Representative LES GARA Alaska State Legislature House Majority Coalition Site for Rep. Les Gara Fri, 13 Jul 2018 05:23:17 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Rep. Gara: Alaska Senators Should Not Confirm Supreme Court Justice That Supports Unlimited Corporate Election Spending or Political Party Gerrymandering Thu, 12 Jul 2018 18:58:52 +0000

Issues Likely to Be At The Fore In Coming years, Voters Should Not Have Their Voices Silenced By Outside Money and Political Party Legislative Districts

Anchorage – On Wednesday,
Representative Les Gara (D-Anchorage) sent a
letter to Alaska’s two U.S. Senators asking them to protect voters from being silenced by unlimited corporate and
group election spending, as well as political party gerrymandering of legislative district boundaries.

Much of the debate regarding Supreme Court Justice nominee Brett Kavanaugh has been focused on his views on important social issues. However, Rep. Gara believes two other major issues are likely
to come before the court that can shape and limit American’s rights to democracy for decades.

The U.S. Supreme Court will likely be asked to revisit the 5-4 Citizens United decision in 2010 to allow unlimited election spending by corporate and outside groups. A
study from the Wesleyan Media Project found that in the 2016 election roughly $1.8 billion in dark money was spent by corporations and groups
to influence the electorate. Much of that money was spent on negative ads that alienate voters.

“We shouldn’t allow corporations and outside groups to buy elections, and I hope our Senators understand the election money allowed by the Citizens United decision has drowned out the voices
of citizens and put the country’s elections up for sale to the wealthiest donors,” said Rep. Gara, who has previously raised the issue with Alaska’s Senators and introduced legislation to address unlimited campaign spending in Alaska.

Another issue that could soon come before the U.S. Supreme Court is the gerrymandering of legislative districts by political parties. In his
letter, Rep. Gara is asking Alaska’s U.S. Senators to oppose any nominee that will uphold the discredited practice
of drawing state and federal legislative districts in a manner that benefits the political party in power. This year, Rep. Gara attempted to change this in Alaska through House Joint Resolution 26. However, the resolution required two-thirds of the Alaska
Legislature to vote for a Constitutional Amendment. Unfortunately, there was not enough support to pass the measure this year. As a result, Alaska remains one of roughly 40 states that allows the political party in power to draw partisan district lines to
keep the majority party in power.

“Voters have a right to have their voices heard. The wrong Supreme Court justice will tip the balance so that unlimited election spending and partisan elections district lines will continue to
take away the voices of voters. Senators Murkowski and Sullivan need to admit that it’s wrong and make sure the next Supreme Court Justice does not become the deciding vote to continue these abuses. These are the most important issues facing our democracy
because they will determine whether citizens will have fair power to make election changes. If these issues are decided wrongly, they will damage our democracy for a generation,” said Rep. Gara.

For more information, please contact Rep. Les Gara at (907) 250-0106.

Senators Should Ensure U.S. Supreme Court Nominee Doesn’t Allow Unlimited Election Spending; Partisan Legislative District Gerrymandering. Thu, 12 Jul 2018 17:30:28 +0000
Governor Walker to Sign Landmark Bill Reforming Alaska’s Overburdened Foster Care System Thu, 07 Jun 2018 16:15:44 +0000

Overwhelming Bipartisan Support for Proven Reforms to Help Foster Youth Succeed

Anchorage – Today, Alaska Governor Bill Walker will sign landmark legislation into law to implement proven reforms to Alaska’s overburdened foster care system. The two-year process to successfully pass House Bill 151 concluded in the final days of the Second Session of the 30th Alaska State Legislature. Gov. Walker is scheduled to sign the bill today at 1:00 p.m. during a ceremony at the UAA Child Welfare Academy located at 1901 Bragaw Street in Suite 105. The Governor will be joined bill sponsor Representative Les Gara (D-Anchorage), who grew up in foster care, and dozens of current and former foster youth, including several youth preparing to attend the University of Alaska in the fall.

