With less than two months remaining in the legislative session, the pace of work is increasing in the Capitol. Already, various finance subcommittees are meeting to develop recommendations for the Fiscal Year 2012 operating budget, and I have meet with representatives from numerous Senate District R Communities and organizations regarding capital budget appropriations for various projects in our communities. While it is still too early to tell what the final budget will be, I have appreciated the chance to have these discussions early in the session.

Last week, myself and Alaska’s Speaker of the House, Mike Chenault, R-Nikiski, traveled to Washington, D.C. to meet with numerous presiding officers from around the nation, as well as Sen. Lisa Murkowski, Congressman Don Young, several congressmen and members of President Obama’s administration. While spending time away from the Capitol during session is never ideal, the trip gave me a chance to hear about how deliberations on key issues at the federal level will affect Alaska.

While in Washington, D.C., I had some free time on Saturday to visit George Washington’s home at Mount Vernon. The only other time I had been there was when I was 18 years old and in high school and since I have been reading a new biography on Washington, I thought it was time to return. Also, it was nearly Washington’s birthday and several celebrations were planned.

You may know that when the U.S. Capitol was built, a tomb was created under the dome for Washington. But it has remained empty because in his last will and testament, the General made it clear he wanted to be buried at Mount Vernon.

A special wreath laying ceremony was planned at the tomb and I wanted to see it. I was standing near the front while the tomb was unlocked. Steel gates were opened and chains were removed. The master of ceremonies asked if there were any veterans present. I and another man about my age raised our hands and were called forward to participate in the ceremony. We were asked to carry the wreath into the tomb and place it next to Washington’s sarcophagus. This was followed by a prayer, a reading from Washington’s writings; Boy Scouts led us in the Pledge of Allegiance, and several people singing “God Bless America.”

I was deeply moved as we were the only two allowed to enter the tomb. Standing next to Washington’s sarcophagus was a great and undeserved honor. In my mind, he was among our greatest founding fathers, generals and presidents. His contribution to our country was enormous. He saw his duty and did it honorably and courageously. He deserves to be remembered by all of us on his 279th birthday. We would be a much different country were it not for Washington.

SB 18 awaits next committee hearing

On Feb. 11, the Senate State Affairs Committee passed my Senate Bill 18, which now heads to the Senate Finance Committee for consideration. As you may recall, in the 2006 election, voters narrowly approved an initiative cutting the length of the legislative session from 120 to 90 days. Initiative supporters touted cost-savings as a major reason for shortening the legislative sessions. We are now on our fourth year of 90 day sessions and so far have yet to see significant cost savings materialize, but among the things I have witnessed are bills rushed through the legislature to beat the 90-day deadline and the public’s role in the political process diminished due to time constraints caused by the shortened session.

SB 18 is an attempt to bring some balance back to the process by allowing for 90-day sessions during the first year of a new legislature, and 120 days during the second year. I think the bill offers a good compromise between those who support the shorter sessions, and those who feel the public is better served by the longer sessions.

SB 24 held for more study

The Senate Resources Committee, of which I am a member, has tabled SB 24 so an interim subcommittee can give it further study. The bill seeks to create a Sports Fishing Guide Services Board and new licensing requirements for sport fishing guide-outfitters, sport fishing assistant guides, and sport fishing transporters. Specific dates for the interim task force meeting have yet to be announced, they will likely begin in October.

(You can find out more about SB 24 on the Senate Majority’s website at http://www.aksenate.org.)

Capitol visitors

I have the opportunity to visit with numerous constituents in my Capitol office this year. Recent visitors include Nina Allen, Neil Denny, LeAndra Maculy and Charlene Ditton of Homer; Stosh Anderson, McKenzie Barnett, Mike Brechan, Kevin Brennan, Gary Byrne, Cliff Davidson, Will Dumm, Linda Freed, Ray Garcia, Gordon Gould, Linda Kozak, Brian O’Leary, Ben Millstein, Trapper O’Neil, Aaron Owen, Cecil Ranney, Angelica Rubina, Don Rush, Darron Scott, Bruce Schactler, Lorna Steelman, Darlene Turner of Kodiak; and Mayor Willard Dunham, Lynn Hohl and Marianna Keil of Seward.

Please stop by to see me if you are going to be in Juneau during the legislative session.

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