Legislative Update: Bipartisan coalition needed to protect coastal communities

The M/V Aurora departs the Cordova Ferry Terminal. (July 21, 2019) Photo by Zachary Snowdon Smith/The Cordova Times
The M/V Aurora departs the Cordova Ferry Terminal. (July 21, 2019) Photo by Zachary Snowdon Smith/The Cordova Times

Dear Friends and Neighbors, 

I hope this finds you well and in good spirits.

2020 was a year 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 Monday, January 25th. 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 state’s issues; however, I remain steadfast in my belief that our district needs a bipartisan coalition to protect commercial fisheries, the Alaska Marine Highway System (AMHS), education, public safety, the Permanent Fund, and other services essential to coastal communities. Particularly with the makeup of the Senate majority, the formulation of a House bi-partisan coalition may be all that stands between the Governor’s urban-centric agenda and reality.  I am focusing all my efforts on ensuring that we organize as soon as possible but, just as importantly, that the group is comprised of members who are supportive of my district. I will update you as soon as I have more information. 

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. We currently have 4 members of the 7-member Board of Fisheries (BOF) voting on the livelihoods of Alaskans without confirmation by the legislature, a situation this legislation addresses. 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 legislature is unable to meet for confirmations, or a where the legislature rejects an appointee but isn’t able to meet to confirm the subsequent appointment 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 like Prince William Sound tanner crab 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 soon to allow mariculture operations to use crew licenses for workers in lieu of the traditional workers’ compensation model. The idea currently being explored is to designate mariculture operations as a commercial fishery, although we are still working out the details. Please standby 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.

Sincerely,

Louise Stutes

State House Representative for District 32

Proudly Serving Kodiak, Cordova, Yakutat, and Seldovia

Rep.Louise.Stutes@akleg.gov

(907) 465-2487

facebook.com/RepLouiseStutes