Hello again. The legislative session is well underway and work in the Senate is moving at a brisk pace.
The major task of crafting the Fiscal Year 2022 budget has begun in the Senate Finance Committee with overviews and analysis from the governor’s administration. As our version of the budget is written, each senator will play a role in its development as a member of a Finance Committee Budget Subcommittees.
This year, I will serve on the subcommittees for the Department of Education and Early Development, Office of the Governor, Department of Health and Social Services, and the Judiciary (court) system. The subcommittees plan to meet regularly in the coming weeks. Our recommendations will be given to the full Finance Committee for consideration.
REMOTE VOTING RESOLUTION ADVANCES
The first legislation to advance from the Senate is SCR 1, which I sponsored. This resolution gives the Legislature the ability to vote remotely should we be unable to safely do so in the capitol. We hope we will not need to utilize remote voting but having this provision in place gives the legislature the means to continue our business should the need arise during the current public health crisis.
SCR 1 unanimously passed the Senate and was transmitted to the House of Representatives for consideration.
OTHER NEW LEGISLATION
On Friday, Feb. 5, the Senate Education Committee held its first hearing on SB 19, which extends the sunset date for the Special Education Service Agency (SESA) until June 2029. Governed by the Governor’s Council on Disabilities and Special Education, SESA assists school district serving children with outreach services, special education instructional support and training.
SB 19 awaits a second hearing in the Education Committee. It has a further referral to the Senate Finance Committee.
Among the other legislation I have introduced this year is SB 33, which extends the state’s salmon and herring product development tax credit. The bill also proposes offering similar tax credits for value-added processing in the pollock and cod industries.
In 2003, I sponsored the original bill creating the Alaska Salmon Product Development Tax Credit. The program is attributed as a major factor in the increase in commercial value of Alaska salmon. Successful legislation in 2014 extended the salmon tax credits and expanded the program to include tax credits for herring value-added processing.
SB 33 is awaiting a hearing in the Senate Resources Committee.
I am also sponsoring SB 34, which would allow tribes to operate public schools through education compacts with the state. The bill is an initial step in the process of developing compacts. It would require the schools would have to follow most state education laws.
SB 34 has been referred to the Senate Education Committee for consideration.
Please contact my office with any questions you may have on these bills and any other legislation I am sponsoring.
You can find out more about SCR 1 and another legislation I am sponsoring this session online at: http://www.akleg.gov/basis/Member/Detail/32?code=STG#tab7_3.
THE STATE OF THE STATE
On Thursday, Jan. 28, Governor Mike Dunleavy presented his annual State of the State address, using the forum to outline his goals this year. Included in the speech was a call for a $5,000 Permanent Fund Dividend this year, as well as a renewed call for a state spending cap, more resource development and new gaming measures to increase revenue.
The governor’s proposals, of course, are just a starting point in the discussion. I look forward to learning about the pros and cons as they come up for discussion in the Senate. As always, I welcome your input along the way.
You can find out the latest information on Alaska’s COVID-19 vaccine, including your local providers, online at http://dhss.alaska.gov/dph/epi/id/pages/COVID-19/vaccine.aspx.
Currently, state vaccine eligibility is limited to Alaskans 65 and older, as well as health care workers and long-term care residents and staff. State health officials are regularly evaluating eligibility criteria as additional vaccine supplies become available.
If you have questions and concerns about COVID-19 vaccines, please contact your physician.
While the Capitol building remains closed to foot traffic, I have been using virtual meeting programs such as Teams and Zoom to meet with constituents in place of in-person visits this year. We can accommodate a variety of platforms, and of course we can always speak by phone. Please contact my office so we can find a time to get together.
Our Capitol office can be reached at 1-800-821-4925. You can also contact me by email at Sen.Gary.Stevens@akleg.gov.
PFD APPLICATION PERIOD CONTINUES
You can apply for the 2021 dividend now through Wednesday, March 31. The quickest and easiest way to apply is via the PFD Division’s website at www.pfd.alaska.gov. If you are applying by mail, I strongly recommend you send your application by certified mail and request a return receipt.
PFD staff can be contacted at (907) 269-0370 or (907) 465-2325 with any questions you may have.
Thank you for reading this edition of the Capitol Report, and thanks to Senate District P’s media for helping me keep you informed through this column. Please keep in touch.