April 2, 2024

 

Dear Friends and Neighbors:


After a lovely and restful Easter weekend the House is continuing to debate the operating budget. The House Finance Committee is working through nearly 100 amendments, but so far very few have passed. After the committee finishes the amendment process, they will vote on whether to pass the operating budget out of committee. After the bill moves from the House Finance Committee it will be another opportunity for members to offer budget amendments on the House Floor before the budget package is debated and voted on. 

 

In addition to monitoring the budget process, and keeping up with my other legislative work, I have been paying attention to the federal funding the state receives for transportation and education. Last week there were a couple of big developments that could have a significant impact on our state finances. Just before Easter weekend the Governor signed the bill providing support for school districts to receive grant funds to increase internet speeds, the legislature passed a good bill supporting our fishermen, and we continued working through other pieces of legislation at the committee level.  


If there is a bill or budget item you would like to share your position on, a district issue you would like to bring to my attention, or if you will be in Juneau, please contact my office by phone (907.465.3732) or email (rep.himschoot@akleg.gov).  To learn more about what is going on in Juneau, you, your friends, and neighbors can subscribe to Southeast Swell by emailing rep.himschoot@akleg.gov or by signing up on this website.

A sure sign of spring here on the fourth floor of the Capitol!

Federal Funds

As you likely remember, Alaska had to rewrite the Statewide Transportation Improvement Plan (STIP) this winter after the federal government found significant flaws with the initial versions of the STIP and Alaska was the only state in the union without an approved STIP. Fortunately, last week the STIP was largely accepted by the Federal Transportation Administration. It was a really tight timeline for the Department of Transportation and Public Facilities to make the necessary changes to the plan.

 

While most of the plan was approved, there were a few projects that were rejected by the federal government and a number of projects that need additional work or need to meet certain conditions to qualify for funding. This includes the proposed Cascade Point Ferry Terminal. According to a Juneau Empire article on the STIP approval, there needs to be an existing AMHS ferry transportation facility at Cascade Point before the project can qualify for federal funding. While there are some details to be worked out and some projects that will not be funded, I am deeply relieved the summer construction season and projects planned over the next three years can go forward.

 

Despite the good news on the STIP, Alaska is still facing some challenges with federal funding. It was revealed last week that despite several warnings, the state Department of Education and Early Development (DEED) failed to meet the federal Maintenance of Equity standard when disbursing American Rescue Plan funds to school districts. According to an article in the Anchorage Daily News future federal education grants (including $425 million for FY 2025) are at risk and the federal government is also requiring the state to pay around 30 million additional dollars to a handful of impacted districts. Furthermore, the $359 million in COVID funding Alaska received from the U.S. Department of Education could be recovered by the federal government.


Again, Alaska is the only state in the country that has not met, or had their plan approved to meet, the conditions imposed by the U.S. Department of Education. This is extremely concerning and adds to the reasons it is not a good idea to place the approval of charter schools with DEED rather than leaving this process to local school boards. In the midst of an epic battle to get additional funds to the school districts across Alaska, including the 11 school districts in House District 2, coming up with an additional $30 million to rectify an avoidable situation is no easy lift and is extremely unfortunate. 

Legislative Update


Good Bills that Passed the Legislature Recently

 

With mixed news from the federal government, I want to highlight some good news regarding state legislation. 

 

House Bill 193, the bill to increase broadband access grants, and allow schools with faster internet speeds to qualify, was signed into law last Wednesday, March 27th, the deadline for districts to apply for these grants. This bill moved through the House and Senate quickly after the veto of the omnibus education bill, allowing districts with substandard internet to apply for federal matching money to improve internet speeds through the Broadband Assistance Grant. There will be a federal match of 8 dollars to each state dollar.

 

In addition to the passage House Bill 193, the legislature passed Senate Bill 93, with a vote of 39 -1 in the House. This bill increases the limits on payouts from the Alaska Fisherman’s Fund for commercial fishing illnesses and injuries. The bill will increase the maximum payout for an injury from $10,000 to $15,000. There is also language in the bill that automatically reduces the payments if the fund falls below a certain level. Given the inflation of health care costs this bill is very important for the hard-working commercial fishermen in Alaska.   

 

Appointments to the Alaska Boards of Fisheries and Game

 

The Governor announced Board of Fisheries and Board of Game appointments. His press release can be found here and below is list of the new appointees a with a little background information. I am again disappointed that no one from Southeast Alaska was appointed to the Board of Fisheries and the board continues to be dominated by Southcentral residents. However, it is exciting to see Prince of Wales resident, Jim Baichtal, appointed to the Board of Game. 

 

Board of Fisheries

 

The terms of Marit Carlson-Van Dort, Anchorage and John Wood, Willow, expire July 1, 2024

 

Marit Carlson-Van Dort was reappointed to the Board of Fisheries. Ms. Carlson-Van Dort is the President and CEO of Far West, Inc. an Alaska Native Village Corporation and has served on the Board of Fisheries since 2019.

 

Curtis Chamberlain, Anchorage, was appointed. Mr. Chamberlain works as the Assistant General Counsel for Corporate Governance and Litigation at the Calista Corporation and grew up in Aniak and Bethel. 

