Hello again from Juneau. We are now in the third month of the legislative session and as is the case each year, the pace of work is active as bills and resolutions move through the committee process.
One resolution on the move is my SJR 8, which unanimously passed the Senate on Monday, March 22. The resolution requests Alaska’s congressional delegation, the United States Department of the Interior and the governor to work collaboratively to complete the federal land grant endowment to the University of Alaska (UA).
Under the Morrill Land-Grant College Act of 1862, UA did not receive any of the federal land granted to states for higher education, and only received a fraction of reserved land allocated under the 1915 Wickersham land grant. As a result, UA currently has one of the smallest holdings of all land grant institutions in the United States. Of these holdings, 12,000 acres are designated for education or research. The remaining land available for sale or development is mostly remote, inaccessible parcels with a value that may not be realized for many years.
Since 1987, UA’s Land Management office has generated $211 million from real estate sales, which has greatly helped the university meet its mission.
OTHER BILLS ON THE MOVE
Among the other legislation I have introduced this session is SB 19, which was heard by the Senate Finance Committee on Monday, March 22. This bill extends the sunset date for the Special Education Service Agency (SESA) until June 2029. SESA is governed by the Governor’s Council on Disabilities and Special Education. It assists school districts in serving children with outreach services, special education instructional support and training.
SB 19 is awaiting an additional hearing by the Senate Finance Committee.
SB 20 passed the Senate Education Committee on Friday, March 19. The bill’s objective is to allow Alaska teacher certification reciprocity to relocating educators. This would only happen if the teacher’s certification were in good standing in their former state. The bill will provide Alaska’s school districts an additional means of addressing teaching shortages while also giving incoming teachers the opportunity to get Alaska-specific education training after being hired rather than beforehand.
SB 20 has a further referral to the Senate Finance Committee.
I introduced SB 36 in response to the revocation of the University of Alaska’s accreditation. Anecdotal evidence suggests that one reason the loss of accreditation occurred is that the university administration was unaware of existing problems within the system. SB 36 is an attempt to keep this type of situation from occurring in the future by requiring the UA board of regents provide the Legislature a report detailing the status of all of its accreditations within the university system by the 30th legislative day.
SB 36 is awaiting a further hearing by the Senate Finance Committee.
SB 64 is awaiting another hearing by the Senate Finance Committee. The bill allows for large-scale enhancement projects for shellfish. Currently, all projects are permitted under a research permit, and are of limited size and scope. Passage of SB 64 will further advance those investments into economic potential for all Alaskans.
FILE FOR YOUR PFD
The deadline to apply for this year’s Permanent Fund Dividend is Wednesday, March 31. The quickest and easiest way to apply is online at www.pfd.alaska.gov.
Applicants who file online and request direct deposit are eligible to receive the 2021 payment in the first disbursement at the beginning of October.
If you are applying by mail, you should send your application by certified mail and request a return receipt.
Paper and online applicants who select payment by check are eligible to receive the 2021 payment in the second disbursement at the end of October.
PICK.CLICK.GIVE WITH YOUR PFD TO HELP A WORTHY CAUSE
The Pick.Click.Give program allows you to donate a portion of your dividend to charitable causes around the state in increments of $25. All donations are tax deductible and donors will receive tax documentation from the State once their donations have been processed.
The program is run by the Alaska Community Foundation in partnership with the Rasmuson Foundation, the Foraker Group and the State of Alaska Permanent Fund Dividend Division.
You can get more information about the Pick.Click.Give program on the PFD website.
COVID-19 HITS THE CAPITOL
As anyone who closely follows the Legislature knows, the COVID-19 virus has landed in the Capitol, with infections to lawmakers and staff. Those with the virus and numerous close contacts were quarantined as a safety precaution, and one staff member was hospitalized for several days for treatment.
With mandatory mask usage in public spaces and regular virus testing, we continue to keep a vigilant watch on the situation. We hope to avoid any long-term closures such as seen in other states.
A big thank you goes to the Juneau-based Southeast Alaska Regional Health Consortium (SEARCH) for their help in combating the virus. Shortly after the February outbreak in the Capitol, SEARCH provided vaccine doses for any legislators and staff working in the Capitol. In conjunction with the city of Juneau, Beacon (which is providing virus screen for the Legislature) and the Legislative Affairs Agency, nearly 250 individuals have received their first vaccine doses, with follow-up shots coming in April.
FOLLOWING THE LEGISLATURE
Your input is welcome on bills and resolutions coming before the Legislature. If your time allows, please add your comments to the record when bills and resolutions come before committees. The Legislative Information Office (LIO) near you will have more information on bill hearings and committee schedules throughout the session.
In Cordova, the LIO can be reached at (907) 424-5461.
The Homer LIO’s phone number is (907) 235-7878.
You can find the Kenai LIO at (907) 283-2030.
The Kodiak LIO can be reached at (907) 486-8116.
You can reach me in Juneau at 1-800-821-4925 or (907)465-4925, and by email at Sen.Gary.Stevens@akleg.gov.
Thank you for reading the Capitol Report. Please keep in touch.