By Sen. Gary Stevens, R-Kodiak
Hello from Juneau.
The second session of the 33rd Alaska State Legislature convened on Tuesday, Jan. 16, and work in the Senate is underway. Over the coming months, we will debate and develop the Fiscal Year 2025 budget, as well as various bills and resolutions.
I continue with the honor of serving as Senate President. Our 17 of 20 member Senate Majority Coalition is made up of diverse members of both parties from across the state. We have reaffirmed our mutual priorities which include improving education, recruitment and retention of public employees and teachers, addressing retirement and pensions, and lowering Alaska’s high energy costs.
Thank you to everyone who called into the House Rules committee hearing on education in mid-January. The House changed SB 140 to include significant policy changes that have not been fully vetted by both Senate or House Committees. These changes include the loss of control by local school boards, increased classroom sizes, and continued hardship on our dedicated educators. The changes could also jeopardize the bill’s original intent of providing broadband internet funding for schools which has to pass by late February or grant funds will be lost. The House included a BSA Increase of $300, which leaves our schools short-funded and sends the wrong message that schools must do more with less. Last year, the Senate passed SB 52 with a $680 BSA increase. SB 52 is now in the House Finance committee. I am glad the House is making education funding a priority and the Senate Majority will continue to work with them closely on this important issue.
The governor has introduced 12 executive orders, which is an unusually high number. We have only 60 days to approve or disapprove them. All have been referred to the proper Senate committee. I am particularly concerned about the proposed changes to the Alaska Marine Highway Board. It’s my intention to deal with all of these Executive Orders in a timely manner. If you have comments regarding any of these Executive Orders, please share them with my office and the Senate Committee of referral.
2024 Legislation & Committee Assignments
Senate Bill 89: E-Cig/Tobacco
My bill to help address the increased vaping trend with Alaska students passed the Senate last year and was referred to House Labor & Commerce and House Finance committees. This bill would increase the minimum age to buy, sell, and possess tobacco and E-cigarettes from 19 to 21 years old and places a point-of-sale (retail sales) tax on electronic smoking products (ESPs). Updating Alaska statutes to mirror the federal minimum age of sale and possession of these products will allow our state enforcement program to become more effective and our state will be eligible for federal grant funding to support smoking cessation and health education programs.
Senate Bill 29: Civics Education
My bill to add civics curriculum and assessment into public school statutes also passed the Senate last year and was referred to House Education and House Finance committees. During the House Rules hearing in mid-January, the civics bill was also added into SB 140.
Besides leading the Senate and the variety of duties that entails, I will continue to serve as Vice Chair of Senate Education, Chair of the Senate Committee on Committees, and Co-Chair of the Senate Special Committee on World Trade. Additionally, I am representing the Senate on the Joint-Legislative Council and I am a member of
the Select Committee on Legislative Ethics and the Senate Rules Committee. As Senate President, I am also a member of the leadership team which gives me the opportunity to better ensure Senate District C is well-represented as major policy issues are discussed.
Public Assistance Delays
My office has received calls from constituents whose SNAP food stamps, heating assistance, senior benefits, and other public assistance applications and recertifications have been delayed. Some people have been waiting more than three months to hear back and this is unacceptable. My office has been addressing individual constituent cases with the Dept. of Health. I encourage you to reach out to the department’s Virtual Call Center (VCC) at 1-800-478-7778 or email at firstname.lastname@example.org or call my office if you have difficulty getting through to the VCC. You can now apply online for SNAP and other programs at: https://health.alaska.gov/dpa/. During upcoming committee hearings, the Senate will be questioning the Department of Health about the funding passed by the legislature last year for new staff hires and a new computer software system. The Department of Health Commissioner and the Public Assistance Division Director recently shared that they are working to have the backlog eliminated by February.
FY 2025 Budget
Committees in both legislative bodies have begun discussions on the FY 2025 budget. The starting point in the debate is the governor’s $14 billion budget proposal. Of that total, $6.2 billion would come from one-time federal funds.
The budget will be carefully vetted and will see changes as it goes through the legislative process. We will not know what the final budget will look like until session’s end. I will update you on its development process and public testimony opportunities in future editions of my Capitol Report.
You can find out more about the governor’s budget proposal at omb.alaska.gov.
2024 PFD Applications
Applications for this year’s PFD can be submitted through March 31. You can apply through your My Alaska Account, pfd.alaska.gov, or fill out a paper application and mail in. Our LIOs have paper applications available and can help answer questions you may have. If you do apply by mail, please send your application by certified mail, and request a return receipt.
For updates on legislation and budgets contact Cordova’s Legislative Information Office at (907) 424-5461 or LIO.Cordova@akleg.gov.
Please keep in touch!
I appreciate hearing from you about legislation, budgets and other state issues. Please do not hesitate to reach out to my office if we can be of assistance to you with state agency matters.
Toll Free: 1-800-821-4925