“This success belongs to the current and former foster youth who’ve poured their hearts out and bravely told their stories to legislators to educate us all. Their fingerprints are all over this bill, and the many past reforms we’ve worked on together. That includes the addition of needed college scholarships and job training support, which were added after youth explained the need for a system that helps youth succeed after leaving care. The proven reforms called for in this bill will improve the lives of thousands of foster youth in Alaska. I want to thank dedicated public servants like Valerie Davidson, tireless advocates like Amanda Metivier, legislators of all political stripes who helped, and to the Governor who stood up to endorse this reform effort early on. At its best government helps people succeed, and that’s the goal of the many evidence-based reforms in this legislation. We want youth facing devastating life disruptions to have fewer hurdles in life,” said Rep. Gara. 

HB 151, The Children Deserve a Loving Home Act, implements comprehensive national best practices for foster care, including strong training and workload standards for caseworkers in the Alaska Office of Children’s Services. New caseworkers will be provided six weeks of quality training, and be given lower, nationally recommended caseload levels, so they can do the work to get youth back with their original families, or into a permanent loving home faster, with less trauma. Currently, it is normal for caseworkers to carry caseloads 50 percent to 100 percent higher than what national child advocacy experts recommend. That causes youth to languish in foster care, sometimes in multiple temporary foster homes, far too long. 

“This landmark piece of legislation offers sweeping changes to Alaska’s child welfare system. There are reasons why we have more foster youth than ever before. The opioid epidemic is tearing apart families and leaving kids and young adults living on the edge. The recession is costing people jobs, and Alaska leads the nation in the rates of domestic and sexual violence. There is uncertainty everywhere, but thanks to this bill there may be more certainty for these brave children and youth that they will have good caseworkers with the resources and knowledge to help,” said Amanda Metivier, founder of Facing Foster Care in Alaska

In addition to training and caseload restrictions, HB 151 implements other major changes to support the well-being of youth in foster care. Caseworkers will now routinely conduct exhaustive searches for relatives so more foster youth can be placed with loving family members. Foster care placements with relatives like aunts, uncles, or grandparents are often far less traumatizing to foster youth than being placed with a stranger. HB 151 also requires the sharing of contact information so that siblings in separate foster care placements can maintain needed contact with the closest people in their lives. The bill also allows foster parents to make normal decisions for youth about sports, vacations, or other activities without clearing them through their caseworker, which creates extra work and unnecessary frustration.

“OCS caseworkers are constantly being asked to do more with less as the foster care system becomes more overburdened every day. The data is clear that lower caseload levels result in better outcomes for both foster youth and their families because caseworkers can give individual cases more personal attention and oversight. The smart reforms in this bill received near unanimous support from lawmakers because helping children is not a political issue, it’s a moral issue,” said HB 151 co-sponsor Rep. Ivy Spohnholz (D-Anchorage), Chair of the House Health and Social Services Committee.   

House Bill 151 passed the Alaska House of Representatives in May of last year, and the Alaska State Senate unanimously passed the bill last month in the final days of the legislative session. Alaska Governor Bill Walker will sign House Bill 151 into law today at 1:00 p.m. during a ceremony at the UAA Child Welfare Academy located at 1901 Bragaw Street in Suite 105.

“Quyana (thank you) to Representative Gara for his leadership on this important bill and all the dedicated OCS staff who work hard every day to keep Alaska’s children safe. This bill provides resources that allow caseworkers to work more effectively with children and families,” said Alaska Department of Health and Social Services Commissioner Valerie Nurr’araaluk Davidson.

For more information, please contact Rep. Les Gara at (907) 250-0106 and Amanda Metivier at (907) 230-8237.

Mike Mason
Press Secretary, Alaska House Majority Coalition
Phone: (907) 444-0889

Thank You For Letting Me Represent You; We’ve Done A Lot Together! Tue, 05 Jun 2018 18:09:53 +0000
Memorial Day Respects & A Few Legislative Tokens Of Appreciation Fri, 25 May 2018 19:59:28 +0000
The (Really) Good, The Ugly & The Meh – 2018 Legislative Session Wrap Up Tue, 15 May 2018 00:32:54 +0000
Coalition Members Reflect on the 30th Alaska Legislature Mon, 14 May 2018 00:47:07 +0000

Budget, Fiscal, and Other Legislative Achievements Highlight a Successful 30th Alaska Legislature

Juneau – After a flurry of legislative action, the Alaska House of Representatives joined the Alaska Senate in adjourning the Second Session of the 30th Alaska Legislature sine die early Sunday morning. Members of the Alaska House Majority Coalition reflected on the legislative achievements of the session.