 

Board of Game

 

The terms of Jerry Burnett, Juneau, and James Cooney, Eagle River, expire July 1, 2024

 

Jake Garner, Anchorage, was appointed. Mr. Garner is the Vice President of Operations for the Ouzinkie Native Corporation, and he grew up hunting and enjoying a subsistence lifestyle in rural Alaska.

 

Jim Baichtal, Thorne Bay, was appointed. Mr. Baichtal retired after working as a geologist with the Forest Service for 39 years and he is currently the Alaska Regional Coordinator for the Mule Deer Foundation.



Bills that Passed the House Last Week

 

HB 253, FEDERALLY DESIGNATED REFRIGERANTS. "An Act relating to refrigerants designated as acceptable for use under federal law."

 

SB 93, FISHERMEN'S FUND: VESSEL OWNER CLAIMS. "An Act relating to claims for injury, disability, or heart attack payable from the fishermen's fund; relating to claims against protection and indemnity insurance policies of vessel owners; relating to the definition of 'occupational disease'; and providing for an effective date."

 

SB 46, BRAIN INJURY AWARENESS MONTH. "An Act establishing the month of March as Brain Injury Awareness Month; and providing for an effective date."

 

HB 371, MEDICAL REVIEW ORGANIZATIONS. "An Act relating to medical review organizations; relating to the definitions of 'health care provider' and 'review organization'; and relating to the duties of the chief medical officer in the Department of Health." "An Act relating to medical review organizations; relating to the definitions of 'health care provider' and 'review organization'; and relating to the duties of the chief medical officer in the Department of Health."


Rural educators from across Alaska met with me with the message “Don’t give up on our kids.”

What You Can Do

Attend a Community Workshop on the Tongass National Forest Land Management Plan Revision 

  • The Forest Service is Revising the Tongass National Forest Land Management Plan. They want to hear from you and will be hosting meetings throughout Southeast Alaska. You can find out more about the revision process online and see the list of community workshops below.

Community Workshops in Southeast


Participate in the Friends of Sheldon Jackson Museum Annual Meeting with Chuna McIntyre

 

  • Tomorrow, Wednesday April 3, attend the Friends of Sheldon Jackson Museum Annual Meeting on Zoom and at the Westmark Sitka Hotel.


  • Chuna McIntyre is a Yup’ik garment maker, painter, storyteller, and cultural expert. Born in Eek, a small village on the coast of the Bering Sea, McIntyre learned traditional Yup’ik dance, stories, and songs from his grandmother. He later founded and directed the Nunamta Yup’ik Eskimo Singers & Dancers, a troupe that has traveled the world. 


  • McIntyre has provided cultural consultations to the Metropolitan Museum of Fine Art in New York, the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C., the Smithsonian Arctic Studies Center in Anchorage, Alaska, and the Honolulu Museum of Art in Hawaii, among others.


  • The Friends are pleased to offer the community the opportunity to attend a free presentation by this acclaimed artist. 



Guest Artist Chuna McIntre

Order of Events


  • 5:30 pm: hors d’oeuvres and renewal of memberships and registrations
  • 5:45 pm: short business meeting and election for board members
  • 6:00 pm: presentation by guest artist Chuna McIntyre


Zoom information


https://us02web.zoom.us/j/84840355134pwd=TXAwT3FBZ3BNMjdWdXN4cjlxTXI3QT09

Meeting ID: 848 4035 5134

Passcode: Meeting

Attend Keep On Pickin’ – Juneau Art Show Celebrating Eric and Pam Bealer

  • If you happen to be in Juneau on Friday, April 5, or in town next week for the Folk Festival, but sure to stop by the Alaska Robotics Gallery to see “Keep On Pickin’ – Juneau Art Show Celebrating Eric and Pam Bealer” of Pelican. The show will open on Friday, April 5 at 4:30 pm and be up through April 14, 2024.

Watch a Short Video on the Exciting Opportunities in Angoon

  • Watch "Angoon Youth on the Cusp of the Energy Transition" on you tube. This video was shared with me over the weekend and is one more example of the great work happening in schools and communities across HD 2. Congratulations to Angoon on finally receiving the funds to bring hydropower to their community!


Fill out Your FAFSA!

  • The Alaska Commission on Postsecondary Education (ACPE) provides education and career funding solutions. Currently leading the Alaska FAFSA Completion Initiative, ACPE offers a variety of resources to support and increase FAFSA completion. Historically, Alaska ranks last or next to last in national FAFSA completion rates, resulting in our students losing out on millions of dollars in financial aid opportunities each year. In collaboration with education stakeholders across the State, ACPE is working to change that! Visit acpe.alaska.gov/FAFSACompletionInitiative to learn more.


Share how you would Balance the State of Alaska Budget

  • Commonwealth North invites you to go to www.akbudget.com and suggest how the state should balance the budget. Your individual suggestions will be confidential, but the full results will be shared with the legislature. Commonwealth North was founded in 1979 by Governors Bill Egan and Walter Hickel. Commonwealth North’s mission is to educate Alaskans on significant public policy issues and assist in identifying effective solutions.  


 Follow the Legislature and Comment


  • If there is a bill or resolution you want to follow, you can get an email update every time action is taken on the legislation with the Bill Tracking Management Facility.