Capitol Report 2021

March 5, 2021

Budget Hearings, G.O. Bond and bills of interest 

Today is the 46th day of the Legislative session. While Thursday marked the mid-point of the regular session, a great deal of work lies ahead for lawmakers. Alaska Statute calls for a 90-day regular legislative session, but the Constitution of the State of Alaska provides for a 120-day session. Lawmakers have often fallen back on the 120-day session for completing their work.

University House Budget Subcommittee Convenes

UA Interim President Pat Pitney presented to the university’s House Finance Subcommittee today. Lawmakers convened as a committee of the whole chaired by Representative Adam Wool (D-Fairbanks) to hear an overview of UA’s FY 22 Operating Budget. The President briefed lawmakers on UA’s strategic goals and legislative priorities, and talked about the important role the university has in the state’s economy. Consideration of the Operating Budget will continue for the next several weeks as the subcommittee process continues. Next Friday, March 12, the subcommittee will hear a presentation on university research, as well as information about UA’s community campus system. You can view the House Finance Subcommittee hearing here.

G.O. Bond Hearings

Next week, the Senate Transportation Committee will continue its review of Governor Dunleavy’s G.O. Infrastructure Bond package (SB 74). If enacted by the Legislature and approved by voters following the 2021 legislative session, more than $356 million in bonds would be issued to improve transportation, education, recreation, and communications systems throughout the state. SB 74 includes $29 million for targeted maintenance projects at university facilities. Thank you to Cameron Wohlford, Christopher McConnell and Nathan Leigh for their continued work to help senators understand these important and needed improvements.

Senate Education to Hear UA-Related Bills

Next Monday, the Senate Education Committee will hear two bills of interest to the University of Alaska. Senate Bill 32 expands UA’s existing middle college programs to every school district in Alaska. Middle colleges provide high school students the opportunity to take classes from the University of Alaska, earning both high school and college credit. UA currently operates voluntary middle college programs in partnership with schools in Anchorage, Fairbanks and Mat-Su. The committee also will hear Senate Bill 36, which establishes a reporting requirement on the subject of UA systemwide accreditation in state law, and calls for the university to present reports to the legislature semi-annually.

Passing of Alaska Leaders

Alaska lost three respected leaders this week with the passing of Mike Bradner, Pat Carney and John Sackett, all of whom served in the Legislature.

Mike Bradner represented Fairbanks in the House for a decade, including serving a term as speaker. His tenure in the Legislature included highlights such as creation of the Alaska Permanent Fund, municipal revenue sharing, and the state’s petroleum tax. An alumnus of the University of Alaska, Bradner was a journalist for the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner. After retiring from elected office, he became a Capitol fixture as author of the subscription newsletter Legislative Digest and Alaska Economic Report with his brother Tim Bradner. The two also hosted interviews with legislators and policymakers on Gavel Alaska’s program Capitol Views. His outgoing presence in the Capitol will be missed.

Pat Carney served in the Legislature in the early 80’s and 90’s representing the Mat-Su Valley. A dairy farmer and UA alumnus, he was well respected in the Capitol and known for having a great deal of integrity and a lot of class.

John Sackett’s lifetime of service to Alaska spanned decades. At age 21 in 1966, Sackett became the youngest person ever elected to the Alaska Legislature. He spent 18 of the next 20 years representing rural Alaska in the Capitol in both the House and Senate. Sackett also was the youngest person elected President of the Tanana Chiefs Conference. As a UAF student, Sackett recalled a day when he skipped a class and went to listen to a discussion about the land claims issue. His advocacy and leadership helped further passage of the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act. He was the founding president of Doyon Ltd, and served on the UA Board of Regents. The university presented Sackett with an honorary doctorate in 2013, and Sackett Hall at UAF’s Kuskokwim Campus is named to celebrate his legacy. 

Did You Know?

Alaska’s Capitol Building does not have a dome like many traditional state capitols. When constructed in 1931 it served as the territorial federal building for Alaska, housing courtrooms, a post office, and a museum. Twenty eight years later, the building was gifted to the new State of Alaska and it has served as the seat of state government ever since.

