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Note from Rep. Les Gara

Note from Rep. Les Gara


Working on What Matters: Children, Education, Opportunity, Honest Government

Note from Rep. Les Gara

February 20, 2018

Voice Your Opinions!

Letters to the editor make a difference. You can send a letter of up to 200 words (shorter letters are more likely to be accepted) to the Alaska Dispatch News by email (; or by fax or mail (call them at 257-4308). Send letters to the Anchorage Press via e-mail or by mail to 540 E. Fifth Ave, Anchorage, 99501. Feel free to call us if you need factual information to help you write a letter.

Contact the Governor. The Governor can be reached at 269-7450; or

Contact us. My office can be reached at: 1500 W Benson Blvd, Anchorage, AK 99503; by phone: 269-0106; visit my website at; or email:

Want to Volunteer To Help A Child?

You can be a Volunteer Mentor to help a child, through a program we worked with foster care advocates to start, at Big Brothers, Big Sisters.  Just call 433-4691. Have the time to do more?  Alaska has a major shortage of foster and adoptive parents, and you can help change a life by doing that.  To ask about foster parenting or adopting a child out of foster care call 1-800-478-7307. 

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Dear Friends and Neighbors,


I won’t complain that I feel like a horde of Olympic speed skaters just skated over my back.  Well, I actually just did complain about that, didn’t I?  Like many of you I’ve had here again and gone again back problems, and they are here again.  Que Sera.  Here are some of the important things we are working on.


Children Deserve a Fair Chance in this World - especially abused and neglected children who suffer for no fault of their own.  Here is a sponsor statement summarizing our foster care reform bill, which implements best practice standards to improve a system that is supposed to protect children, so they can live lives of opportunity and success.  We’ve succeeded at many reforms in the past, and this is the most comprehensive yet. It follows a gold standard bill that has passed and succeeded in New Jersey.  If you’d like to help, please write letters to the editor, contact your legislators, and send letters of support to


We know from research that youth in our foster care system, and parents, and foster parents, can all be treated better and should be. But Alaska, like most states, is seeing a spike in the numbers of foster youth, which many attribute to a growing opioid and heroin epidemic.  Giving unmanageable, staggering caseloads to new caseworkers assigned to make this system work, and to ultimately get children either back with their families or into a permanent loving home, doesn’t work.  It just burns workers out and wastes state money as we spend far too much on losing workers, recruiting new ones, training them and then losing them again.


As these workers bounce from crisis to crisis, they can’t attend to families and children closely, or burn out trying to.  The short of it is that youth linger in the foster care system way too long, which harms them and costs us more.  We waste our money burning out 45% of our new workers within their first year.  It costs roughly $54,000 to lose, advertise for and retrain each new worker. 


Lower caseloads allow workers to get youth out of the foster care system faster, and let workers spend time on cases so that they don’t make mistakes.  Excessive caseloads do damage to children and families.  House Bill 151, which passed the House last year, adopts gold standard practices.  It limits caseloads so staff can work closely with children, families and foster parents, and so staff can find good foster and adoptive homes if family reunification isn’t going to work.  It is currently in the Senate Health and Social Services Committee where we hope it will be heard soon.


Education Matters.  We should have schools that attract people to Alaska, not a policy that makes people question Alaska’s commitment to public education. Here’s a clip from testimony I provided recently on House Bill 339, to modestly increase school funding this year, after years of flat or reduced funding, and a PowerPoint on our bill explaining the cuts we’ve faced across the state, and why they should be reversed.

Today schools receive--when considering the reality of inflation eroded dollars--$90 million less from the state than in 2015.  That’s meant the loss of roughly 400 teachers and support staff in Anchorage and roughly 250 in the Mat-Su School district. In small and rural districts it’s meant all that, plus indignities like chemistry classes being taught only every other year, or no music or arts classes or nurses. It also means classes that are taught with non-interactive videos and written lessons on a computer, with no teacher to ask questions of.  That’s not the vibrant education students deserve. 


Without a long overdue funding boost, schools have made clear, after years of funding losses, that they’ll have no choice but to eliminate more teacher positions next year, and reduce more curriculum.  House Bill 339 is currently in the House Education Committee, and we are pushing it hard, because that’s what students deserve.  I can’t make students wait around until adults get their act together and pass a real full, fair, fiscal plan.  It’s not like students can come back and take 4th grade later when the state is funding classroom instruction properly.


Politics Before Voters?  Alaska has a system that allows the political party in charge to draw legislative district lines in their party’s favor.  This degrades the value of your vote.  Today we have a hearing on our legislation to end partisan gerrymandering in Alaska.  Here is a Powerpoint and Sponsor Statement explaining our bill, HJR 26.  Share it.  If you’d like to help, please write letters to the editor, contact your legislators, and send letters of support to


Opioid Epidemic: How We Can Help Reduce the Damage.  We are also pushing a simple bill to help address an opioid epidemic that is ravaging Alaska, and the nation.  On a per capita basis twice as many people die from opioid and heroin overdoses in Alaska than nationally.  Our bill requires prescribers to inform patients that opioids are potentially addictive, and of any reasonable alternatives to opioid prescriptions.  Today roughly 80% of Americans addicted to heroin started on opioid and other pain medications, became addicted to those, and then, perhaps when their prescriber ended access to their prescription drug, moved to cheaper, more dangerous heroin.  Here is a Sponsor Statement explaining our bill.  Want to help?  Please write your legislators, letters to the editor, and send us letters of support to


That’s today’s update.  I’m going to get some ice for my back, and hope in the meantime that my back pain doesn’t make me cranky.  Yell at me if it does.


As always, let me know if you have any questions, or need our help.


My Best,

[signed] Les Gara



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