As you may know, early Sunday, March 29, the legislature passed the Fiscal Year 2021 budget (House Bill 205) and Senate Bill 241 to give the state the tools to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. In recognition of the seriousness of this health crisis and the need for quick action, both bills came together very quickly and cooperatively.
The highlights of both bills are below.
House Bill 205
House Bill 205 totals $4.74 billion in state unrestricted general funds. It holds operating expenses relatively flat at $4.62 billion; provides $120 million for a capital budget to repair roads and bridges, and address other critical infrastructure needs; and spends $88 million in emergency funding for COVID-19.
The legislation’s COVID-19 response funding includes:
• $75 million to the Department of Health and Social Services Public Health Emergency Programs to bolster Alaska’s emergency medical and trauma systems;
• $5 million to the Disaster Relief Fund to be used by the Department of Military and Veterans’ Affairs to help with the public health disaster response;
• $5 million for the Alaska Housing Finance Corporation to alleviate COVID-19-related homelessness; and
• $2.7 million for public health in the Municipality of Anchorage.
In total, the Legislature this session has appropriated over $100 million and has provided the governor with open-ended federal receipt authority to address the public health emergency.
The budget protects Alaskans in many other areas, providing:
• $14 million for village public safety;
• $21 million for senior benefits;
• $98 million for Pioneers Homes;
• $151 million for state troopers; and
• $1 billion to inflation proof the Permanent Fund.
Senate Bill 241
This bill takes several important steps:
• extends the governor’s initial 30-day public health emergency until as late as November 15, unless the governor declares that the emergency is over sooner;
• provides $10 million from the Disaster Relief Fund to assist with any expenses that arise during response efforts, which is in addition to emergency funding authorized in other budgets;
• grants Chief Medical Officer Anne Zink the authority to issue standing orders for health care providers related to COVID-19;
• allows Lt. Gov. Kevin Meyer to initiate vote-by-mail in elections in 2020 if in-person elections are deemed to compromise public health;
• pauses the eviction of tenants who are unable to pay their bills as a result of COVID-19, foreclosures on property owners, and preventing Alaskans who are struggling from having their utilities shut off;
• guarantees that first responders, nurses and doctors will receive workers compensation if diagnosed with COVID-19;
• gives the Division of Professional Licensing the ability to temporarily expedite licensing to individuals who have licenses in another state, and increasing access to telehealth;
• limits the liability of Alaskans-helping-Alaskans by manufacturing personal protective equipment;
• enables the Department of Community, Commerce and Economic Development to provide grants to small businesses to help continued operation;
• provides Good Samaritan protection for Alaskans who want to address a critical shortage of personal protective equipment for health care workers and first responders.
What’s Next for the Legislature?
After passing the above bills, the Senate and House are currently in recess and most legislators and non-Juneau staff have returned home. The Alaska Constitution allows legislative sessions to last 121 days, so there is a chance that we will return to Juneau before then should the situation improve. If we do not return before Tuesday, May 19, the session will automatically adjourn.
A special session later this year is likely to deal with critical policy bills and other major issues. Of course, that is dependent upon the situation improving.
There are many websites offering information and updates online. They include the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services: http://dhss.alaska.gov/dph/Epi/id/Pages/COVID-19/default.aspx
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: https://www.cdc.gov/
The Senate Majority: https://www.alaskasenate.org/2020/priorities/corona-virus-response/
You can also call 211 for information. In places without 211 service, dial 1-800-478-2221.
Senate District P Offices
Like many federal, state and local government offices, my staff and the staff of Senate District P’s Legislative Information Offices (LIOs) are not able to have direct contact with you right now. We are available by phone. If you do not get an answer when you call, please leave a message.
You can reach my Capitol office in Juneau at (907) 465-4925 or toll free at 1-800-821-4925.
My Homer office can be reached at (907) 235-0690.
You can contact the Kodiak office at (907) 486-4925.
E-mail me at Sen.Gary.Stevens@akleg.gov
LIOs Closed to the Public
The Legislative Information Offices are also closed at this time; however, their staff is working remotely.
The Cordova LIO can be reached at (907) 424-5461.
The Homer LIO can be reached at (907) 235-7878.
The Kenai LIO can be reached at (907) 283-2030.
The Kodiak LIO can be reached at (907) 486-8116.
I urge you to adhere to public health guidelines and mandates on social distancing, hunkering down and unnecessary travel during COVID-19 crisis. The preventive steps you can take now will help get us back to normal sooner.