 

February 26, 2021

Budget Hearings and Regent Confirmations 

Today is the 39th day of the legislative session. Work in the State Capitol hit a speed bump late Wednesday afternoon, with the announcement that Representative Mike Cronk (R-Tok) had tested positive for COVID-19. The House subsequently suspended all proceedings until next week. Governor Dunleavy’s office announced that he also has tested positive for COVID-19 and is isolating at his home in Mat-Su.

Rep. Cronk’s case marks the first positive COVID case in the Capitol since lawmakers convened in January. The Legislature has established strict access rules whereby Legislators and staff must undergo COVID-19 testing twice a week, as well as temperature screenings upon entering the Capitol. Your UA Government Relations Team also follows this protocol. We wish the Governor and Rep. Cronk a quick and full recovery.

Committees Work Continues, House Announces Budget Subcommittees

The House and Senate Finance Committees were busy this week wading into the challenging fiscal issues facing lawmakers. Committee members in the House began with overviews on state revenue and oil production, as well analysis of the Governor’s FY22 Budget. The House has announced that UA’s Operating Budget Subcommittee will be a committee of the whole chaired by Representative Adam Wool (D-Fairbanks). The subcommittee will hold an overview on the university’s budget on Friday, March 5  at 1:30 p.m.

The Senate Finance Committee continued its work by taking a deep-dive review on school construction and statewide deferred maintenance. On Tuesday, State Relations Director Chad Hutchison, along with facilities staff from all three universities, participated in a hearing featuring an in-depth discussion on the UA System’s facility maintenance needs. The university currently has a backlog of more than $1.3 billion in deferred maintenance systemwide. The UA Board of Regents has requested $50 million in funding in the FY22 Capital Budget to help address the backlog. Senators were keen to hear details of the university’s Capital Budget request, and asked several questions about UA facility needs. Thank you to Cameron Wohlford, Christopher McConnell and Nathan Leigh for helping brief senators on this important issue. You can view the Senate Finance Committee hearing here.

Next Tuesday at 1:30 p.m., the Senate Transportation Committee will hold a hearing on Governor Dunleavy’s G.O. Infrastructure Bond package (SB 74). The proposal includes $29 million for targeted maintenance projects at university facilities.

President Pitney Delivers State of University Address

UA Interim President Pitney presented the annual State of the University address on Wednesday, Feb. 24. The speech was delivered as part of the Commonwealth North speaker series, and was broadcast in the Capitol via the Gavel-to-Gavel network. In her address, President Pitney shared her vision for higher education in Alaska and the UA System’s journey during the past year. She highlighted success stories across the UA System, and the many ways the university supports the state's economy. The president said state funding is key to creating stability and building confidence among students. She called on all Alaskans to support higher education and the university, The address also detailed recent UA enrollment numbers, the upcoming launch of the university’s philanthropic campaign, efforts to fulfill UA’s land grant, and the critical role university research plays in moving Alaska forward. You can view the speech here.

Representative David Nelson Visits UAS campus

The University of Alaska Southeast (UAS) welcomed Representative David Nelson (R-Anchorage) to campus on Tuesday for a familiarization tour. The representative is an alumnus of our university (UAA ’18), and expressed an interest in visiting UAS after meeting with President Pat Pitney. The tour highlighted UAS’ partnerships with the Alaska National Guard at the Gamble-Sperl Joint Use Facility, which serves as Juneau’s armory and the campus rec center. Rep. Nelson met students participating in a U.S. Coast Guard pre-commissioning scholarship program, which provides UAS students financial aid and a fast-track to service in USCG. The tour also featured a discussion about UAS business partnerships, as well as a visit to the Egan Library and the fisheries labs. Engaging with legislators is very important. Showcasing our campuses and students is a great way to grow support for our university amongst policymakers. Thank you to Chancellor Karen Carey, Brittni Wisner, Deborah Rydman, and the team at UAS for organizing a great campus visit.

University Board of Regents Confirmation Hearings

UA Regents Ralph Seekins and Dale Anderson appeared before the Senate Education Committee on Wednesday, Feb. 24 for their confirmation hearings. Senators asked the regents about their vision for the UA System, as well as their background in higher education and public service. Both regents will have a further confirmation hearing before the House Education Committee before their nominations are forwarded to a joint session of the Legislature later this session. You can view the hearing here.

