May 20, 2024

 

Dear Friends and Neighbors,  

 

After a long and intense session, the 33rd Legislature came to an end when the House of Representatives adjourned sine die a little after midnight on May 16th.  The Senate adjourned shortly before midnight. There was a flurry of activity during the final week, and we were able to pass the operating and capital budgets, and a number of important bills addressing everything from energy to public safety to education.  The bills and budgets that passed this session now go to the Governor for his consideration before they become law. As a part of the House Coalition, I was honored to work with 15 colleagues from around the state on our priorities. 

  

Over the interim months of June – December I will visit each of the 21 incredible communities in the district. I’ll do my best to get the word out when I come to town, and I look forward to meeting with you while I’m there. During the interim I can continue to be reached at 907.465.3732 or by email at rep.himschoot@akleg.gov. Please do not hesitate to contact me with questions, concerns or suggestions on district or state issues.  

 

I will be sending out a mailer to House District 2 residents with information on the legislative session and the Southeast Swell will become a monthly electronic newsletter during the interim.  

Speaking during a House Floor Session.

Legislative Update


CAPITAL AND OPERATING BUDGETS

 

This year, in contrast to last year, the House and Senate cooperated on both the operating and the capital budgets. The differences in the House and Senate version of the operating budget were worked out in conference committee and the Senate concurred with the version of the capital budget that passed the House. Both paths reflect a sound effort to collaborate while meeting the diverse concerns and needs of the various districts across the state. On the conference committee for the operating budget, Southeast was lucky to have two of the six seats filled by Senator Bert Stedman from Sitka and Representative Dan Ortiz from Ketchikan.Furthermore, the budgets that passed are balanced and Alaska will not need to draw from savings. 

 

The FY 2025 operating budget, that was finalized by the conference committee, passed the House just before midnight on the last day of session. Over half the total general funds for the budgets, or about $3.7 billion, are estimated to be from the percent of market value draw of the permanent fund. Total petroleum revenue for FY 2025 is estimated to be about $2.7 billion. There is also about $3 billion in federal funding in the capital budget and $3.5 billion in federal funding for the operating budget.



Operating Budget Items of Note


  • $1,655 PFD: 25 % of the POMV permanent fund draw goes to the PFD plus a $295 “energy relief” payment. The energy relief payment resulted from a “waterfall” provision in the 2024 operating budget that provided additional funds in the annual checks to Alaskans if the average price of oil remained above $73 per barrel.
  • An additional $175 million in one-time funding to the BSA (approximately $680 per student increase).
  • An extra $7.3 million for pupil transportation.
  • $5.2 million to school districts for K-3 students (Reads Act related).
  • $820 thousand increase for Parents as Teachers.
  • $518.3 thousand increase for Autism Services inflation adjustment.
  • $1.5 million for Senior Day Services, and an additional $1.5 for community-based grants.
  • $5 million for tourism marketing (grant to the Alaska Travel Industry Association).
  • $10 million for the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute.
  • $204.5 thousand increase for Alaska Legal Services.
  • $1.5 million for Alaskan Food Banks and Pantries to promote food security (FY24 supplemental that carries into FY25).
  • $3.7 million for the Council on Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault.
  • $7.5 million for grants to childcare providers.
  • $20 million backstop funding for AMHS in case federal and other receipts are insufficient.

 

The vast majority of the capital budget is supported with federal funds and much of the state funding is to meet the required match for the federal funds. In the capital budget there were small wins for a number of communities in House District 2, but the big wins are in the form of support for the Alaska Marine Highway System, the replacement of the Department of Public Safety vessel the Enforcer, support for the Interisland Ferry System and funding for school major maintenance in a number of communities, as well as funding for a Southeast renewable energy project. 

 


Capital Budget Items of Note


  • $14 million Alaska Energy Authority – Round 16 Renewable Energy Project Grants for projects in Ruby, Kenai, Kotzebue, Homer, Igiugig, Pelican and Naknek
  • $1 billion in federal funding for Broadband Equity Access and Deployment Program
  • $63 million for Major Maintenance Grant Funds for School Districts Statewide including projects in Craig, Petersburg and Kake.
  • $76 million for various Alaska Housing Finance Corporation programs to help address the housing crisis in Alaska.
  • $56 million for the University of Alaska programs and facility upgrades.
  • $7 million for the Harbor Matching Grant Fund.
  • $25 million for Alaska Marine Highway System Vessel Overhaul, Annual Certification and Shoreside Facilities Rehabilitation.
  • $24 million for Federal Toll Credits for Match for AMHS.
  • $3 million for Ferry Refurbishment.
  • $3.6 million for Ferry Terminal Refurbishment.
  • $116 million, for M/V Tustumena Replacement Vessel.
  • $9.5 million for the Patrol Vessel Enforcer Replacement.



