Representative Ivy Spohnholz
Update from Juneau: Justice Reform, HB 156,
Oil Subsidies & Summer Events

Share on Facebook  May 13, 2016

Dear Neighbors,

Nothing about my first legislative session has been “normal.” I came to Juneau to fill the seat vacated by the passing of Rep. Max Gruenberg, my first day of work was a 20 hour budget floor session, and now we are on day 116 of a 90 day session as we are working to fill in a $4B deficit. I expect that the legislature will make headlines with some historic decisions in the coming weeks, but today I want to update you on a few key issues.

Rep. Spohnholz speaking on SB 91 in the temporary chamber of the House located in an old school gymnasium
Rep. Spohnholz speaking on SB 91 in the temporary chamber of the House located in an old school gymnasium.

Historic Criminal Justice Reform Passes

Senate Bill 91 passed the House of Representatives last week after more than a year’s worth of work in the Senate and the House. Today, the Senate to approved the changes proposed in the State House and will forward it to the Governor for his approval.

This bill is based on the work of the Alaska Criminal Justice Commission which worked for a year and a half with the support of the Pew Charitable Trust as a part of its public safety performance project.

The bill passed after a great deal of work by the Alaska Criminal Justice Commission to develop specific recommendations that willenhance public safety, rehabilitate offenders, provide for victim restitution and reduce costs. The process was data driven, informed by experiences and successes in other states, but designed by and for Alaskans. Senators John Coghill (R-North Pole) and Johnny Ellis (D-Anchorage) used the Commission’s recommendations to craft SB 91.

Some of the challenges that that SB91 seeks to address include: 

  • Unsustainable spending on Alaska’s prisons.  We spend over $240M annually on the Department of Corrections budget. The Goose Creek Prison that just opened in 2014 cost over $250 million to build and costs more than $50 million a year to operate. At the current rate of incarceration we’ll need to start building a new large prison in the next year or two.
  • Alaska has one of the highest rates of re-offending in the country.  About two-thirds of all released prisoners can be expected to be arrested and incarcerated again in the next two years if we don’t start doing something different.
  • Many of the prisoners currently being held are in pre-trial status.
  • Most of the offenders in jail right now are in there for non-violent offenses. 
  • The prescription drug abuse epidemic is another significant problem for public safety.  It is also one of the reasons why the number of children in foster care has skyrocketed.

Key elements of SB91 include:

  • One of the biggest cost drivers in our jail system is the large number of people in jail before their trials who evidence shows could safely be released on bail or through the use of electronic monitoring. 
    The bill addresses this by:
    • Using a pre-trial risk assessment tool based on evidence to determine whether or not to release someone on bail. People who are low-risk for failing to appear will now have access to bail. The bill also requires these assessments be done within 24 hours.
    • Allowing electronic monitoring as an option for low-risk offenders in order to help people keep jobs and support their families while they await their trials.
  • Additional funding for substance abuse treatment, mental health services, and domestic violence and sexual assault prevention programs.

Issue of Concern: House Bill 156

After three failed attempts, last week the House reconsidered House Bill 156 for the fourth time and voted 21-18 to pass the bill. The original subject of HB 156 was local control of educational policy and testing as well as eliminating the requirement that Alaska schools spend at least 70% of their funding on teaching our students. However, it was later amended to incorporate parts of Senate Bill 89 that would require school boards to review sex education curriculum and approve each individual who provided instruction on sex education, including peer instructors, among other provisions.

Therefore when the bill returned to the House from a conference committee, I voted against it. The nonpartisan League of Women Voters of Alaska weighed in on HB 156 in a letter stating that they oppose the bill because of provisions that require school board approval for both sex education instructors and curriculum that will have negative impacts throughout Alaska, particularly in rural Alaska where rates of sexually-transmitted diseases are high. Last Thursday, however, a representative asked for reconsideration. With one representative changing his vote, the House approved the Senate amendments to HB 156.

Alaska’s rates of sexually-transmitted diseases, sexual abuse, and teen pregnancy are staggering. We must protect students’ access to important and accurate sexual health education. The safety of our children is a constant priority, and we must make sure they have the tools to be safe and make educated decisions about their own health. If you agree that HB 156 is not what’s best for Alaska, as I believe, I encourage you to contact Governor Walker and urge him to veto this divisive legislation.

On the calendar today: Oil and Gas Tax Credit Reform

Today we are going to be voting on Oil and Gas Tax Credit reform. The oil and gas industry is our biggest source of state funds and is the backbone of our economy. As goes the oil and gas industry, so goes Alaska’s economy, so when we had lots of money it made sense to invest in oil and gas tax credit to spur growth where we needed it—particularly in Cook Inlet. However, the times are changing with the huge drop in oil and gas prices so we don’t have the cash on hand to pay the bills let alone invest. So we are looking at reducing the amount we pay out in oil and gas tax credits.
Today we will have a bill (HB 247) on the floor along with several amendments. This is an essential building block of our financial plan to fund the FY17 budget, so it promises to be a challenging few days as we work through this critical issue. I encourage you to follow the progress on the House floor on Gavel to Gavel if you like.

As always, thank you for reading this newsletter.  Please don’t hesitate to reach out to me with your thoughts, concerns, and questions.  I look forward to hearing from you.

Best Regards,

[signed] Ivy Spohnholz
Ivy Spohnholz

P.S. Here is a list of low or no cost summer events you and your family might enjoy attending!


There are many events taking place across Anchorage this summer.  Here are a few family-friendly ones that are near East Anchorage and around town:

  • The 32nd annual Creek Cleanup is underway this weekend.  For more information, check out the Anchorage Waterways Council’s website.
  • On May 16th, the Alaska Botanical Gardens is celebrating the 50th Anniversary of Alaska Arbor Day.
  • The Muldoon Branch Library is hosting STEM Storytime on May 25th.  It will be a great event for Preschoolers and families.
  • On May 28th, the Loussac Library is hosting a learn to code camp from 2pm to 4pm.
  • The Alaska Botanical Gardens is putting on a day of fun and educational activities called “Family, Fun and Flowers.” The event takes place on June 2nd.
  • The Anchorage Downtown Partnership is hosting two weekly events beginning in early June:
    • Music in the Park takes places at Peratrovich park next to old city hall downtown on Wednesdays from 12pm to 1pm beginning on June 1st and ending on August 17th.
    • Music for Little Ones is also located at Peratrovich park.  It starts on Monday June 6th from 12pm to 1pm and reoccurs every Monday until August 15th.
  • The 3 Barons Renaissance Fair is happening the first two weekends in June off of Tudor road near Elmore.
  • On June 11th, the Muldoon Branch Library is hosting “Learn, Make and Take” a fun crafting class for children. (A parent must accompany a participating child)
  • The Alaska Botanical Garden is hosting a free event for kids on June 16th called “Story Time in the Garden.”
  • The Downtown Summer Solstice Festival takes place on June 18th from 1pm to 6pm on Fourth Avenue between C St. and L St.
  • JBER is once again hosting the Alaska Arctic Thunder Air Show on July 30th and 31st. 
Phone:  (907) 465-4940
Fax:  (907) 465-3766

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Alaska State Capitol
Room # 110
Juneau, AK 99801