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Friday, April 1

More than thirty legislators and staff tested positive for COVID-19 in the Capitol this week. Because of this, floor sessions were cancelled, which means that amendments to the operating budget on the house floor were pushed forward until next week. My office and I have been following the CDC protocols and are doing our part to stay healthy and not contributing to the spread of the virus.

In the midst of this, we were still fortunate to have some visitors in the office, including the Superintendents from the Aleutians East Borough, Lake and Peninsula Borough and Bristol Bay Borough. I'd also like to thank Principal of the Year, Robin Jones, from Chief Ivan Blunka School in New Stuyahok, for stopping by the office. I can't tell you how much I appreciate these educators for their outstanding efforts to keep their schools operating during the pandemic.

I held a number of Zoom calls throughout the week, including presenting to the Alaska Council of School Administrators on efforts to increase funding for rural schools. I also addressed the Bristol Bay Native Association's Spring board meeting and gave them an update on the legislative session.

While we're hopeful that next week will see a drop in the COVID cases in the Capitol, we just don't know at this point and we're simply taking things day by day.
Broadband Bill Heard in House Finance
Creating the State Office of Broadband

On Wednesday, I presented House Bill 363 to the House Finance Committee. The bill will prepare the state to receive federal funding to make high speed, affordable broadband available everywhere in Alaska. At present, there is no law addressing broadband in state statute. My bill will establish the legal framework necessary for the state to create a broadband office, an advisory board, and a fund to receive federal dollars. This will position Alaska to compete for billions in federal funding from the 2021 infrastructure act.
  • HB 363 will create the structure we need to take advantage of federal dollars intended to provide broadband access to unserved and underserved Alaskans around the state.
  • The bill is modeled on the recommendations the Task Force on Broadband made in their report last year.
  • HB 363 brings consumers, industry experts, Tribal partners, and other stakeholders together to create solutions to connect everyone in the state.
  • Better broadband will bring educational and business opportunities, and help Alaskans in every corner of the state stay connected to the world and each other.
Addressing Mental Health in Education
Giving Our Children the Tools They Need
  • From 2016-2018, Alaska’s adolescent suicide rate was 3.2 times higher than the average rate across the rest of the country.
  • On Thursday, the House Finance Committee heard HB 60 (Public School: Mental Health Education), a bill to create mental health education standards and encourage schools to include mental health in their K-12 health education curriculums.
  • HB 60 will educate students about mental health symptoms, resources, and treatment, and normalize conversations about mental health in schools.
  • By decreasing the stigma surrounding mental illnesses and increasing students’ knowledge of mental health, we can encourage conversations around and understanding of these issues and ensure that our children are better prepared to deal with the challenges they face.
Tribal Child Welfare Compacting
Coming Together to Combat Abuse and Neglect

After passing the House with broad bipartisan support last year, Representative Zulkosky's HB 184 (Require Tribal Child Welfare Compact) had its first hearing in the Senate in the Health and Social Services Committee this week.
  • Alaska Native children make up 15% of the state’s general population; but represent approximately 65% of the children in state custody.
  • The Alaska Tribal Welfare Compact is a government-to-government agreement to improve the life outcomes for children and families by transferring specific, negotiated child welfare services and supports from the Office of Children’s Services (OCS) to Tribal entities.
  • HB 184 will help make sure that child welfare services are culturally responsive and reflective of the population being served, and that Alaska children and families will be served locally, as close to home as possible.
  • These changes will help reduce the disproportionality of Alaska Native children in state custody.
Board of Fish Appointments
Governor Dunleavy Puts Forward Three New Names 