Passing of Two Alaska Leaders

Alaska lost two venerable leaders this week with the passing of Hugh “Bud” Fate and Katie Hurley.

Fate, a former legislator and UA Regent, is remembered for numerous contributions and service to the people of Alaska. His life and career took Fate from Alaska’s north slope, to surveying the ALCAN Highway during service in the U.S. Army, and to the halls of the State Capitol. His commitment to public service was shared with his wife of more than 65 years, Mary Jane Fate. A longtime Fairbanks resident, he provided health care to Interior villages as both a dentist and bush pilot. Fate served as chair of the UA Board of Regents and as a trustee of the UA Foundation. He was president of Alaska Dental Association, and served on the State Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors and the Local Boundary Commission. Fate received an Honorary Doctorate of Public Service from the University of Alaska in 1988. You can see a tribute to Fate by U.S. Senator Dan Sullivan here.

Katie Hurley’s civic commitment to Alaska spanned more than  half a century. A devoted public servant, she was at the forefront during Alaska’s formative Territorial and Statehood era. She worked as an assistant to Territorial Governor Ernest Gruening, Chief Clerk to Alaska Constitutional Convention, as well as Secretary of both the Territorial and State Senate. Alaskans elected her to the Legislature (1985-87), and she would later serve as chair of the State Board of Education and executive director of the Alaska Women’s Commission.

Our thoughts and prayers are with both families.

Did You Know?

The Legislature offers a program allowing you to receive updates on legislation via text. For current information on the status of a bill or resolution, text the bill number to 1-555-245-2529. A status update will be sent to your mobile device courtesy of the Legislative Information Office.

February 19, 2021

House Organizes and Gets to Work

It has been an eventful week in the State Capitol. The House of Representatives organized, U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski visited with lawmakers and press, Chief Justice Bolger delivered his State of the Judiciary Address, and the Senate Finance Committee finished its review of UA’s operating budget. In case you missed it, be sure to also give a listen to UA Interim President Pat Pitney’s recent podcast with blogger Jeff Landfield.

House Organizes Caucuses and Committees

After 31 days into the 90-day legislative session, the organizational logjam in the Alaska House of Representatives has broken -- at least for now. On Thursday, the House finalized its leadership and committee organization and publicly noticed hearings to begin work next week. While Rep. Louise Stutes (R-Kodiak) was elected as Speaker on Feb. 11, full organization came together slowly through behind the scenes negotiations by lawmakers. Finally, a 20-member caucus of Democrats and Republicans emerged and was able to secure the necessary votes to organize Representatives’ positions in the House.

The coalition was made possible by Rep. Kelly Merrick (R-Eagle River), who voted for Rep. Stutes as Speaker and will take a leadership role chairing the Capital Budget and legislation for the House Finance Committee. Rep. Sara Rasmussen (R-Anchorage) also voted to approve the slate of committee assignments, but has announced that she will not be joining either the Democrat-led majority nor the Republican minority caucus. As a swing vote, Rep. Rasmussen will also serve on the Finance Committee. In addition to Reps. Stutes and Merrick, other House leadership assignments include:

  • Rep. Bryce Edgmon (I-Dillingham) – Rules Chair

  • Rep. Neal Foster (D-Nome) – Finance Co-Chair, Operating Budget

  • Rep. Chris Tuck (D-Anchorage) – Majority Leader

  • Rep. Matt Claman (D-Anchorage) – Majority Whip

House organization was further complicated during the week by dissent from Rep. Geran Tarr (D-Anchorage), who has not committed to join the Democratic caucus. The current status leaves the House with a majority caucus of 20-members, an 18-member Republican minority, and two legislators not committed to either partisan caucus. Such narrow margins will make committee work and floor votes hotly contested throughout the session.

UA Senate Subcommittee Concludes its Work

The Senate Finance Committee concluded its review of UA’s FY22 Operating Budget this week. UA Interim President Pat Pitney presented to the committee, convened as a subcommittee of the whole, to brief lawmakers on UA’s strategic goals, legislative priorities, and the important role the university has in the state’s economy.

