Hello again from Juneau. With the legislatives session slated to adjourn this coming Sunday, the Capitol building is an active place. As you probably know, the governor’s bill to cut oil taxes, which I voted against, is now in the House finance committee after passing out of the House resources committee last week, and there is much speculation that the bill either will not make it to the floor for a vote by April 14th, or that the Senate will not concur with the House’s changes to the bill and a special session or extended session will result. At this time, it is too early to speculate on what will happen. Stay tuned.
Capital and Operating Budgets
The Fiscal Year 2014 operating budget is currently in a conference committee of three senators and three representatives to work out differences between the two versions of the budget. Meanwhile, the Senate has passed its version of the FY 2014 capital budget. The $1.9 billion budget includes $911 million in federal funds, one of the smallest capital budgets over the past five years, though it is expected to grow in the House. I will continue to work with Senate District R’s two House members, Representative Bryce Edgmon of Dillingham and Representative Alan Austerman of Kodiak, to ensure our communities’ needs are addressed. It’s likely the capital budget will be one of the last items to come before the legislature before adjournment.
You can get a breakdown on the FY 2014 capital budget on the Internet at www.legfin.state.ak.us/BudgetReports/LY2013/Capital/SenateFinance/DisplayReports.php
Personal Legislation Update
• The House Transportation Committee passed SB 24 out of committee on April 4. This bill increases the membership of the Marine Transportation Advisory Board (MTAB) from 11 to 12 members by creating a separate seat for Southcentral Alaska. This seat will represent the interests of Old Harbor, Kodiak, Port Lions, Ouzinkie, Seldovia and Homer on MTAB, which considers issues involving the Alaska Marine Highway System. Currently, these cities are part of the Southwest region, which also includes ferry-served communities in the Alaska Peninsula and the Aleutian Islands. The bill will be heard next by the House Finance Committee.
• SB 31, which I introduced at the request of the community of Akhiok, passed the House Transportation Committee March 5. The bill renames the village’s runway the Jim Andie and Robin Starrett Memorial Runway in honor of two pilots who are fondly remembered by Akhiok residents. The bill is expected to have a House floor hearing this week.
• SB 57 passed the Senate on April 5 and goes next the House Education Committee for consideration. The bill proposes changing state education statutes in three distinct ways. One part of the bill requires school districts to provide parents and guardians of children in grades kindergarten through third attending public schools information on the importance of early literacy, including intervention strategies, home literacy plans, grade retention standards and strategies and resources to help children read.
A second part of the bill establishes an inflation-proofing mechanism for pupil transportation funding. This clause will help school districts better cope with ever-rising fuel and other costs impacting school bus services.
The bill’s final section changes the date that school districts have to notify teachers of layoffs or nonretention from March 16 to May 15. The goal of this section is to help districts avoid pink-slipping and potentially losing a qualified teacher before they have a better idea of what their actual funding situation will be, which is often not known until after the legislature adjourns in April.
The 24-hour rule
As the three members of each legislative body meet in the conference committee to iron out the differences between to two versions of the operating budgets, the work of legislative committees are under the 24 Hour Rule. This means bills and resolutions may receive a committee hearing with a twenty-four hour notice, and legislation can move quickly to a floor vote.
Coastal Caucus formed
Myself and four other senators have formed the Senate Coastal Caucus to bring greater focus to coastal policy issues within the Senate and House. The bipartisan group consists of members representing Alaskans from Dixon Entrance to Cook Inlet and north to the Arctic coast. Other caucus members are Donny Olson, D-Golovin; Bert Stedman, R-Sitka; Dennis Egan, D-Juneau; and Peter Micciche, R-Soldotna.
The group plans to meet regularly during the remainder of the 2013 session and occasionally during the interim.
Interim Office Information
I am pleased to welcome longtime Kodiak resident Kathy Drabek to my staff. Kathy is taking the place of Doug Letch, who is relocating to Florida after 12 years and 13 sessions on the job. She will be on the job in Kodiak office beginning in late April. You can reach her there at 486-4925. The fax number is: 486-5264.
My Capitol building office can be reached toll free throughout the interim at 1-800-821-4925. The fax number is 465-3517.
Sen. Gary Stevens represents Senate District R in the Alaska Senate. He can be reached at email@example.com.