“Goal number one of most politicians is to avoid political risk at all cost. That doesn’t apply to the men and women of the Alaska House Majority Coalition. We took huge political risks over the past two years and set an example for openness and transparency I hope future legislatures will emulate. Too often politics is judged by who wins and who loses. I admit that we lost some, but I stand proudly with my House Majority colleagues in celebrating our wins. We faced more obstacles to success than any legislature in Alaska’s history, and as I step away from the House I judge our Coalition a success,” said Rep. David Guttenberg (D-Fairbanks), House Finance Committee member.

“Nearly every day I speak with people who are concerned about the future of Alaska. I share many of those concerns. Our job as lawmakers is to work every day to help people and to secure a brighter future for our great state. My colleagues in the Alaska House Majority Coalition worked diligently for the past two years on solutions. We did this by ditching the old pattern of partisan politics in favor of hard work and listening to the will of the people,” said Rep. Dan Ortiz (I-Ketchikan), House Finance Committee member.

“What I will remember from the last two years is the moving public testimony that brought many of us to tears. Sometimes they were tears of sadness and other times they were tears of joy. The legislative process can be very frustrating to watch and often even more frustrating to be part of, but I am deeply grateful for my friends in this Coalition. We cast aside politics to work together. In doing so we addressed some incredibly important issues during what will always be considered a remarkable legislative session,” said Rep. Harriet Drummond (D-Anchorage), Chair of the House Education Committee.

“The most important thing we can all do to protect the future of Alaska is to realize that the politics of winners and losers is counterproductive to real solutions. I took some extremely tough votes over the past two years with the goal of protecting Alaskan jobs, the Alaska economy, and our education system. If the alternative is inaction, there was no choice at all. We did a lot of good things this session, some very good,” said Rep. Adam Wool (D-Fairbanks), Chair of the House Energy Committee.  

“I am thrilled to have passed health care price transparency, protected the Permanent Fund, and secured funding increases for the next two years for K-12 and pre-k education,” said Rep. Ivy Spohnholz (D-Anchorage), Chair of the House Health and Social Services Committee.

“I came into office last year dedicated to addressing our fiscal issues, but also to see reforms that build trust and create transparency for the people of Alaska. As we gavel out of my first term in office, I’m both proud and humbled by what has been accomplished. This legislature, I’ve passed a monumental legislative reform package, been part of a historic vote protecting the Permanent Fund and PFD, and have taken critical steps towards increasing public safety, education, and getting our economic future back on track. It’s been amazing to get to connect with my neighbors and to serve the people of District 22 with everything I’ve got,” said Rep. Jason Grenn (I-Anchorage), House Finance Committee member.

“I’m proud that our House Majority Coalition prioritized public safety by passing rape kit reform legislation along with funding to address our backlog of untested rape kits. This is a huge step forward and will bring justice to victims,” said Rep. Geran Tarr (D-Anchorage), Co-Chair of the House Resources Committee.

“Our Coalition formed with the goal to ignore party labels and partisanship in favor of fiscal solutions for the State of Alaska and all Alaskans. We passed a responsible operating budget that makes sure essential public services are delivered and advanced the dialogue around the need for long-term fiscal solutions. I am grateful that our Coalition stood fast for a larger $1,600 PFD this fall when both the Governor and Senate Majority wanted PFDs set around $1,000,” said House Finance Committee Co-Chair Rep. Paul Seaton (R-Homer).

“The Alaska House Majority Coalition elected the first Alaska Native Speaker of the House, and we are the first non-binding majority caucus in state history. We are the most diverse majority caucus in history with conservative Republicans, progressive Democrats, strong-willed Independents, and everything in between. Every day we went to work for the people of Alaska, and for that I am proud,” said House Majority Leader Rep. Chris Tuck (D-Anchorage).

