April 19, 2016
Serving Midtown, Spenard, and UMed
State Capitol Bldg. Rm 9
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Governor Bill Walker
Lt. Governor Byron Mallot
Day 92: The Good and the Bad
Dear Friends and Neighbors,
Well, the regular legislative session has come and gone and we are now in “extended” session. I’d like to take this time to go over the good and bad of the past session. It’s too easy for the good work that has been done to fall through the cracks or get drowned out by the outrage, so I thought I would take this time to highlight some of the achievements.
The Medicaid reform bill. Senate Bill 74 is designed to increase the use of telemedicine for rural Alaskans, reform behavioral health care, upgrade fraud detection within the system, and enhance public-private partnerships, among many other things. The bill passed unanimously!
Senate Bill 23. Signed by the governor in early March, will help doctors to combat the heroin epidemic. The bill allows doctors to more easily prescribe the opioid addiction treatment drug naloxone (Narcan) and permits trained lay people to administer it as a nasal spray for someone experiencing an overdose. There are very few issues the legislature can work on that will more directly impact people in life-or-death situations than this. I am extremely proud of Senator Johnny Ellis (D-Anchorage) for his work on this issue!
House Bill 147. The final bill worked on by the late, great Representative Max Gruenberg (D-Anchorage), passed the legislature unanimously this past weekend. This bill includes a definition of pet abuse and includes pets when considering domestic violence protection orders. The law also allows a court to grant temporary custody of a pet to a victim seeking protection, thus keeping animals away from abusive situations.
Distraction bills. Whether it’s a bill to prevent Planned Parenthood from teaching sex education in high schools when invited or a proposal to eliminate the Alaska Performance Scholarship the Republican caucus did their best to bog down public debate with frivolous nonsense. Every day spent talking about bringing guns to the University of Alaska campus meant another day not talking about the budget.
Not completing our work in the 90-day time frame. As the voters made clear only a few years ago, the Alaska State Legislature is expected to complete its work in 90 days. While there were many days early in the session that could have been spent debating and discussing the best way to fix our budget shortfall, we instead had many Senate floor sessions with no fiscal plan discussions whatsoever.
Attacks on the University System. Speaking of guns on campus, that was only one of the bills attacking the University this session. The Republicans are also attempting to reframe the makeup of the Board of Regents and cut its budget by $50 million. The Board of Regents bill will dramatically alter who is allowed to serve as a Regent, which I feel is unnecessary. The $50 million budget cut was considered the worst case scenario by UA President Jim Johnsen, and is expected to cost between 200 and 500 jobs, as well as the biggest tuition increase in the 100+ year history of the University.
Overall, there are many more things I would have liked to see happen this session, such as a healthy debate on the merits of taxes and new revenues, less partisanship, and a timely end to our regular work. Unfortunately, the Republican majority was too preoccupied with distractions to allow for us to complete our work and go home. I can rest assured knowing I have and will continue to put forward my absolute best for the people of my district.
I’m Berta and I’m still listening,
If you have any questions, please feel free to contact my office.