During the hearing, Co-Chair Senator Bert Stedman complimented President Pitney on her presentation, and applauded the University of Alaska for leading by example and making tough decisions in the face of difficult budget cuts. UA’s operating budget is set at $257 million unrestricted general funds (UGF), $20 million below current year levels, and $70 million below FY19. This amount is consistent with the Board of Regents budget request and the 3-year budget compact signed with Governor Dunleavy in August of 2019.

The FY22 Operating Budget will remain under further consideration by the Senate Finance Committee, and we expect the House to start its own subcommittee process during the next two weeks. You can view the Senate Finance Subcommittee hearing here.

UA Interns Meet Legislators and Alumni

Earlier today, the University of Alaska Southeast hosted a virtual meet and greet for legislators and students participating in the Senator Ted Stevens Legislative Internship Program. The event highlighted the important role that interns have in the Capitol, and the important service they provide legislators and their staffs. For more than 30 years, University of Alaska students have worked as interns during the legislative session. It is a great opportunity for students in any academic program, and the students gain valuable experience while earning college credit. Thank you to UAS Chancellor Karen Carey, Kathryn Portelli and their team for organizing a great event!

Land Grant Resolution Advances

A legislative resolution calling for a solution to UA's Land Grant Deficit passed the Senate Education Committee this week. Senate Joint Resolution 8 by Sen. Gary Stevens (R-Kodiak), seeks a joint federal and state solution to create a permanent land endowment for our university. Although UA is a land grant institution, it has not received its full land entitlement and is due approximately 360,000 acres. Resolving this issue is vital for the university’s future. We appreciate Senators’ willingness to bring awareness to this 100-year-old problem, and look forward to working with them to move this resolution through the Legislature. You can watch the hearing here.

Career and Technical Education Legislation Introduced

Legislation has been introduced that will help sustain UA’s workforce development programs. House Bill 100 by Representative Adam Wool reauthorizes the Technical Vocational Education Program (TVEP). The program uses a portion of employee unemployment insurance contributions to fund high-demand career and technical education programs. It brings in more than $5 million to UA each year, but is scheduled to sunset at the end of this fiscal year. We are grateful to Rep. Wool for championing this issue, and will be working with legislators to move this bill through the process.

UA Regents Confirmation Hearing

Governor Dunleavy has appointed Ralph Seekins and Dale Anderson to the UA Board of Regents. Next Wednesday at 9:00 a.m. the Senate Education Committees will be holding confirmation hearings for these two individuals.

Did You Know?

Alaska has its own Liberty Bell! In front of the State Capitol is a replica of the Liberty Bell gifted to Alaska in 1950. A similar replica was given to every state and territory as part of a promotional campaign for U.S. Savings Bonds. The bell was famously rung 49 times on July 1, 1958 in celebration of the passage of the Alaska Statehood Act. 

February 12, 2021

UA Actively Engaged at Capitol

Today is the 25th day of the Legislative Session. After three and a half weeks, the state House of Representatives took another step towards organization on Thursday in electing Representative Louise Stutes (R-Kodiak) to serve as Speaker of the House.

Stutes, a Republican, has previously caucused with Democrats in forming a bipartisan majority in the House. Earlier this session she signaled her intention to do so again during the 32nd Alaska Legislature. The House has been split 20-20 between Republicans and Democrats, independents and Rep. Stutes. This divide has stymied the organization process which would allow House lawmakers to begin their work. The surprise break in the gridlock came when Representative Kelly Merrick (R-Eagle River) gave Stutes the necessary vote to be elected Speaker by a vote of 21-19. Despite this show of support, Rep. Merrick has announced that she has not joined the Democrat-led caucus. This means that while a Speaker has been elected, the House remains divided without a majority to govern. We expect this situation to evolve further in the coming days.

President Pitney Meets with Legislators

UA Interim President Pat Pitney was active in the Capitol this week meeting with lawmakers and presenting to UA’s Senate Finance Subcommittee. The President briefed lawmakers on UA’s strategic goals and legislative priorities, and talked about the important role the university has in the state’s economy. She also met with several freshman legislators who are alumni, and discussed how UA programs and research help move our state forward. President Pitney will be back before Senate Finance on Tuesday at 9 a.m. to continue her presentation to lawmakers. You can view the Senate Finance Subcommittee here.

