Hello again. The Capitol building continues to be an active place as Senate and House members craft next year’s budget and debate a variety of other legislation. We will also be holding a joint-legislative confirmation hearing on the governor’s appointments to boards and commissions, as well as his designees to the Department of Revenue and Department of Public Safety before adjournment.
As you may know, the Legislature will be extending session beyond the 90-day limit currently in statute. The state constitution, which trumps statute, allows for sessions of up to 121 days and we will need that time to finish the work.
A major reason for extending session involves the state’s expected receipt of more than $1 billion from the American Rescue Plan approved by Congress earlier this year. Federal guidelines for expenditure of these funds will not be available until early May. So, the additional time will give the legislature the ability to ensure the money is spent correctly.
BILLS ON THE MOVE
Among the bills I am sponsoring this year is SB 36, which passed the Senate unanimously on Wednesday, April 7. Senate Bill 36 would require, no later than the 30th legislative day of the first regular session, the University of Alaska (UA) Board of Regents to deliver a report to the Legislature that evaluates the quality and effectiveness of its instructional programs and to describe efforts to achieve or maintain accreditation. For each instructional program that has lost or is at risk of losing accreditation, the report must describe the university’s plan to address the loss or risk.
As you may recall, in 2019 University of Alaska Anchorage’s School of Education lost its accreditation. Establishing a reporting requirement about UA system-wide accreditation is an effort toward improving communication and awareness, with the intent being to help avoid seeing such an unexpected accreditation loss from happening again.
SB 36 has been referred to the House Education Committee for consideration.
On April 7, the Senate also unanimously passed SB 32. The bill seeks to expand access to college coursework for public high school students by providing a path for school districts to partner with the University of Alaska to earn dual high school and college credit.
Often referred to as “middle colleges,” these programs have been operating nationally for over 25 years to much acclaim. In Alaska, several school districts are also now participating or developing middle college programs of their own, in collaboration with the University of Alaska. SB 32 would codify those efforts and provide a framework to scale up the programs, opening up middle college opportunities for more students throughout the state.
To participate, a student must be enrolled in an Alaska public school and must have completed the 8th grade. Additionally, SB 32 requires a yearly report to the legislature summarizing student participation, course offerings and the total number of credits earned.
SB 32 has also been referred to the House Education Committee for consideration.
SJR 8, which unanimously passed the Senate on Monday, March 22, is currently in the House Resources Committee. This resolution asks Alaska’s congressional delegation, the United States Department of the Interior, and the governor to work collaboratively to complete the federal land grant endowment to the University of Alaska.
Under the Morrill Land-Grant College Act of 1862, UA did not receive any of the federal land granted to states for higher education, and only received a fraction of reserved land allocated under the 1915 Wickersham land grant. As a result, UA currently has one of the smallest holdings of all land grant institutions in the United States. Of these holdings, 12,000 acres are designated for education or research. The remaining land available for sale or development is mostly remote, inaccessible parcels with a value that may not be realized for many years.
Since 1987, UA’s Land Management office has generated $211 million from real estate sales, which has greatly helped the university meet its mission.
After unanimously passing the Senate on Monday, March 29, SB 19 is awaiting a hearing in the House Finance Committee. This bill extends the sunset date for the Special Education Service Agency (SESA) until June 2029. SESA is overseen by the Governor’s Council on Disabilities and Special Education. The agency aides school districts in serving children with outreach services, special education instructional support and training.
Please contact my office for more information on these bills, or any other legislation I am sponsoring this year.
FOLLOWING THE ALASKA
A great way to follow the Legislature’s work is through Alaska public television’s Gavel Alaska, which broadcasts live and recorded coverage of floor sessions and committee hearings. The programming is also on the web at: http://www.360north.org/.
AlaskaLegislature.tv offers live coverage of meetings from the Capitol’s committee rooms. This service is provided by the Legislature.
You can also access information on any bills and resolutions introduced during the 32nd Alaska Legislature through the Bill Action and Status Inquiry System (BASIS) on the Internet at this address: http://www.akleg.gov/basis/Home/BillsandLaws.
KEEP IN TOUCH
Your input matters to me. Please let me know your thoughts on the many matters coming before the Legislature. If you have the time, I hope you will add your comments to the record as bills and resolutions are heard by legislative committees.
Send me emails at: Sen.Gary.Stevens@akleg.gov
My Capitol phone numbers are 1-800-821-4925 or 907-465-4925.
LEGISLATIVE INFORMATION OFFICES
For the health and safety of the staff, the Senate District P’s Legislative Information Offices (LIOs) remain closed to foot traffic. LIO offices are available by phone to provide you with information on committee schedules throughout the session.
The Cordova LIO can be reached at (907) 424-5461.
The Kodiak LIO can be reached at (907) 486-8116.
The Homer LIO can be reached at (907) 235-7878.
The Kenai LIO can be reached at (907) 283-2030.
Thank you for reading this edition of the Capitol Report. I look forward to updating you again on the legislature’s work in a few weeks.