Dear Neighbor,

The primary purpose of this email is to celebrate the passage of the school bond and to say thank you. To everyone who voted for the school bond, volunteered with School Bonds Yes, testified at any number of school board meetings, volunteered on the Building Design Committee, canvassed the neighborhood, and did any myriad of tasks necessary to secure funding for the replacement of Inlet View Elementary’s obsolete building. I am beyond thrilled that the teachers, students, parents, and administrators who work so hard every day will finally have a functioning building in which to work and learn.

State Budget Update

The House has passed the operating budget, and the Senate has passed the capital budget. Now, both budgets are in the other chamber for consideration. I’m pleased the House budget makes important investments in education, childcare, ferries, and for a tiny amount of money provides free school lunches to poor kids.The primary problem with the operating budget is that it does nothing to address our energy crisis, and has a fantasy mega-PFD that is almost twice as large as we can actually afford. I introduced several amendments to the budget:


  • $50 million capitalization of the Housing Trust Fund, which would have expanded our housing investment by ten orders of magnitude. While this amendment failed 18-22, I was pleased at how many members recognize the gravity of our housing crisis and the need to deploy AIDEA resources to address it.
  • Increased funding for snow clearing in Anchorage and other communities; this amendment passed 21-19.
  • Restoration of state funding to support community policing. This funding was cut out of the state budget in 2019. With a loss of nearly 50 police officers in APD over the last three years, I strongly support renewed state support for public safety. This amendment narrowly failed due to Republican opposition.
  • Increase of $12.9 million for behavioral health supports. Building out our behavioral health and mental health continuum of care is as important for public safety as adequate policing. Unfortunately, this amendment also failed due to Republican opposition. It is unfortunate, because failure to fund behavioral health adequately only will result in growth of the prison population.

The Senate capital budget makes important capital investments in K-12 and University system deferred maintenance, infrastructure to support local quality of life and our growing visitor industry. It also has important funding for weatherization. However, neither the House nor Senate budget funds the entirety of Renewable Energy Fund (REF) recommended projects list throughout Alaska, and there’s an opportunity to expand the GRIP match to make our state more competitive as we apply for the next Department of Energy grant round to modernize transmission between Anchorage and Healy. Given the energy crisis, I strongly support a focus on rapid deployment of affordable renewable energy in this budget.


The primary problem with the operating budget is that it does nothing to address our energy crisis and has a fantasy mega-PFD that is almost twice as large as we can actually afford.


The Senate capital budget makes important capital investments in K-12 and the University system, deferred maintenance, and infrastructure to support local quality of life and our growing tourism industry.

Correspondence School Decision

Superior Court judge Adolf Zeman issued a decision striking down “shadow vouchers” in response to a lawsuit that unambiguously showed correspondence “allotments” were being used to fund religious and private school tuition, as well as purchase religious materials.  


Article VII, Section 1 of Alaska’s Constitution reads:

The legislature shall by general law establish and maintain a system of public schools open to all children of the State, and may provide for other public educational institutions. Schools and institutions so established shall be free from sectarian control. No money shall be paid from public funds for the direct benefit of any religious or other private educational institution.


In 2014, then-Senator Dunleavy inserted “allotment” language into a bill at the last minute. Non-partisan Legislative Legal Services attorneys warned him it was unconstitutional, and they were right. Unfortunately, this unconstitutional language has destabilized correspondence programs, but we all take an oath to the Constitution so we must fix state statutes accordingly.


I support fixing correspondence statutes so they are constitutional. We also have an immediate and dire need to update BSA and fix teacher retirement programs. I supported SB140, which increased support for all public education programs—correspondence, charter, and neighborhood schools—but of course, that bill was vetoed. With less than a month left in session, the only realistic way to update our education statutes and fix under-funding and correspondence language is with a package of educational reforms.


The recent court decision will add urgency to our work to advance another bill after the veto of SB140. I’m committed to supporting all students, regardless of how they attend public school. 

HB 378: Organized Retail Crime

I’m happy to report that the Labor and Commerce Committee advanced HB 378, my legislation, to combat organized retail crime. I’ve heard first-hand from Downtown and Midtown business owners about the need to update statutes to combat organized crime and support safe, vibrant business districts.

HB 285: Diagnostic Breast Cancer Testing

Yesterday, my bill HB 285 - eliminating cost-sharing for diagnostic breast imaging - moved out of the House Health and Social Services Committee. I am grateful to those who testified and shared their experiences with breast cancer and how cost-sharing for life-saving care has impacted their lives. In the meantime, if you would like to submit a letter of support, please email it to rep.zack.fields@akleg.gov.

Public Comment for the Alaska Long Trail

The Bureau of Land Management is conducting a feasibility study to evaluate the eligibility of the Alaska Long Trail as a National Scenic Trail. The feasibility considers how a trail impacts the right-of-ways and recreational uses of the proposed land. You can visit their website to provide a comment; the deadline for public comment is April 19th, 2024.


Together with my colleagues in the Legislature, I authored a letter to Secretary Haaland in support of the Long Trail's designation as a National Scenic Trail.

Thanks to everyone I’ve had an opportunity to catch up with recently, including supporters of the Alaska Cultural Trust, Downtown business owners, teachers and school administrators, Fairview residents at the “Go Blue” event, and many others. 


See you around the neighborhood,


Zack

Representative Zack Fields - House District 17

Serving Downtown, South Addition, Forest Park, North Star, and Fairview