Dear friends + neighbors,
Happy New Year! I’m thankful we’re past the hump of winter solstice and moving forward to spring! This week we began the second regular session of the 31st Legislature. I am ready for a productive session in Juneau.
One of the main areas of focus this year continues to be working toward a sustainable budget. The Governor has put forward a largely “status quo” budget, while also asking to drain our nearly depleted savings to pay for a dividend that would threaten the funding of essential services Bethel and the YK Delta relies on. I am committed to working with my colleagues to fund the largest dividend possible that does not endanger critical services like PCE, public safety, Medicaid, education or our ability to pay future dividends.
Today, the House and the Senate convened a joint floor session to consider an override of vetoes by Governor Dunleavy of FY2020 funding for the Alaska Marine Highway System and school bond debt reimbursement. Although we were a few votes short of overturning the vetoes, I’m proud to have had one more chance to fight for quality education for our children and a robust marine highway system that benefits all of Alaska's economy.
I’m proud to get back to work chairing the House Special Committee on Tribal Affairs. In 2019, we spent a lot of time discussing the role of tribes, Native organizations, rural public safety, and Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women (MMIW). Over the summer, we celebrated the signing of HB 126 into law, permanently establishing November as Alaska Native Heritage Month. HB 126 was the first ever bill sponsored by our historic new committee.
This session the Tribal Affairs committee will continue to focus on elevating Alaska Native issues within the Capitol and across Alaska. I anticipate that we will continue to work on opportunities for the State to compact with tribes, the crisis of missing and murdered indigenous women, rural public safety, and much more.
Also this year, I will serve as sole chair of the House Health and Social Services Committee. As chair, my office will be responsible for setting the policy agenda and committee hearing schedule.
This committee oversees the Department of Health and Social Services (DHSS); the largest, most complex department within our state. Some of the larger functions of DHSS are administering the Medicaid program, various public assistance programs such as SNAP and senior benefits, child welfare, the Alaska Psychiatric Institute, Alaska Pioneer Homes, public health services, and much more.
We have already begun the the DHSS budget subcommittee process. I am looking forward to working with leadership at DHSS to find a path forward after the Governor’s short-sighted budget cuts and vetoes last year. I appreciate the need to find efficiencies within such a large and complex budget, but it is paramount that we preserve affordable and accessible human services and health care for Alaskans.