Capitol Report: Key issues still in progress during final weeks of Legislature

Greetings from the Capitol. This year’s legislative session is entering its final weeks as we continue working on the Fiscal Year 2022 budget and key issues. As you may be aware, legislators and the administration are awaiting guidance on how Alaska will be able to use $1 billion from the federal American Rescue Plan. These rules are expected from the Feds in early May, but preliminary discussions are taking place. I will update you as information becomes available on our progress.

The budget and the 24-Hour Rule

We anticipate the House’s version of the operating budget to reach the Senate for consideration soon. Our Finance Committee will then debate the bill before it goes to a vote of the full Senate. Eventually, a conference committee comprised of three members from each body will resolve any differences between the Senate’s and House’s budget.

Once the budget conference committee is appointed, the work of legislative committees falls under the 24-Hour Rule. This means bills and resolutions may receive a committee hearing with 24 hours’ notice, and legislation can move quickly to a floor vote.

A good way to keep track of where bills are in the process is through the legislative information office near you. 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.

Confirmation hearings

Another major task ahead of the Legislature before adjournment is a joint-confirmation hearing to consider the governor’s appointments for Commissioner of the Department of Revenue, Commissioner of the Department of Public Safety, and various boards and commissions. As of this writing, we do not have the date for the session and there is still time for you to add your input on these candidates.

Personal legislation update

SJR 8 unanimously passed the House on Monday, April 19. The resolution requests Alaska’s congressional delegation, the governor and the United States Department of the Interior work collaboratively to finish the federal land grant endowment to the University of Alaska. It is due under the Morrill Land-Grant College Act of 1862. To date, UA has not received any of the federal land granted to states for higher education, and has only received a fraction of reserved land allocated under the 1915 Wickersham land grant. Consequently, UA has one of the smallest holdings of all land grant institutions in the country.

SB 20 passed the Senate Finance Committee on Wednesday, April 21. The bill’s goal is to allow Alaska teacher certification reciprocity to relocating educators, which would only happen if the teacher’s certification were in good standing in their former state. SB 20 will provide Alaska’s school districts an additional means of addressing teaching shortages while also giving incoming teachers the opportunity to get Alaska-specific education training after being hired rather than beforehand.

SB 20 goes next to the full Senate for consideration.

SB 36, which passed the Senate unanimously on Wednesday, April 7, is awaiting a hearing in the House Education Committee. Senate Bill 36 would require, no later than the 30th legislative day of the first regular session, the University of Alaska 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.

You may remember, 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 again.

SB 32 is awaiting a further hearing in the House Education Committee. This bill will expand public high school students’ access to college coursework by providing a way for school districts to partner with the University of Alaska to earn dual high school and college credit.

Known as “middle colleges,” dual-credit programs have been successfully operated for many years. 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 eighth 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.

Please contact my office for more information on these bills, or any other legislation I am sponsoring this year.

The Legislature on the air and online

Following the Legislature during the legislature’s final days is made easier by public television’s Gavel Alaska. The service broadcasts live and recorded coverage of floor sessions and committee hearings, and on the internet at www.360north.org.

You can also access live committee hearings online at www.alaskalegislature.tv. The service is provided by the legislature.

You can access information on any bills and resolutions introduced during the 32nd Alaska Legislature through the Bill Action and Status Inquiry System on the Internet at this address: cdv.tiny.us/bills.

Please keep in touch

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.

Thank you for reading this edition of the Capitol Report. I look forward to sharing more information in a few weeks.