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                                                                                                          May 6, 2022

Greetings,
With 12 days left in the regular session, we're quickly approaching May 18, which is the end of the 32nd legislature. 

This week the Senate Finance Committee combined the operating, capital, and supplemental budgets into one bill. It’s expected that the Senate will spend all day Monday on the floor debating amendments to the budget. 

Once passed, the bill goes to the House where it’s unlikely we’ll agree with the changes, which will send the bill to a conference committee made up of three members each from the House and the Senate.

After the conference committee has been established, the legislature will begin operating under the 24 hour rule, meaning the 5 day notice requirement for meetings will no longer be in effect, and meetings can be more quickly noticed.

With the 24 hour rule in place, things will begin to move very rapidly. I'm hopeful we'll also be able to get legislation dealing with telehealth, increased PCE support, broadband, and creating crisis care health centers passed.

FY23 Budget
Omnibus Budget Bill Moved Out of Senate Finance Committee

On Tuesday, the Senate Finance Committee rolled out their version of the budget (HB 281) which combined the operating budget with the capital and supplemental budgets.

The Senate's current version of the bill includes:
  • $106 million in savings added to the corpus of the Permanent fund
  • $121 million to reimburse communities for school bond debt funding
  • $38.9 million to replenish the Community Assistance Fund
  • $84 million to repay money owed to REAAs
  • A $60 million one-time increase for K-12 education funding
  • Funding for a 50/50 PFD that would amount to $2,500, which is a similar amount to the House's combined PFD and energy relief proposal
This process is all taking place a lot later than it normally does and it will be a race to get the budget wrapped up before session ends.
Legislature Approves Governor's Appointees
Confirmation Process Completed 

On Wednesday, the House and Senate met in a joint session to vote on the Governor's slate of appointments for statewide boards and commissions, and a handful of other positions that require legislative confirmation.
VPSO Bill Passed by the Legislature
Solutions for Public Safety in Rural Alaska

When I was Speaker, I led the effort to appoint a legislative Village Public Safety Officer (VPSO) working group to fully examine the challenges facing the program. Senator Olson's SB 81 (Village Public Safety Officer Grants), a bill updating the VPSO program, came from that effort. The bill passed the House on Thursday, which was also Missing and Murdered Indigenous Persons Day. It now goes to the Governor for his signature. 
  • The bill implements seven recommendations that the VPSO Working Group made in their report released in January of 2020. Those recommendations include clearly identifying the law enforcement duties and powers of VPSOs, increasing flexibility for tribal partners of the program, and formalizing the background check process for applicants. 
  • The legislation, along with a 5% pay increase in the operating budget, will help address the severe drop in the number of VPSOs in over 100 villages across the state.
Passing SB 81 is a small step forward, but it’s also a large step in recognizing the challenges that have plagued the VPSO program for a long time. I urge the Governor to sign this important legislation into law as quickly as possible.
Proposed Increase for Power Cost Equalization

Working on Energy Relief

On Wednesday, the Senate passed SB 243 (Pwr Cost Eq: Raise, Endow Fund Investment), a bill to increase power cost equalization (PCE) payments.

  • With energy costs in rural Alaska that are easily 40% or more higher than those elsewhere in the state, the recent spike in oil prices will generate higher costs through the coming months and into the winter.
  • SB 243 would raise the amount of PCE eligible kilowatt-hours (kWh) for each residential customer per month from 500 to 750 kWh.
  • The bill is now in front of the House Finance Committee, where I'll be doing everything I can to work with Representative Foster to move the bill out of committee and onto the House floor.
  • The bill would go into effect on July 1, 2022, quickly bringing necessary relief to the communities that need it most.
One Call Can Make a Difference

Changing Our Approach to Crisis Care

Last Friday, the House Finance Committee passed HB 172 (Mental Health Facilities & Meds) out of committee. The bill represents the start of a new approach to providing help to people experiencing mental and behavioral health crises.

