Happy New Year and greetings from Juneau!

The second regular session convened on January 16, and I am excited to be back in Juneau working on issues that are important to you. Specifically, as the chair of the Fisheries and Transportation Committees, I am looking forward to working on fisheries and marine highway issues that benefit Kodiak and the state.

I know that Alaskans are disappointed with last year’s gridlock between the House and Senate in addressing the state’s fiscal deficit. I too was disappointed that we could not agree on a complete and balanced fiscal solution, but I can assure you that it wasn’t because of a lack of effort. The House passed a complete fiscal package last year, and we are eagerly awaiting a decision by the Senate regarding whether they will act on those proposals or offer alternative solutions for new revenue.

We all want what is best for Alaskans, and I still believe that is the common ground that will bring us together to find a solution. Both the House and Senate recognize the problem, but we disagree on the approach to solving it. House Leadership will continue to reach out to our colleagues in the Senate to find middle ground and get our economy back on track.

With legislation moving quickly during this second and final year of the 30th Legislature, a weekly update may not be enough to keep you up to date. I would like to encourage you to follow me on Facebook and Twitter for important issues that arise day to day. 

 

My fisheries bills

HB 199 – The “Wild Salmon Legacy Act”: Last Tuesday, the Fisheries Committee introduced a new committee substitute for HB 199. Fish habitat permitting law in Title 16 has not been updated since statehood. My office drafted this bill in response to a letter written by the Board of Fisheries to the Legislature, requesting an update to Title 16. Specifically, the board requested that the Legislature adopt enforceable standards and more public process. The current statute states that a permit for a project must be approved unless the commissioner of the Department of Fish and Game finds that the plans and specifications are insufficient for the proper protection of fish and game. 

The problem is that nowhere in statute does it define what the proper protection of fish and game is. The bill creates enforceable standards and adds public participation to the permitting process. My office spent a lot of time working on this bill this past year and met with industry, municipalities, the administration and other stakeholders to fine tune the bill to reach a balance between resource development and the protection of our fisheries. 

I am proud to be leading the effort in the Legislature to improve the protections for salmon habitat and ensure that Alaska does not make the same mistakes that were made in the Lower 48.

If you have any questions about this bill, please reach out to me at (907) 465-6856 or to my Fisheries Committee aide, Matt Gruening, at (907) 465-3271. I or my staff would be happy to explain the bill in detail, the changes from the previous version, or email you documentation. 

Watch the January 23 hearing on HB 199 here: goo.gl/MWdTdv

HB 87 – Conflict of Interest for Board of Fisheries and the Board of Game: House Bill 87 changes the manner in which the Board of Fisheries and Board of Game functions. It allows members to deliberate on subjects for which they have a declared personal or financial interest. Currently, board members are required to divulge a conflict of interest if they, or their families, are involved in the subject being deliberated on. The conflicted member can then no longer offer their input on the process and cannot vote on the matter at hand. This bill allows the conflicted member to offer remarks and input, but the member still cannot vote on the issue. The member is also precluded from voting on whether they have a conflict of interest. 

Allowing members with expertise in particular fields to deliberate will help the boards make more informed decisions and lead to stronger resource management statewide. 

This bill passed the House last year and is currently in the Senate State Affairs committee awaiting a hearing. It has broad support, and I am hopeful that it will pass this year. 

If you have any questions about this bill, please reach out to me at (907) 465-6856 or to my Fisheries Committee aide, Matt Gruening, at (907) 465-3271. I or my staff would be happy to explain the bill in detail, the changes from the previous version, or email you documentation.

 

Other bills of note

HB 188 – Regional Fisheries Trusts: Regional fisheries trusts, as envisioned by the sponsor of HB 188, would provide Alaska’s fishing communities with a tool to retain fishing permits and improve economic opportunity. Fisheries trusts can hold permits and lease them to Alaska fishermen for a limited period of time, offering a stepping stone between deckhanding and individual permit ownership. Just as you would rent an apartment before you buy a house, fisheries trusts offer people with skills and know-how an opportunity to get experience skippering a boat, make mistakes, and save some money before making the decision to buy a permit.

