Shortly after 2 a.m. on Sunday, May 13th, the 30th Alaska Legislature adjourned. While I was not thrilled about everything that happened these past two years, I was glad to see us finish before the 120-day deadline with a fully-funded operating budget.
Some highlights of the session:
- The legislature approved a $1,600 Permanent Fund dividend (PFD) which is approximately $500 higher than the amount originally proposed by the Senate and the governor;
- However, I voted against the operating budget because there were still cuts that could have been made and because the $1,600 dividend, while better than the last two years, was not a full statutory PFD;
- I fully supported the changes that were made in HB312 to end “catch and release” of criminals. This was an important step to making our neighbors and neighborhood safer;
- We passed a capital budget that will create jobs for Alaskans, maintain our infrastructure, improve education for our kids (a $20 million boost for schools and $3 million in pre-K grants) and help address the opioid epidemic ($12 million for treatment);
- We funded education early this year, preventing layoff notices, and forward-funded education again for next year;
- I was proud to honor our veterans for their service and sacrifice to our country by supporting legislation allowing private employers to grant an employment preference for veterans, requesting the U.S. Congress grant burial rights at Arlington National Cemetery to Hmong veterans and allowing Hmong and Lao veterans a veteran’s designation on their driver’s licenses and ID cards;
- The legislature also approved bills that will protect the public by requiring drivers to secure their loads (an issue that was brought to my attention by Kelly Roy, a constituent) and reduce health care costs by requiring health providers to disclose cost estimates for their most common procedures, protecting independent pharmacists from the predatory tactics of pharmacy benefit managers which prohibited them from telling customers of less expensive alternatives, creating a more responsive and nimble State Medical Board and allowing physicians to delegate certain duties;
- Many good bills passed that will reduce government regulation on food donated to food banks, make government work better by allowing hunters and fishermen to show a digital copy of their hunting or fishing licenses and protect workers by assuring businesses do not incorrectly classify employees as independent contractors (an effort led by constituent Bronson Frye) and encouraging new businesses related to local foods and food tourism;
- We also provided help to those among us needing it most by extending state payments to lower-income seniors and limiting the workload of foster care workers; and
- I was also very pleased to support a “good government” bill that strengthens conflict of interest laws for legislators and ends per diem if the legislature hasn’t passed an operating budget by day 120.
Sometimes enacting more laws does not necessarily translate to better lives, but the bills listed above, along with some others, will do good things for our state and Alaskans.
Another thing that was encouraging about the end of session: representatives and senators worked in a cooperative and bipartisan fashion to improves the lives of Alaskans. Not everyone will be happy about everything, but I believe that is how compromise should work.
If you have any questions about the budget or any pieces of legislation, please contact me using the information below. Also, I and my staff are here to serve you: please contact us if there is anything we can help you with.
I am looking forward to returning home and seeing friendly faces in the neighborhood. It is an honor to represent you.