  • Right now, when someone experiences a mental health crisis, we rely on police, emergency medical services, and hospitals to help them through it. Many times, these aren’t the best options, and they can sometimes make things worse.
  • HB 172 creates a much needed option for a mobile crisis response team. Those in need could call and also have access to short-term stabilization facilities if needed. This bill makes sure that the help people need is a phone call away. 
  • The bill would create a new, less restrictive level of care and facilitate faster, more appropriate crisis response.
  • It would also help make sure that law enforcement and emergency response services aren't being asked to do things that pull them away from their primary responsibilities.
  • With a companion bill also moving through the Senate, I'm hopeful that we'll be able to implement these important changes this year.
Special Election Ballots on the Way

Are You Still Waiting for Your Ballot?

Many of you may have already received your ballots for the upcoming special election to fill Alaska's congressional seat left vacant by the passing of Representative Don Young. The Alaska Division of Elections mailed ballots out on April 27th.

If you haven't received your ballot yet, you can contact the Division of Elections at (907) 465-4611 to verify that it was mailed to the correct address. You can also review your registration information here.

The deadline to register or update your mailing information to be eligible to vote in the special primary election is Thursday, May 12, 2022.

You can also sign up to receive ballot tracking notifications via text, email, or phone. Ballots must be completed and postmarked no later June 11, 2022 in order for your vote to count!

On Deck
Items of interest on the legislative calendar
Coming Up This Week:

Monday May 9th

(H)Finance 1:30PM
SB 243 Power cost Equalization: Raise, Endowment Fund Investment
HB 5 Sexual Assault; Def. of “Consent”
(S) Labor & Commerce 1:30PM
HB 363 Broadband: Office, Grants, Parity
-Public Testimony-
HB 289 AK Marijuana Industry Task Force
-Public Testimony-
HB 145 Expand Pharmacist Authority
(S) Resources 3:30PM
SB 106 Tax on Income: O&G S-Corp, Partnerships
SB 244 Hearing Establish Drilling Units/Spacing
-Public Testimony-
SJR 11 Supporting Road Belt Electrical Line

Tuesday May 10th
(H)Finance 9:00AM
SB 204 Hunting Permit/Tag Auctions/Raffles
-Public Testimony-
HB 66 Elections, Voting, Ballots
SB 111 Early Education; Reading Intervention
(H)Finance 1:30PM
 SB 203 Purple Heart Trail
SB 25 State Gov’t Finances: Website
-Public Testimony-
HB 350 School Bond Debt Reimbursement
(H)State Affairs 3:00PM
HB 66 Elections, Voting, Ballots

Wednesday May 11th
(H)Finance 9:00AM
SB 20 Out of State Teacher Reciprocity
-Public Testimony-
HB 170 Energy Independence Program & Fund: AIDEA
(H)Resources 1:00PM
HB 120 State Land Sales and Leases; Rivers
SB 177 Microreactors
(S)Judiciary 1:30PM
HB 325 Domestic Violence
-Public Testimony-

Thursday May 12th
(S)State Affairs 3:30PM
HB 234 Political Contribution Limits
HB 123 State Recognition of Tribes
HB 297 Military Member Child Protection

Friday May 13th
(S)Judiciary 1:30PM
HB 62 Marriage: Witnesses/Solemnization/Consent
HB 325 Domestic Violence
I got the chance to meet with members of the Alaska Regional Coalition, a consortium of five Native regional nonprofits from Ketchikan to Kotzebue, who were here to watch SB 81, the VPSO bill, pass the House. From left: Anthony Cravalho, Heather Gatti, Jordan Marshall, Angela Vanderpool, Mary David, and Brian Ridley.
Chatting with Martin Stepetin Sr., a friend who originally hails from St. Paul. Martin was a First Alaskans Institute Public Policy Fellow in the 31st legislature, and now serves on the Juneau School Board. Go Martin!
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:
Amory: amory.lelake@akleg.gov
Seth: seth.whitten@akleg.gov
Laib: laib.allensworth@akleg.gov
Alaska House Coalition
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Alaska House of Representatives
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