The budgets will next go to the Governor for his consideration. It is important to keep in mind the governor has the opportunity to veto all or a portion of the funding for line items in the budget. It takes three quarters of the full legislature and a special session to override a veto of any budget items, or the legislature can consider overriding in the first five days of the next session, which begins in January.     

 

 

BILLS I SPONSORED IN THE 33RD LEGISLATURE

 

HB 230, TEACHERS: OUT-OF-STATE EXPERIENCE; RETIRED passed the legislature on the last day of session by a nearly unanimous vote! Originally the bill repealed the statutory limit on the number of years of out-of-state teaching experience that districts can use to determine a teacher’s salary. It was amended to include provisions from bills carried by Senator Bjorkman and Representative Dibert that allow retired teachers to substitute for up 165 days and incentivizes teachers to improve their practice by offering an annual $5,000 bonus to national board-certified teachers and reimburse teachers’ costs for course materials, registration and testing to renew or initially obtain national board certification.


HB 201 / SB 171, RESIDENCY REQ: HUNTING, TRAPPING AND FISHING would have closely aligned the residency requirements for the purpose of obtaining a resident hunting, trapping or sport fishing license with the requirements to get a permanent fund dividend. The companion bill sponsored by Senator Bjorkman passed the Senate (15-5) and met my bill in the House Resources committee. We each had a hearing in the House Resources Committee, but the legislation never moved from committee. I will continue to work on this during the interim.


HB 163, FAFSA RAFFLE, would have created a cash prize program for students who complete their FAFSA. The bill was cosponsored by members of the freshman caucus and was heard in House Judiciary Committee towards the end of session, but it did not move from committee. Alaska has the lowest FAFSA completion rate of all 50 states.


HB 356, PAYMENT OF CONTRACTS, was a prompt payment bill to address the concern of non-profits and municipalities that are not getting paid in a timely manner by the state. The bill was introduced late in the session and did not get a hearing. I will continue to work with nonprofit organizations and municipalities on this issue.


HJR 5, ALASKA FISHERIES; TROLL FISHERIES, was a resolution expressing support for the commercial trollers who are facing litigation by a conservation organization in an attempt to close the Chinook fishery. It was one of the first pieces of legislation to pass last year.

 


OTHERIMPORTANT LEGISLATIVE ACTIONS

 

 Education

 

Education was a top priority for my caucus and much of this session was spent on seeking support for all of Alaska’s public-school options: neighborhood schools, charter schools and correspondence schools.As you likely remember, the legislature passed SB 140, a comprehensive education bill with a permanent increase of $680 to the Base Student Allocation. The Governor vetoed the bill, and the legislature failed to override the veto by one vote. 

 

Bills passed that updated and expand the Alaska Performance Scholarship, support technical schools across Alaska, address school staffing issues, direct the State Board of Education to develop temporary regulations for home schools, and provide for opioid overdose reversal medications in schools. 

 

The operating budget includes additional funds for student transportation, support for the Reads Act, and $680 one-time funding in the BSA. 

 

 

Fisheries

 

As the statewide crisis in fisheries continues the legislature passed a few measures to assist the fleet and took important actions on the Governor’s appointees to the Board of Fisheries and Commercial Fisheries Entry Commission:

 

  • HB 19, a fix to the original derelict vessel bill so that documented commercial fishing vessels registered with the Commercial Fisheries Entry Commission no longer also need to register with the Division of Motor Vehicles.


  • SB 93, An update to the Fishermen’s Fund so that the fund can pay out up to $15,000 for medical expenses or for vessel owners to cover an insurance deductible related to an injury.


  • A provision was added to HB 273 to reduce the interest rates to not more than 5.25 % for fishermen who are getting a loan or refinancing with the commercial fishing revolving loan fund in the next three years. It also increases the refinance loan cap from $200,000 to $400,000 during the same time period.


  • A resolution in support of the seafood industry and a resolution that will create a Seafood Task Force of four Representatives and four Senators with the purpose of evaluating how the legislature can continue to support the industry with legislation and other initiatives.


  • HB 345, a bill requiring safety ladders for harbor projects receiving funding from the state’s harbor facility grant fund passed. Harbormasters anticipate being able to cover the cost of installing these ladders with grant funds. 


