Greetings from Juneau.
After two weeks of floor debate, and with two weeks left in session, the House passed the FY19 operating budget over to the Senate with a vote of 21-19. This means committees are back at full speed as we race to the finish line in mid-April.
Here are a few highlights from the past week in Juneau.
Operating Budget Update
In my update last week, I talked about a contentious vote that took place on the House Floor that Monday. Amendment No. 1 added $900 million to the operating budget to fully fund the Permanent Fund dividend.
I voted no, because I believe it is irresponsible to fully fund the PFD until the Legislature can agree on a fiscal plan that ensures the continuation of the divided and essential state services for future generations.
Those of you who watched or read about the vote on Monday know that it was an interesting split on all sides. The 21-19 vote was a blend of majority and minority caucus members voting on either side of the issue. As a result, a question was raised on the ability to pass out the budget as a whole.
Fortunately, questions like these have the ability to create an environment where compromise can exist. Thankfully, that is exactly what occurred last Friday when the House agreed to a compromise by rescinding our action on amendment No. 1 and passing a new amendment that would provide for a $1,600 dividend this year. This is a $500 increase from last year’s dividend and a $600 higher than the Senate’s proposal, and it does not jeopardize the Permanent Fund’s future value.
As many of you have probably heard, Duncan Fields has withdrawn his name as an appointee to the Board of Fisheries. Al Cain, whose seat Duncan was going to fill, had previously intended to end his tenure after the expiration of his appointment this summer. He has now decided to seek re-appointment and Governor Walker has nominated him to remain on the board. I am very disappointed with this outcome as Duncan would have done a fabulous job for our district and the state as a whole.
I consider myself a straight shooter and I want to give you my honest appraisal of the other factors at play. Obviously, there was tremendous pressure from sport fishing organizations across the state on legislators and the governor regarding Duncan’s appointment. Board of Fisheries’ confirmations tend to be a lightning rod for controversy. I believe that despite mine, Senator Stevens’, and many others’ best efforts to convince people that Duncan was the right choice for that seat, he was facing a lot of pressure to withdraw his name. I would like to thank Duncan for putting his name forward, as well as all of you who submitted supporting comments on his behalf. He would have been a fair, smart, and effective member of the board.
A new committee substitute (CS) for House Bill 199 was introduced on Tuesday in House Fisheries. The hearing can be viewed by typing the following link in your web browser: http://bit.ly/2uG3osy
The charges in the CS are substantial and I believe the new version will be a workable product for industry, as well as a much-needed update to our fish habitat permitting law.
On Saturday, April 7, we will be taking public testimony on HB 199 from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.
It is more than likely that we will not have enough time to get through all public testimony in one meeting, so we plan on scheduling an additional meeting the following week.
The call-in number for public testimony is 1-844-586-9085. If you would like to submit written testimony, please send it to HouseFisheries@akleg.gov and I will make sure it is added to the public record and distributed to committee members.
Every Friday, I post the legislative schedule for the following week to my Facebook page. Your input is crucial in the crafting of legislation and I want to encourage you to check the schedule at the end of each week, so you do not miss any chances to testify.
If you would like to take part in any of the public testimony opportunities on any bills of interest, please let my office know by calling 465-4648, or by emailing me at Rep.LouiseStutes@akleg.gov
All meetings can be viewed at www.akl.tv
Whether your thoughts are on the budget, new revenue, fisheries or transportation issues, or something that is important to you and your family, I’m here for you and will always endeavor to work on your behalf.
State House Representative for District 32
Serving Kodiak, Cordova, Yakutat and Seldovia