Legislative Update: Progress continues on operating, capital budget

Conference committees aim to conclude session before day 120

Greetings from Juneau,

As I write this on Monday, April 30, day 105 of the legislative session, we are making progress on key pieces of legislation needed to conclude our work and return home.

Conference committees for the operating budget, HB 286, and SB 26, the Permanent Fund restructuring bill, have been appointed to resolve differences between the House and Senate versions. There are good discussions under way about compromises that both bodies can agree to. The progress of the conference committees has been slightly delayed by work on other bills considered essential parts of the adjournment package, but I expect that to change as the committees meet more often.

I am hopeful that we will have a package in place soon and stay on track to finish before day 120 — the time allowed by Alaska’s Constitution. View the conference committee actions on the operating budget after each meeting at https://bit.ly/2I3NYUl .

I will update you on the operating and capital budgets, as well as SB 26 in next week’s paper.

While negotiations are under way, the House and Senate Finance Committees will continue to meet daily to consider major policies. The remaining committees in both houses are meeting less regularly as the need arises for particular bills to move forward.

In this second half of the 30th Legislative Session, bills not passed by the end of session will need to be restarted next year. As such, I am pleased that committees are still running and that both bodies are hearing each other’s bills while negotiation teams work towards adjournment.

I have two bills in the Senate Rules Committee awaiting hearings on the floor, and one, HB 87 — CONFLICT OF INTEREST: BD FISHERIES/GAME is in the Senate State Affairs Committee. HB 87 is my highest priority. It would greatly benefit commercial fishing districts and represents over a decade of effort.

HB 87

House Bill 87 would change the way the Board of Fisheries functions, to allow members to deliberate on subjects for which they have a declared personal or financial interest.

Board members currently are required to divulge a conflict of interest if they, or their families, are involved in the subject being deliberated on. The conflicted member then may no longer offer comment and cannot vote on the matter. This bill allows the conflicted member to offer comment, but still not vote on the issue.

Often in fishing, a financial interest is tied to knowledge in the field. Fishing issues tend to be very complicated and knowledge based. A board member whose relative has a certain type of fishing permit, or has a fishing permit themselves, may be the only person on the board who understands the nuances of what is being discussed. Particularly in rural Alaska, where entire families may be permit holders, the conflict policy discourages qualified people from applying to the board because they could be conflicted out of many discussions. The change would help the board make more informed decisions, enhance the public process, and lead to stronger resource management statewide.

This bill is widely supported by commercial fishermen and the organizations that represent them, but it is contentious. The bill passed the House last year but has been stalled in the Senate State Affairs Committee for months due to closed-door opposition from the sport fishing lobby. I am doing everything in my power to broker a deal to get it moving again. If that does not happen, I will bring it forward again next year.

Alaska Marine Highway Legislation:

HB 412 — MARINE HIGHWAY CORPORATION was introduced on the House floor last week.

As co-chair of the House Transportation Committee, I had this drafted on behalf of the committee as a necessary step towards providing high quality, reliable transportation service in and out of our coastal communities.

Aside from healthy fisheries, a well-managed and well-funded marine highway system is one of the most essential components of a prosperous coastal Alaska. We all have felt the pain of an aging fleet and unreliable funding on our lives in Cordova and Kodiak. This legislation would take the control of the ferry system away from the political process and provide the statutory language to transfer ferry management and operations to a publicly owned corporation.

The bill is based on work between the Alaska Department of Transportation and Southeast Conference that started several years ago, and research by the Alaska Marine Highway Reform Project that reviewed how other ferry systems are managed.

Given how far along we are in session, it is not our intent to pass the bill this year. Having it available as a public document will allow working groups to continue the discussion. The House Transportation Committee is also looking at the possibility of holding field hearings on HB 412 over the interim. I will reintroduce the bill next year with the intention of getting it passed into law.

To view the bill, visit https://bit.ly/2r8crOQ

Board of Fisheries action on the Tsiu and Tsivat rivers:

I am very grateful that on April 24th, the Board of Fisheries reversed its previous action to eliminate key commercial setnet grounds on the Tsui River by passing Proposal 242 by a vote of 5 to 1.

Here is a brief recap of the issue:

At a meeting in Sitka earlier this year, the board passed Proposal 165. The original proposal was noticed as a housekeeping measure to adjust the markers due to changing river conditions. However, the proposal that passed as amended by RC 331 moved the marker far enough to effectively end a longstanding, lucrative commercial fishery. It was widely viewed that the proposal was altered to the point to where it was not publicly noticed properly, but that it was also unnecessary and subverted a stakeholder working group that had been effectively managing any potential conflicts between user groups.

After passage of Proposal 165, Senator Stevens and I, along with Cordova District Fishermen United and many other commercial fishing organizations, wrote letters protesting the action and asking the board to hold a special meeting in April to readdress the issue before the start of the season. The outcry from individual commercial fishermen was also impressive, as the board received scores of letters.

As a result of the overwhelming condemnation from the fishing community, the board held a special meeting April 24 in Anchorage and the damage was undone by a vote of 5-1.

It is amazing what fishermen can do when they are organized and involved in the process. I would like to recognize Jerry McCune for his hard work on this issue. He was integral in organizing opposition and garnering attendance at the board meetings. Cordova fishermen should be proud to have an advocate like Jerry walking the halls of the Capitol and attending board meetings to represent their interests.

As always, please contact me and tell me how you feel. 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.

Sincerely,

Louise Stutes

State House Representative for District 32

Proudly Serving Kodiak, Cordova, Yakutat, and Seldovia

Rep.Louise.Stutes@akleg.gov

(907) 465-2487

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