  • Board of Fisheries appointees Märit Carlson-Van Dort and Curtis Chamberlain were confirmed by the legislature. 


  • The appointment of Mike Porcaro as a Commercial Fisheries Entry Commissioner was narrowly rejected. The Governor must now select a new commissioner.

 

 

Energy

 

In addition to approving funding for some renewable energy projects statewide, the legislature passed a couple of important energy bills. HB 50 will set up a framework to allow the state to lease depleted oil and gas wells to store carbon dioxide. Provisions were also added to help address the natural gas shortage Southcentral Alaska is facing. HB 307 will establish an integrated Railbelt transmission organization to help ensure Southcentral Alaska residents get the lowest cost electricity and renewable energy is able to be integrated into the transmission system. In addition, HB 273 passed and will establish a “green bank” at the Alaska Housing Finance Corporation to help the state secure funding for renewable energy projects. 

 

 

Public Safety

 

The legislature passed HB 66, an omnibus public safety bill, which will impose tougher penalties for drug offenses and allow law enforcement officers to present evidence, in place of victims, to secure an indictment. The increasing penalties for drug offenses is designed to address the fentanyl crisis in Alaska and the provision to allow law enforcement officers to testify in place of victims is to help reduce the trauma for victims. 

 

 

Childcare

 

An amendment to SB 189 added provisions from HB 89 to expand childcare assistance subsidy payments to more Alaskans. This will help shore up a struggling childcare sector and get Alaskans who depend on childcare back to work. This bill was supported by the Alaska Chamber of Commerce and Alaska AFl-CIO.



SNAP Benefits

 

A provision was added to HB 344 that authorizes the Department of Health to implement “broad-based categorical eligibility,” a Medicaid waiver that will streamline the application process, ease requirements to obtain SNAP benefits, and help alleviate hunger for thousands of Alaskans.

 

 

Bills that Did Not Pass

 

In addition to some of the other measures I have highlighted, there were a number of bills I know House District 2 residents were following that also did not pass the legislature before we adjourned. Among other bills that did not pass was an omnibus elections bill that would have helped the state cull the voter rolls to remove voters who no longer live in Alaska, eliminate the witness signature requirement on absentee ballots, and create a framework to allow voters to correct errors on absentee ballots. Also, legislation that would have limited the designation of tier 3 waters to the passage of a bill, liberalized requirements for individuals interested in enhancement of salmon runs on a small scale and formalized the state’s title submerged lands underlying navigable water, did not pass. With 400 House bills and 266 Senate bills introduced this session, and only a relatively small portion passing, this is by no means a comprehensive list. Importantly, none of the bills to provide a permanent increase to the Base Student Allocation passed.

 

Since this is the 2nd session of the 33rd legislature, when we adjourned early on May 16th, all the bills that did not pass effectively are dead. However, nothing prevents a legislator from reintroducing an identical or similar bill during the 34th legislature. Any bill introduced in the 34th legislature will need to go through the full legislative process, even if it was heard during the 33rd legislature.    

 


Alaska Marine Highway Update


The Alaska Marine Highway System (AMHS) has been working hard to keep Alaskans updated on the staffing and vessel status as they work to improve the system with federal funding over the next few years. The vessels are old and are often required to spend long periods of time in shipyards for major maintenance. Fortunately, federal funds are available to replace the Tustumena and build a low/no emission ferry likely to run between Saxman and Metlakatla. 

 

In addition, AMHS is doing its best to let residents know when vessels will be in port for major maintenance. Fortunately, federal funds are also available for ferry dock projects in Yakutat, Kake, Angoon and Pelican, to upgrade docks and allow Alaska-class ferries to serve more communities. The ferry service is also evaluating serving Hyder instead of Prince Rupert because of the expense of maintaining and staffing the AMHS facility in Prince Rupert. Unfortunately, staffing challenges continue to plague AMHS but they are making progress. I will continue to monitor the ferry system and keep you updated.

Listening to a bill introduction by Representative Gray during a Community and Regional Affairs Committee meeting.

What You Can Do

Take an Alaska Lumber Grading Training Course 


Make a Christmas Tree Skirt for Trees that will Represent Alaska Inside the U.S. Capitol.

  • The Forest Service is collecting 45 Christmas tree skirts for smaller trees that will be in the U.S. Capitol over the holidays.
  • They must be submitted by September 16, 2024.


Nominate Someone for the Annual Governor's Arts and Humanities Awards 

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.


 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.