor for his signature. It also passed a bill that is supposed to advance the large diameter natural gas pipeline. Still at play early Monday morning was the capital budget, which will be upwards of $2.2 billion. Although it can get blurred, the operating budget generally funds the operation of state government, and the capital budget generally covers infrastructure.

In the Senate, the mammoth education bill still had to be voted on, and it appeared that a controversial bill to give tax subsidies to refineries was also still in play.

Perhaps the bill with the largest constituency in the halls of Juneau was one which would make 20 Alaska Native languages official languages of the state of Alaska. On Sunday tribes from all across the state staged a sit-in waiting for the Senate to convene, which didn’t happen until 10 p.m. on Sunday night. That bill had yet to be voted on by Monday at 12:30 a.m., when the Senate called a 30 minute recess. APRN reporter Alexandra Gutierrez tweeted that she overheard one supporter in the gallery say, “What is wrong with these people?”

Moving the initiatives from the primary to the general ballot is said to be good for another referendum to repeal an oil tax break that was passed last session. The thinking is that those who would vote for marijuana and minimum wage would also be likely to vote to repeal the tax break. Conversely, some say that moving those initiatives to the general election benefits U.S. Sen. Mark Begich.

To bed now. More tomorrow.


Contact Amanda Coyne at amandamcoyne@yahoo.com


The final stretch

Adjournment is close at hand. And to the extent that the people knew what they were doing when the elected a predominately Republican legislature to get things done, they got what they wanted. Big bills, bills that have been debated in the Legislature for years, bills that have been the subject of hundreds of hours of committee hearings, of debate, those bills are now a hair’s-breadth from making their way to Gov. Sean Parnell’s desk to be signed. For better or for worse, depending on how you’re wired.

From oil taxes to money for construction of a small diameter natural gas pipeline that would run from the North Slope to Southcentral Alaska. From LNG from the North Slope to Fairbanks. From gun laws to the Knik Arm Bridge, insurance and drug laws, abortion and the Judicial Council. All the pieces seem to be fitting together nicely for an orderly adjournment by Sunday night right before midnight.

That is, of course, barring some unforeseen melt down or huge personality clash, which would likely come from one of the many divisions in the House, particularly from the faction that wants to lower the base rate on the oil tax bill. That amendment would likely come from Rep. Mike Hawker, who lowered the base rate to 33 percent in House Resources. At least two members of the Senate have drawn the line on 35 percent. So, if it succeeds, it will likely kill the bill. Some in the know say that because the tax break isn’t big enough, killing the bill is the goal of at least one of the three major oil companies. (Guess which one?)

However, given how well House Speaker Mike Chenault has been able to herd the cats so far—the demise of KABATA being case and point—the success of such machinations is unlikely.

Here are the four key bills that are “must haves” for adjournment:  SB 21 the oil tax reform bill, HB 4 the small diameter pipeline bill, the operating budget and lastly the capital budget.

What isn’t being reported on much is nonetheless important to note as some of these bills have huge impacts on the lives for average people. One bill that has gotten extremely little media attention–introduced by freshman Sen. Mike Dunleavy, and referred to only one committee which he chairs–was a bill to allow insurance companies to use credit scores as a factor in setting insurance rates.

During the public hearing process, the only witnesses testifying in favor of the bill were employees of the insurance industry and the state’s new Director of Insurance (it should be noted that the previous state insurance director opposed the bill for years). On the other hand, a lot of Alaskan consumers testified against the bill, citing its unfairness and questioning why in the world the Alaska legislature would consider advancing such a measure. Unfortunately, their concerns fell on deaf ears as committee members paid deference to Dunleavy who wanted to move the bill to the floor. (It should be noted that Dunleavy campaigned as the voice of the people.)

The half dozen or more lobbyists working together to advance this bill were gleeful. However, that euphoria crashed when the bill ran into the Senate Rules Committee, which schedules bills for floor action and is chaired by Sen. Lesil McGuire. She thought the bill was against consumer interest and she had enough courage to stand up to the insurance industry and the leaders of her caucus to squash it. Like a bug. With her stilettos.

Then there’s a bill sponsored in the Senate by Dunleavy and in the House by Rep. Lynn Gattis, who’s turning out to be one of the freshman stars, which would bring public education employees into the state’s large insurance pool. As of now, most of them are covered through an National Education Association trust. The state, which already pays for the insurance, says that combining the two pools will result in savings for all. The bill is being fought by the NEA and Sen. Bill Wielechowski, both of whom called it a “big government takeover of healthcare.” If that’s not irony for you, then there’s none of it left in the world.

There’s lots of other bills, but one of my favorites is a bill by Sen. Fred Dyson, a staunch conservative, which would make simple possession of schedule I and II substances a Class A misdemeanor, which still can carry with it up to a year in prison and a $10,000 fine. It’s supported by the ACLU, the Department of Corrections and a bevy of defense lawyers who have long been bemoaning the havoc our drug laws has wrought. It passed the Senate 17 to 2.

Here’s more irony for you: Two of those most vocal Dems in Alaska, Sens. Bill Wielechowski and Hollis French, voted against it after French offered two failing amendments that would weaken the bill.

That bill is now in House Finance, and will likely take a backseat to the other huge order of business on today’s schedule: the capital budget. The committee is expected to release the first draft later today.

Contact Amanda Coyne at amandamcoyne@yahoo.com