Dear Neighbors & Friends,
Today is *hopefully* the last day before the legislature recesses. First, we are practicing social distancing and self-isolating outside the capitol. When we are on the floor we are too close and that is a big part of the desire to finish up for now. We are being as safe as possible under the circumstances, but felt it was necessary to try and get the operating budget and Covid-19 response passed before a recess.
During the recess committees will continue to meet and consider important legislation. It’s also possible the legislature will have come back together for additional Covid-19 response. We don’t know how long this will last or how lasting the impact will be so we focused on getting the work done on the budget and immediate response.
The graphic to the right has been circulating online and I wanted to share because the uncertainty of our times can feel overwhelming. If you are feeling that right now, you are not alone
in feeling that and I like how this can help us focus
and remember what is in our control and what is not.
Here’s where we are as we head into today.
HB 205 - OPERATING BUDGET
The Senate passed the operating budget nearly unanimously on Monday, March 23rd. Now the differences between the House and Senate version are being worked out in conference committee. State agency funding is similar to last year in the Senate and House versions of the operating budget. While the operating portions of the budget are similar the Senate took the unusual step of adding the capital and second supplemental budgets to the operating budget in an effort to finish our more quickly. In addition, The Senate version contains an additional $75 million for COVID-19 response and mitigation.
HB 234 - SUPPLEMENTAL BUDGET
The supplemental budget passed the Senate unanimously last week and passed the House yesterday. To make up for the insufficient funds in last year’s budget, the supplemental budget provides additional funding for Medicaid and wild fire response, among other things.
The supplemental budget also contained $23.5 million in coronavirus response funding. The COVID-19 response funds included $15 million for the Department of Health and Social Services and $8.5 million for coastal communities that may receive cruise ship passengers. In addition, the budget included $30 million for payments to cities and boroughs for help communities address the COVID-19 outbreak.
While the supplemental budget passed the House, it unfortunately did not get the required ¾ vote to fully fund it. As a result, only $244 million of the $360 million in the budget is available. It will be up to the governor to decide what components of the supplemental budget to fund.
HB 308 – UNEMPLOYMENT BENEFITS FOR COVID-19
HB 308 was introduced by the Labor and Commerce committee about a week ago and has already been signed into law by the governor. The bill ensures Alaskans will receive Unemployment Insurance for those that are furloughed, laid off, lose work hours, or are forced to stay home to care for children during the COVID-19 outbreak. It waives the one week waiting requirement to begin receiving benefits and increases the weekly per-dependent benefit from $25 to $75. I am grateful this passed so quickly so now Alaskans can have immediate relief for lost wages. Apply online here: https://labor.alaska.gov/unemployment/
SB 241 - EXTENDING COVID 19 DISASTER EMERGENCY
HB 311 and SB 241 were introduced at the request of the Governor and extend the declaration of a public health disaster emergency for the COVID-19 outbreak and give the Governor certain powers during the emergency. The Senate version of the bill has now passed both the House and the Senate. It remains to be seen if the Senate will accept the changes made by the House. As currently written, they extend the emergency to November 15, 2020 or until the Governor declares the emergency over. There are several provisions in the bills that are designed to lessen the impact of the COVID-19 outbreak.
The bills provide a financing plan for the public health emergency,
allow the chief medical officer to issue orders related to COVID-19,
and require the governor to report monthly the expenditures related
to prevention, control and status of COVID-19. SB 241 allow licenses
to be granted in an expedited manner for individuals with license from another jurisdiction, liberalize regulations on telemedicine and telehealth, and expedite the fingerprint process for those that require fingerprints. They also enable to the Division of Elections to hold elections by mail. I was pleased an amendment I offered was included to require the Division of Elections to inform Alaskans about changes to the election process this year to avoid confusion. The bills extend certain Alaska Department of Revenue tax deadlines to July 15, 2020 and the Permanent Fund Dividend application deadline by a month. Finally, HB 311 and SB 241 allow shareholder meetings to be conducted electronically and for proxy statements and notices to be distributed electronically.
COVID-19 RESOURCES - The Alaska Department of Health and Social Services has created a special coronavirus webpage that includes the most up to date information for Alaska. The most up to date national information can be found on the COVID-19 webpage from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. What many people are likely interested in is the Case Counts page that shows how many cases in Alaska, the US, and across the globe.
Upcoming Community Council Meetings
Community Councils have been canceled in the near term. Some are trying to find ways to meet with virtual meetings.
We will keep you posted on future meetings.
Instead of Community Councils, neighbors are hosting Flash Mobs! Join Airport Heights today!
Until next week,
P.S. You’re invited to join our Virtual Go Blue Rally for child abuse prevention. Blue is the color of child abuse prevention and since we can’t rally in person we will rally online. We can ‘t wait to see photos of kids and families! Join online here: https://www.facebook.com/events/530369224578671/