“The Alaska Permanent Fund and the PFDs that represent our shared oil wealth are so important to the Alaskan way of life that I refused to toss them aside in favor of politics. The Permanent Fund dividend will continue to be eyed with envy by politicians, special interests, and outsiders until it’s protected in the Alaska Constitution,” said Rep. Gabrielle LeDoux (R-Anchorage), Chair of the House Rules Committee.

“I am grateful to serve in the 30th Alaska Legislature. Our coalition was successful in early funding public education for the next two years, and we came together to pass some important public safety reforms. A more personal victory was the passage of House Bill 213 to modernize the Alaska Public School Trust Fund. The bill will bring in millions of new earnings from a $650 million fund by modernizing the fund’s management to allow a more predictable draw and continued growth. The bill also creates an education raffle and endowment, the proceeds of which will go to schools on top of their regular funding,” said Rep. Justin Parish (D-Juneau), Co-Chair of the House Community and Regional Affairs Committee.

“We made lives better for children, those battling addiction, and those who deserve to be safe in their homes. I can walk out of this session proud that we passed some, but not all of the things I believe we needed to pass to improve this state,” said House Finance Committee Vice-Chair Rep. Les Gara (D-Anchorage).

“Our Coalition will be noteworthy in Alaska history for bravely confronting Alaska’s enormous fiscal instability and uncertainties. Whatever might be said about this majority, we acted boldly, courageously, and without fear. The House Resources Committee was unique in presenting legislation reflecting the viewpoints of all Alaskans, including but not limited to the voice of resource developers. The Resources Committee heard or advanced legislation on everything from the Pebble Mine to climate change, and from wildlife management to toxic flame-retardant chemicals. Perhaps never in the history of Alaska was there a more balanced showing of the many environmental and natural resources issues confronting Alaska,” said Rep. Andy Josephson (D-Anchorage), House Resources Committee Co-Chair.

“Our Coalition was unwavering in our commitment to improve public safety and respond to the concerns of our friends and neighbors in the community. House Bill 312 advanced the shared public safety priorities of the House, Senate, Governor Walker, and the people of Alaska. That bill, together with the five new prosecutors and other public safety measures we funded in the budget, will make Alaska safer, but we still have work to do to respond to the opioid crisis and to make up for the ill-advised cuts to public safety over the last several years,” said Rep. Matt Claman (D-Anchorage), Chair of the House Judiciary Committee.

“Representing House District 38 in the Alaska Legislature has been one of the greatest privileges so far in my career. And yet, it has also been very challenging at times. Alaska is faced with wide-reaching, complex, issues and I joined the effort to find solutions on day 53. I have worked with my new colleagues for the last 64 days trying to serve the everyday Alaskans who need government to work for them, not against them. With that said, I am looking forward to going home. It’s almost berry picking season,” said Rep. Tiffany Zulkosky (D-Bethel), Co-Chair of the House Community and Regional Affairs Committee.

“Every member of the Legislature brings his or her own set of principles and priorities to Juneau, and they all have value and legitimacy. But to get things done—and to do right by the people—you eventually have to meet somewhere in the middle. It’s not easy to find that balance, and no one enjoys compromising on the goals they have for the state and for the district they serve, but I’m proud that the House raised the dividend to $1600, and that we increased funding for our schools, for safer towns and villages, for fish & game management, and more. Also, I am pleased that a tone of integrity, trust, and cooperation this session helped lead us to its successful conclusion, well within our Constitutional deadline,” said Speaker of the House Rep. Bryce Edgmon (D-Dillingham).

For more information, please contact Alaska House Majority Coalition Press Secretary Mike Mason at (907) 444-0889.

Coalition Members Will Take Questions After Adjourning the Session Sine Die Sun, 13 May 2018 03:23:35 +0000

Alaska House Majority Coalition End of Session Press Availability Scheduled for Tonight

Juneau – The members of the Alaska House Majority Coalition will hold a press availability tonight to answer questions from reporters covering the 30th Alaska State Legislature. The press availability will be held 15 minutes after the Alaska House of Representatives adjourns the Second Session of the 30th Alaska State Legislature sine die.