This week, Governor Dunleavy announced three new appointments to the Board of Fish, replacing outgoing board members Israel Payton, Gerad Godfrey, and Indy Walton. These appointments will need to be confirmed by the legislature in a joint session later on this Spring.
  • Floyd Michael Heimbuch, of Homer, is a longtime commercial fisherman, with a term that begins on April 15, 2022.
  • David Weitz' term will begin on July 1, 2022. He's the President and CEO of Three Bears Alaska, a chain of grocery stores in the state. In the past, he's served on the Tok School Board and the Alaska Road Commission.
  • Thomas Carpenter's term will also begin on July 1, 2022. Mr. Carpenter is a United States Coast Guard veteran and has been a commercial fisherman and small business owner. He's currently the chairman of the Prince William Sound Aquaculture Corporation Board.
Improving Public Safety
New Retirement Plan Proposed for Peace Officers and Firefighters
  • HB 55 (Peace Officer/Firefighter Retire Benefits) aims to create a new hybrid retirement plan option for state and municipal peace officers and firefighters to help recruit and retain the public safety professionals we count on.
  • Peace officers and firefighters have demanding and hazardous jobs, and the lack of a defined benefit retirement system has resulted in critically low staffing levels around the state.
  • HB 55 is an important tool in recruiting and retaining public safety employees, and it's also the right thing to do. The bill is currently in the Senate Labor & Commerce Committee and I'm hopeful we can pass this legislation this year.
Pandemic Relief for Seafood Processors
Relief Funds Available for Alaska's Seafood and Shellfish Processors
  • This week, the Alaska Department of Commerce, Community, and Economic Development announced a grant program to help seafood processors impacted by the pandemic.
  • The Alaska Seafood Processors Pandemic Response Relief Program will distribute $30.6 million from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to reimburse costs preparing for, preventing exposure to, and responding to the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Funding will be available for land and sea based processors.
  • The application period opens at 8:00 am on Tuesday, April 5, 2022 and closes at 5:00 pm on Thursday, May 5, 2022. You can find guidelines on how to apply here.
On Deck
Items of interest on the legislative calendar
Coming Up This Week:

Monday April 4th
(H) Education8:00AM

Presentation: School District Energy Costs in Alaska 

(H) Finance 1:00PM
HB 229 Alaska Higher Education Investment Fund
SB 168 Donations/Gifts for DOT&PF Signage
HB 307 Extend Bond Authority for Interior Energy Projects

(H) Judiciary 1:00PM
HB 399 State Historical Artifacts; Crimes

Tuesday April 5th
(H) Finance 1:00PM

HB 313 Village Public Safety Officer Grants

(S) Transportation 1:30PM
SB 170 Marine Highway Corporation

Wednesday April 6th
(H) Finance 1:00PM

HB272 Increase Base Student Allocation
HB 273 Increase Base Student Alloc. Inflation
HB 170 Energy Independence Program & Fund: AIDEA

(S) Judiciary 1:30PM
SB 229 State Historical Artifacts; Crimes
SB 207 Access to Marijuana Conviction Records

Thursday April 7th
(H) Fisheries 10:00AM
Presentation: Commercial Fisheries Entry Commission by Commissioner Melvin Smith and CFEC Executive Director, Jon Haghayeghi

(S) Finance 1:00PM
--Public Testimony--
Nome, Bethel, Kotzebue, Utqiagvik, Unalaska, Dillingham and Offnets
SB 162 Approp: Operating Budget/Loans/Funds
SB 163 Approp: Mental Health Budget
SB 164 Approp: Cap; Reapprop, Supp

Friday April 8th
(H) Education 9:00AM
Presentation: Alaska Per Pupil K-12 Spending Analysis by The Institute of Social and Economic Research

(H) Finance 1:00PM
SB 9 Alcoholic Beverage Control; Alcohol Reg

(H) Judiciary 1:00PM
Presentation: Intimate Partner Violence Survey by Dr. Ingrid Johnson

(S) Judiciary 1:30PM
SB 229 State Historical Artifacts; Crimes
HB 157 APOC; Report Referenda/Recall Contributor
Robin Jones, Principal of New Stuyahok's Chief Ivan Blunkla School, gave me some beautiful greeting cards that were designed by her students
It was great to see Patrick Mayer, Superintendent of the Aleutians East Borough School District
Public safety employees held a rally on the Capitol steps in support of HB55, a bill that will help recruit and retain peace officers and firefighters
Meeting with representatives from school districts in our region.
From left: Bill Cornell, Director of Personnel with the Lake & Peninsula School District, Superintendent Kasie Luke from the Lake & Peninsula School District, and Superintendent Bill Hill from the Bristol Bay School District
Please don’t hesitate to reach out to me or my staff with any issues or concerns.

All the best,
Office Phone: (907) 465-4451
Toll free: (800) 898-445
Contact my staff:
Alaska House Coalition
Alaska House of Representatives
Copyright © 2022 Office of Representative Bryce Edgmon, All rights reserved.