| March 11, 2016
House passes operating budget
Happy Friday! It’s been a busy week in the Capitol – see below for more on the budget, bill hearings, and changing House membership.
Budget moves one more step forward
On Thursday, the House began reviewing amendments to the state’s operating budget (HB256). This is the bill that funds the day-to-day operations of all of our state government. Thirty-one amendments were offered beginning at 10:30am on Thursday. We took a couple of breaks, and finished our work a little after 3:30am on Friday. While none of our amendments passed, the process provided an opportunity for each one of us to weigh in on issues we may not have had the opportunity to address in our subcommittees since each of us serve on different subcommittees. We offered amendments to reduce funding of some megaprojects that do not make sense in these difficult times, while trying to restore funding for important programs such as early childhood education, university funding, education support for rural communities, and programs for our seniors and vulnerable populations. Gavel Alaska recorded the entire proceedings, but below you will find some information on a couple of amendments that I supported.
Education: Early childhood education programs such as Parents and Teachers, Best Beginnings, and Pre-Kindergarten grants provide support for parents and pre-school children helping them get ready for kindergarten. Education is Alaska’s mortgage, it is the investment we make for the future success of Alaska. I was honored to speak in favor of it.
Online access: Three programs that have been administered through the Department of Education help school districts provide greater access to coursework and resources for students. The first program is the Alaska Learning Network (AKLN), which provides coursework and individual support for students wanting to qualify for Alaska’s Performance Scholarship Program. The second program is the Online With Libraries (OWL) program, which supports over 100 libraries in the state so that they can connect students to the internet and participate in programs supporting their education. The third program is the broadband assistance grants, which improves individual community access to the internet by increasing the community’s bandwidth. All three of these program are part of the essential education infrastructure our state needs to make sure all of our children have access to a quality education.
Now that the House has passed a budget, we will again be able to take up legislation that isn’t directly related to the budget (previously, HCR 23 prevented us from doing so). One of those bills that will be getting a hearing is my own HB 280, which provides a choice of retirement systems for teachers and public employee. HB 280 lets teachers, Troopers, firefighters and other public employees choose one of two state retirement systems: either defined contribution or defined benefit. HB 280 saves the state money, and is the right thing to do for our public employees. The bill will be getting a hearing on Thursday, March 24 in House State Affairs.
The passing of a friend, and a change in legislative roles
We have all been mourning the unexpected passing of Representative Max Gruenberg last month. Max was a detail oriented Legislator with a mind and heart committed to the service of Alaskans. Max was a mentor to all of us, and provided me with invaluable advice when I first came to the Legislature. Max served our caucus as the Minority Whip, a position that helps the caucus stay focused and organized. I was honored today when the Alaska Independent Democratic Coalition named me to fill the whip position. I have big shoes to fill, and will be thinking of the advice he provided as I work to strengthen and grow our caucus.
As always, please be in touch if I may be of assistance.