UA Alumni Virtual Fly-In

This week UA’s three alumni associations held a virtual fly-in with legislators. They maintained a busy schedule of legislative meetings. Alumni met with more than 40 legislators and staff communicating UA’s value, telling personal stories and advocating on UA’s behalf. Alumni interest and enthusiasm is incredibly impactful and a valuable part of the legislative process. Thank you to the alumni who participated, and to the wonderful staff for helping plan and coordinate this year’s event.

Did You Know?

This Sunday marks the anniversary of the signing of the Alaska Anti-Discrimination Act. The act, championed by Elizabeth Peratovich, addressed discrimination in public accommodations and facilities around Alaska. When adopted, the legislation was the first of its kind in the U.S. The act was groundbreaking and paved the way for similar legislation including the federal Civil Rights Act.

February 5, 2021

UA Funding in Governor's Infrastructure Bill

Today is the 18th day of the Legislative session. After two and a half weeks of gridlock, the state House of Representatives took the first step toward organization on Thursday by unanimously electing freshman Representative Josiah Patkotak (I- Utqiagvik) to serve as Speaker Pro Tempore. On Friday, Republicans nominated Rep. Steve Thompson (R-Fairbanks) to serve as Speaker of the House. That vote failed on a caucus-line vote of 20-20.

The absence of a governing majority continues to prevent the House from undertaking any work of substance. Until a majority coalition is formed there is simply no way to perform legislative business. Representatives are still working in temporary offices, with limited staff, and are prevented from introducing legislation or forming committees.

University Projects Included in G.O. Bond Bill

Governor Dunleavy has introduced a $356 million infrastructure bond package including $29.6 million for the University of Alaska. Senate Bill 74 would, subject to a vote of the people, issue general obligation bonds to finance a variety of capital projects to improve transportation, communications and education. Specifically, for the university the bill provides:

  • UAF Bartlett and Moore Hall Modernization - $18.65 million
  • UAA Building Energy Performance Upgrades - $10.9 million
  • UAA Integrated Sciences Building Energy Savings Project - $428,000

The University of Alaska received the second largest allocation of any recipient in the proposed bond package ($29.6M), and we thank Governor Dunleavy for this important step. The legislation has been referred to the Senate Finance Committee, and will be considered as part of the overall budget package as the legislative session continues.

President Pitney Active in the Capitol

UA Interim President Pat Pitney appeared before the Senate Education Committee on Wednesday, briefing lawmakers on UA’s strategic goals and legislative priorities. The presentation addressed a number of topics including the university’s key role in the state’s economy, serving Alaska’s educational needs during COVID-19 and budgetary constraints, as well as research and federal initiatives. Lawmakers questions highlighted the important work university faculty and staff are doing in the areas of unmanned aviation systems, teacher training, and virtual learning. You can view the hearing here.

Next week President Pitney will visit the State Capitol and present to the Senate Finance Committee on Thursday, February 11 at 9 a.m. She will also meet with leaders in the House and Senate to discuss UA legislative priorities. You can learn more about UA legislative priorities here.

Did You Know?

On this day in 1956, the delegates of Alaska’s Constitutional Convention drafted a constitution for the as yet unauthorized State of Alaska. The convention was held on the campus of the University of Alaska Fairbanks. The constitution was ratified by territorial voters on April 24 of that year, and went into effect when the Alaska Statehood Proclamation was signed by President Eisenhower on January 3, 1959.

January 29, 2021

State of the State, UA Board of Regents appointments, and COVID-19 relief updates

Today is the 11th day of the Legislative session. Senate committees began their work this week, while lawmakers in the House remained gridlocked over organizing a majority caucus. 

Dunleavy Appoints UA Regents
Governor Dunleavy’s office has announced the appointment of former legislator Ralph Seekins, and re-appointed Dale Anderson to the UA Board of Regents. 

Seekins is a former state Senator representing Fairbanks from 2003-2006. He is owner and president of the Seekins Ford-Lincoln auto dealership, and was recognized as UAF Business Leader of the Year in 1990. Seekins has served as a member Alaska Permanent Fund Corporation’s Board of Trustees, Alaska Airlines Advisory Board, and is active within the state and local business community. 

