Legislative Update: Fisheries Committee is hard at work

A vessel docked in Cordova Harbor. (Sept. 28, 2020) Photo by Zachary Snowdon Smith/The Cordova Times

Dear Friends and Neighbors,

I hope this finds you well and in good spirits. I wanted to provide a short legislative update on recent work by the House Fisheries and Transportation Committees, as well as the Alaska Marine Highway System’s budget.

Fisheries Committee last week

Last week, the House Fisheries Committee considered HB 26- CONFLICT OF INTEREST: BD FISHERIES/GAME. I have detailed this legislation in previous updates and will spare you the summary. I will only add that it is a longstanding priority of my office and the United Fishermen of Alaska that addresses one of the many Board of Fisheries issues disproportionally impacting commercial user groups. You can view the bill and supporting documents here: https://bit.ly/39cRA2S .

HB 26 was first heard on Tuesday, March 16 and passed out of committee on Thursday, March 18. You can watch both hearings archived here: https://bit.ly/3lNfGGj, https://bit.ly/3991qCV. The legislation has a further referral to the Resources Committee. I spoke to the chair of Resources today, and it will receive a hearing as soon as possible.

Last Thursday, the committee also considered HB 54- INVASIVE SPECIES MANAGEMENT. This legislation would establish a council to assist the Department of Fish and Game with managing invasive species in Alaska. The bill would also allow the sale of invasive species management decals and establish a response fund to pay for eradication and suppression efforts. You can view the bill and supporting documents here: https://bit.ly/39aAIK2.

I am excited to see both bills moving through the committee process.

Fisheries Committee this week

On Tuesday, March 23, the House Fisheries Committee heard HB 28- REGISTRATION OF BOATS: EXEMPTION. This legislation would exempt commercial fishing vessels from duplicative registration requirements created by the passage of SB 92, “the derelict vessel bill,” in 2018. Specifically, it would exempt vessels licensed through the Commercial Fisheries Entry Commission from the new requirement to register at the DMV. We should be streamlining the commercial fishing industry, not adding unnecessary hurdles, and this legislation fixes what was clearly an oversight in SB 92. You can watch the hearing archived here: https://bit.ly/318UQaW.

As I write this, it is Tuesday afternoon. On Thursday, March 25, the committee was scheduled to hear HB 28 and HB 54 a second time with the intention of moving both bills from committee. You can watch the hearing archived here: https://bit.ly/3f8PJzG.

I am hopeful that HB 64- FISHERY DEVELOPMENT ASSOC.; ASSESSMENTS will be heard in House Fisheries next week. I drafted this bill with Cordova’s tanner crab fishery in mind. It would encourage growth in developing commercial fisheries by allowing a landing tax to be established by a vote of the fishery’s participants and then utilizing the revenue to fund surveys through the Department of Fish and Game; under current law, this mechanism is only available to dive fisheries. Any tax would be voluntary and could be lowered or eliminated by that fishery’s participants at any time. ADF&G worked hand-in-hand with me on this bill, and we are very excited about its potential. The sponsor statement can be found here: https://akhouse.org/?bill=HB64, while the bill itself can be viewed here: https://bit.ly/3sfJMow.

My office is still working to introduce legislation streamlining the mariculture industry for small operators. I’ll update you as soon as I have a draft ready.

Transportation Committee last week

The Alaska Marine Highway System has been front and center in the House Transportation Committee. 

On Thursday, March 18, the House Transportation Committee heard HB 63- ALASKA MARINE HIGHWAY OPERATIONS BOARD, my marine highway reform bill, and moved it from committee.

At the hearing, the bill was amended to require DOT to incorporate the comprehensive, long-range plan outlined by the board into the comprehensive, long-range transportation plan for the state. This will give the board some authority to direct the long-term planning of the system by strengthening governance and stabilizing planning. The hearing, in which there was also a DOT presentation on the AMHS vessel replacement budget, planning, and projections, can be watched archived here: https://bit.ly/39b6HJZ.

I am pushing for a hearing of HB 63 next week in State Affairs, its final committee of referral in the House. Passing this bill and seeing it signed into law is a top priority.

Governor Dunleavy introduced his own AMHS reform bill, HB 134-AMHS OPERATION & PLANNING BOARD, on March 10. The key differences between it and my bill are who appoints the members, as well as the board’s authority to direct DOT’s long-term planning. Simply put, the governor appoints the members in his version, while the legislature appoints the members in mine; further, the governor’s version does not require DOT to incorporate the board’s long-term plan into its plan. HB 63 envisions a board with more teeth that is largely appointed by the Legislature, not the Governor. I will continue strengthening HB 63 as it moves through the legislative process.

As far as AMHS’s operating budget, securing an increase is still my top priority. Aside from general fund dollars, the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act, 2021 presents an opportunity.  Out of Alaska’s CRRSAA funding, AMHS is eligible for $108 million in Federal Highway Administration funding, as well as $55.7 million in Federal Transit Administration funds. The FHWA dollars can be used to build, purchase, or repair a vessel, while the FTA funding can be utilized for operations. I am working with both the House and Senate Finance Committee Co-chairs to ensure that AMHS receives as much of that funding as possible. At this point, I am very optimistic that we will be successful in securing an increase to AMHS’s operating budget from both the General Fund and through CRRSAA. Forward funding is something I am still working hard for, and it seems to be gaining traction this year in both bodies.

As Speaker of the House, I’m utilizing every resource at my disposal to secure an infusion of additional operating and capital dollars to AMHS.  

Budget subcommittees are closing out their work this week and the operating budget should be in front of the full Finance Committee by April 5. I’ll update you on any public testimony opportunities, as well as any major changes to the budget.

My next update will focus on the budget, board of fisheries confirmations, upcoming fishery relief funds, and the status of disaster declarations. 

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 
Speaker of the House  
Proudly Serving Kodiak, Cordova, Yakutat, and Seldovia 
Rep.Louise.Stutes@akleg.gov 
907-465-2487
facebook.com/RepLouiseStutes