Dear Friends and Neighbors,
I hope this finds you well and in good spirits.
The year 2020 was unlike any other but with vaccinations ramping up, we are on track to return to normal in 2021.
I want to provide a short update on House organization, as well as new legislation I am offering this session.
As I write this, it is Tuesday, February 2. As most of you are likely aware, the House has been unable to form a majority with 20 coalition members and 20 members divided along party lines. I am disappointed at the gridlock and understand the urgency of the issues before us; however, I remain steadfast that a House bipartisan coalition is needed to protect our district.
All of the communities I represent are reliant on a healthy Alaska Marine Highway System, robust fisheries management, quality K-12 schools, community revenue sharing, investment in infrastructure, etc.
Moreover, the administration has clearly demonstrated that it does not support these services. As a result, I have aligned myself with legislators, irrespective of political affiliation, who believe in vibrant coastal communities.
You have my word that as long as I am your representative, I will always prioritize your needs over those of a political party.
I am focusing my efforts on organizing as soon as possible but, just as importantly, that the group is comprised of members who are supportive of Kodiak. I will update you as soon as I know more.
I have several new bills for introduction this session but first and foremost is HB 63-Alaska Marine Highway Operations Board. This legislation would reform the current Marine Transportation Advisory Board (MTAB) as an operations board with more legislative oversight and legislatively appointed members, as well as more expertise in marine transportation. The bill represents a good starting point, but my goal is to tighten it through the committee process and add the teeth needed for the board to direct AMHS’s long-term decisions. The bill can be viewed at https://bit.ly/2NFTe55.
Without a doubt, implementing meaningful AMHS reform, rebuilding our fleet and securing increases to the operating budget are my top priorities. Restoring ferry service has been an uphill battle with the current administration, but it’s a battle I will continue to fight with every tool at my disposal until you have adequate service.
Another important bill, my highest priority aside from AMHS, is HB 65-Boards of Fisheries and Game Confirmation. The lack of process at last year’s Kodiak Board of Fisheries (BOF) meeting highlighted the desperate need for this legislation.
We currently have four members of the seven-member BOF voting on the livelihoods of Alaskans without confirmation by the Legislature, a situation this legislation addresse.
The bill would fundamentally shift the way the BOF and the Board of Game (BOG) operate, in that members cannot vote on matters before the board until confirmed by the Legislature in joint session. It then provides two specific exceptions whereby unconfirmed members may be authorized to vote in a majority poll of all 60 legislators until that appointee is confirmed or rejected in joint session. Those two exceptions are a situation similar to COVID-19 and the Legislature is unable to meet for confirmations, or when the Legislature rejects an appointee but the subsequent appointment isn’t offered prior to adjournment. This bill ensures legislative oversight before BOF or BOG members are allowed to vote on critical resource allocation decisions.
The bill can be viewed at https://bit.ly/36fmOVC.
HB 64-Fishery Development Assoc. Assessments is designed to help new and developing fisheries grow to full-fledged fisheries. The legislation, modeled after the Southeast Alaska Regional Dive Fisheries Association, would allow stakeholders in a new or developing fishery to approach ADF&G, form a regional development association and board, and have the ability to self-assess a tax to fund surveys. The tax could be raised, lowered or terminated by a vote of the stakeholders. I am very excited about this bill and its potential to encourage growth in smaller fisheries.
The bill can be viewed at https://bit.ly/3qXF7GB.
Lastly, my office is working on a bill for introduction to allow workers in mariculture operations to be classified as independent contractors in lieu of the current payroll/workers’ compensation model. We are exploring several options currently. One avenue is to designate mariculture as a commercial fishery and shift the regulatory model to a permit/crew member license structure. The other option, and probably the simpler one, is to leave mariculture under the umbrella of aquatic farming and create a separate aquatic farming crew license.
This legislation is intended to streamline the mariculture industry by allowing a business model that better fits communities like Kodiak and Cordova, where most of these operations occur.
Please stand by for more on this bill in the next few weeks.
There is a lot going on right now and, typically, there have been more questions than answers regarding the new pandemic assistance programs. I just want you to know that my staff and I are here as a resource if you need help navigating any government programs.
Remember, I work for you. Please reach out to me with any questions or concerns on these or any other issues important to you and your family.
State House Representative for District 32
Proudly Serving Kodiak, Cordova, Yakutat, and Seldovia