If you have any questions about HB 188, please contact the sponsor, Representative Kreiss-Tomkins, at (907) 465-3732. 

You can watch the January 25 meeting on HB 188 at goo.gl/Ks3tvG and the January 30 meeting at goo.gl/M5iM4D.

Fisheries Committee schedule

On Thursday, the Fisheries Committee will be hearing a presentation from the Board of Fisheries.

Board chairman John Jensen will be discussing board process and the role of the Board of Fisheries.

The meeting takes place at 11 a.m. and can be viewed at akl.tv.

 

Transportation issues

Airline Registration Fees: In November of last year, the Department of Transportation and Public Facilities opened a public comment period for proposed aircraft registration fees. The proposal would have implemented an annual fee of $150 for non-commercial aircraft, and an annual fee of $250 for commercial aircraft. Good news came last week when DOT&PF announced that it would be drafting an amended proposal based on the feedback received during public comment. I will let you know when the new proposal is released, at which point DOT&PF will take further public comment.

 

Alaska Marine Highway System: The Alaska Marine Highway System is vital to our coastal communities. As the Legislature continues to try to resolve our fiscal crisis, it is imperative that AMHS be allowed to continue to provide the critical services and transportation to the countless communities which rely on it. This session, the House Transportation Committee will be hearing from those involved with the efforts to reform AMHS so that it may continue to serve our state. Forward-funding AMHS so that we can have certainty in scheduling is an effort I have been working on over the last few years. My office is coordinating with legislators from other coastal districts to make forward funding a reality. 

For questions or updates about these or other transportation issues, please contact my Transportation Committee aide, Graham Judson, at (907) 465-4087.

Transportation Committee schedule

On Thursday at 1:15 p.m., the Transportation Committee will be hearing the following bills:

– HB259: Confining vehicle loads

– HB263: Transportation services for hunters

Education

There are two bills this year, one of which is sponsored by our own Senator Gary Stevens, that would early-fund education each year in an effort to provide our schools with budget certainty and avoid our teachers getting layoff slips. 

HB 287 and SB 131 are very similar bills that would require education funding to be approved in an independent bill earlier in the session. Traditionally, education is funded through the operating budget, which can be a problem when the budget does not pass early in the session. 

To quote from Rep. Seaton’s sponsor statement, “The bill is intended to pass … early in the session to prevent school districts from issuing mandatory teacher layoff notices. Many lawmakers agree that education funding cannot withstand further cuts without negatively effecting (sic) Alaskan children. An early, separate appropriation for education that has existing funding identified would prevent these problems and will allow school districts to finalize their budgets on time.”

I am a co-sponsor of HB 287 and a big supporter of this effort. 

 

EPA and Bristol Bay

There is some recent welcome news from Washington, DC! 

The Environmental Protection Agency announced that it would suspend the withdrawal of proposed restrictions on hard-rock mining in the Bristol Bay watershed.

Last year, the agency began a process to consider voiding the restrictions, which were based on conclusions in the 2014 Bristol Bay Watershed Assessment that large-scale mining would have “unacceptable adverse impacts” on the watershed. 

The proposed Pebble Mine would take place in the watershed of the most prolific sockeye run in the world, and I believe a cautious approach is warranted.

 I commend the EPA for crediting the extensive scientific evaluation that led the agency to this conclusion. 

I want to hear your thoughts

There are many issues on the table this year. It is important that I know where you stand on these issues. Again, I would encourage you to follow me on social media to stay up to date. We will be posting the weekly scheduled hearings for important bills, as well as which hearings will have public testimony opportunities on our Facebook page every Friday.  

Please reach out to me with any suggestions or concerns you have. Whether your thoughts are on the budget, new revenue, fisheries or transportation issues, or something that is important to you and your family, I’m here for you and will always endeavor to work on your behalf. 

(0) comments

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
PLEASE TURN OFF YOUR CAPS LOCK.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.