The press availability will be held in the Speaker’s Chambers of the Capitol Building in Juneau.

The public and media are welcome to attend.  For media unable to attend in person, participation is available by teleconference by calling toll free at (844) 586-9085.

WHO: Alaska House Majority Coalition members

WHAT: Alaska House Majority Coalition press availability

WHERE: Speaker’s Chambers, room 210, Alaska State Capitol, Juneau

WHEN: 15 minutes after the House adjourns the legislative session sine die

Teleconference: 1 (844) 586-9085

Live stream:

For more information, please contact Alaska House Majority Coalition Press Secretary Mike Mason at (907) 444-0889.

Mike Mason
Press Secretary, Alaska House Majority Coalition
Phone: (907) 444-0889

Budget Deal Reached; State Operating Budget Passes the Alaska Legislature Sun, 13 May 2018 02:38:01 +0000

FY 2019 Budget Funds a Larger PFD and Includes More Money for Public Safety

Juneau – A compromise budget agreement between the Alaska House of Representatives and the Alaska State Senate was reached today, resulting in the passage of the fiscal year 2019 operating budget for the State of Alaska. Today’s budget deal prevents any disruption in essential public services as the State of Alaska enters the busy summer tourism and fishing seasons. House Bill 286 features total General Fund spending of $6.27 billion. The budget includes Alaska House Majority Coalition priorities such as $942 million to inflation-proof the value of the $65 billion Alaska Permanent Fund, $1.02 billion to pay for $1,600 Permanent Fund Dividends for each eligible Alaskan, a $10 million investment in the University of Alaska above the Governor’s proposal, and multiple measures to improve public safety and law enforcement in Alaska.

“This budget is the culmination of a lot of hard work and compromises on all sides. Our Coalition fought hard for a larger Permanent Fund Dividend because we know how vital PFDs are to Alaskans. The continued long-term health of the Permanent Fund, and in turn the PFD, is a key priority for our coalition, so we stood strong in demanding that the fund be inflation-proofed for the first time in three years,” said Speaker of the House Rep. Bryce Edgmon (D-Dillingham). “Throughout the public process to develop this budget, the people of Alaska were loud and clear that public safety is a major priority. Our Coalition worked to ensure no cuts to State Troopers, and we insisted on funding for more prosecutors and public defenders as part of the budget compromise.”

The FY 19 state operating budget incorporates the rules-based Percent of Market Value (POMV) approach that lawmakers approved earlier this week to access the earnings of the $65 billion Alaska Permanent Fund to pay for essential public services and PFDs. The 5.25 percent draw totals $2.7 billion. $1.69 billion will be used to help pay for public services like public education, State Troopers, fish and game management, and road maintenance. $1.02 billion will be used to fund $1,600 PFDs this fall.

“Developing a responsible budget during a fiscal crisis is no easy task. We partially did that with the budget bills that passed today. I take comfort in knowing that by passing a budget in a timely manner the State of Alaska can deliver the essential public services that keep our state running. Further action will be needed to ensure sustainable income for our public services. I represent an area heavily dependent on the tourism and commercial fishing industries, and this budget allows those industries to go forward without interruption,” said House Finance Committee Co-Chair Rep. Paul Seaton (R-Homer), who served as the lead negotiatior for the House on the HB 286 Conference Committee.

Today, the Alaska House of Representatives approved the budget compromise by a vote of 21-19. The Alaska State Senate passed the compromise by a vote of 15-4. The Fiscal Year 2019 Operating and Mental Health Budgets will now be sent to Alaska Governor Bill Walker for his consideration.

For more information, please contact Alaska House Majority Coalition Press Secretary Mike Mason at (907) 444-0889.

Mike Mason
Press Secretary, Alaska House Majority Coalition
Phone: (907) 444-0889

Comprehensive Bill to Improve Lives of Alaska Foster Youth and Families Passes with Strong Bipartisan Support Fri, 11 May 2018 18:43:15 +0000