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Day 63: Sound off on the budget
It's all about the budget.
Good afternoon, Alaska. It’s Monday.
In this edition: I’m having a real hard time wrapping my head around the Board of Education’s surprise action to go after transgender athletes without a post that’s filled with swear words. So, instead, let’s look at some of the opportunities to have your voice heard in the Alaska Legislature this week.
Current mood: 🎤
Sound off on the budget, K-12 funding and pensions
The Legislature is more than a third of the way through the voter-approved 90-day session (with no intention of hitting that deadline, as has become the norm) and there are several big-ticket items up for public testimony this week: The state’s operating budget, which will command three days of hearings in the House Finance Committee, a separate bill dealing with K-12 education and another instituting a pension for public employees. Also, a bill requiring health insurance to cover 12 months of contraceptive coverage is up for a public hearing.
Remember, legislators do listen… sometimes.
Here’s a rundown of those issues and how to testify:
Ah, the budget. Legislators in the House wrapped up the budget subcommittee process last week with few changes beyond adding in $320,000 in state support for the Dolly Parton Imagination Library to Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s proposal. As it stands, the legislation doesn’t call for an increase to school funding and, as of about to hit publish on this newsletter, has a dividend reduced down to a 50-50 division of spendable revenue from the Alaska Permanent Fund between the PFD and state government. Still, it’s not entirely clear just how the budget will balance given that we’re all still waiting on how the spring forecast will look.
Before the next round of amendments, the House Finance Committee will take testimony in grouped-together areas from the state. Testifiers can call in, testify from a local information office or send in written testimony to email@example.com. Here’s the schedule:
Tuesday 1:30-3:30: Dillingham, Petersburg, Sitka, Glenallen, Valdez, Wrangell, Homer, Ketchikan, Kodiak, Seward and Tok
Tuesday 5-9 p.m.: Juneau and off-network callers
Wednesday. 2:30-4:30: Fairbanks, Delta Junction, Kenai, Bethel, Cordova, Kotzebue, Nome, Utqiagvik
Wednesday, 5-8 p.m.: Anchorage, Mat-Su and off-net callers
Thursday, 3-5 p.m.: Off-net callers
And here’s the call-in numbers (which are good for all of the tesimony opportunities):
House Education Committee will be taking testimony on Ketchikan independent Rep. Dan Ortiz’s House Bill 65, which increases the BSA by $1,250, starting at 5:15 p.m. on Tuesday.
While House Education Committee co-chair Rep. Jamie Allard has made clear that she’d rather wait until next year to consider a long-term increase to school funding, she’s just one half of the committee’s leadership. Her fellow co-chair, Rep. Justin Ruffridge, has been more open to a long-term increase to the BSA, though probably not quite to the level that Rep. Ortiz is seeking.
The Senate advanced its version of education funding, which would call for two years of stepped increases (the first one being $1,000) and then tie funding to inflation after that, last week. It currently awaits consideration in the Senate Finance Committee.
12-month coverage of contraceptives
The Community and Regional Affairs Committee will be hearing public testimony on Fairbanks Democratic Rep. Ashley Carrick’s House Bill 17 at a 8 a.m. on Tuesday.
The legislation would require insurance companies cover up to 12 months of contraceptives at a time, rather than requiring people to pick them up every one to three months. The legislation has been before the Legislature several times before, but it appears that it has more momentum this year despite the Republican-led House giving it a longer-than-usual path to a vote. While it doesn’t have anything to do with abortion or abortion pills, it’s still raised opposition from abortion opponents and on that end, the legislation no longer covers medications like Plan B.
A defined benefit pension plan
After a week of hearings, the Senate Labor and Commerce Committee is taking several days of public testimony on legislation to instate a new defined benefit pension plan for public employees. The committee took testimony today and will take testimony again at its 1:30 p.m. hearing on Wednesday.
The Senate has proposed an expansive public pension plan seeking to address the recruitment and retention issues at pretty much every level of public sector employment from teachers to the Division of Public Assistance and licensing departments. The proposed legislation makes several big concessions that would make the plan far less generous than the old defined benefit plans of the past with the big one being a lack of health coverage into retirement, leaving public sector retirees to find their own insurance to cover any gap between retirement and Medicare age.
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