Regent Anderson has served on the Board of Regents since 2012. A lifelong Juneau resident, Anderson is a senior consultant with Merrill Lynch and owns Auke Lake Bed & Breakfast. He has previously served as a member of the City & Borough of Juneau Assembly, Legislative Aide for the House Finance Committee, and as a Commissioner on the state’s Commercial Fisheries Entry Commission. 

Governor Delivers State of State Address
Governor Dunleavy delivered his third State of the State address Thursday night, broadcasting the speech live from his office in Anchorage. It was the first time a governor has given the annual speech outside of the Capitol via video. This is due to both concerns about COVID-19 exposure, as well as the fact that the House of Representatives has not yet organized to conduct state business. The Governor addressed response efforts to the COVID-19 pandemic, state fiscal issues, and lauded the University of Alaska’s work in training essential workers and furthering cutting-edge aviation research. 

“The University of Alaska graduated 260 nurses to the pandemic frontlines as well as 400 contact tracers. With the help of the Legislature, many of these nurses were graduated early thanks to nearly 300 regulatory suspensions that took place under the emergency declaration.”

“Just this week, Alaska participated in a trade mission that attracted over 120 investors interested in unmanned aircraft systems. I’ll continue working with the University of Alaska as they cement our position as the nation’s leader in unmanned aircraft research.”

You can watch and read Governor Dunleavy’s speech here.

Senate Education Committee Briefing
Next Wednesday at 9:00 a.m. UA Interim President Pat Pitney will present before the Senate Education Committee. The President will brief lawmakers on how the University of Alaska provides critical contributions to our state, the impact of budget reductions and the need for stable funding for the university. You can learn more about the Senators on the committee, as well as their educational background and policy goals here

Federal COVID-19 Relief Update
Congressional leaders have signaled their willingness to begin work on the next round of COVID-19 relief funding as early as next week. The foundation for this next package is a $1.9 trillion proposal that was put forward by the Biden campaign earlier this month. The proposal includes $35 billion for the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund (HEERF), which has been the primary source of funding for COVID-19 relief to higher education. The bill will likely put the newly formed, but unspecified power sharing agreement in the Senate to the test. The higher education advocacy community submitted a letter to House and Senate leaders asking for $97 billion in relief to higher education, with an additional $26 billion for research relief. 

Did You Know?

There are more than 130 boards and commissions within state government. Their work ranges from licensing occupations and overseeing the Permanent Fund, to the mission of our own UA Board of Regents. 

The Governor appoints Alaskans to serve on boards & commissions, and these nominations must be submitted to the legislature no later than the 15th day of session. Most of these nominations, along with the Governor’s cabinet appointments, are subject to confirmation by a vote of the legislature. The House and Senate considers these nominations both in committees and during a joint-session of the legislature usually held near the end of session. 

Do you serve on a state board or advisory committee? Let us know!

January 22, 2021

State Legislature Organization, Federal COVID-19 Relief Updates

Today is the fourth day of the legislative session. The Senate has fully organized, while the House remains in a 20-20 split over forming a majority coalition. The lack of organization in the House impedes the overall legislative process, and raises doubts about how quickly lawmakers will be able to conclude their business in Juneau.
 
Your Government Relations Team has been very active in the Capitol, meeting with new and returning legislators and their staff. As legislative liaisons for the University of Alaska System we follow strict mask-wearing protocols, and regular COVID-19 testing as part of engaging in the process at the Capitol.
 
Things move fast in the Legislature. To keep you informed we have refreshed our twitter feed @UA_GovRelations. Follow us for updates on Capitol happenings and other breaking news. In addition, check out our website for bills we’re following and background one-pagers on UA legislative priorities.

Senate Appoints Committee Chairs
The Senate Majority has completed its organization and assigned committee chairs and membership. Senator Lyman Hoffman (D-Bethel) joined Republicans to form a 14-member majority caucus. Hoffman will have a seat on the Senate Finance Committee. In addition to the Senate Leadership and the Finance Committee, the Senate announced the following chairs for standing committees:   

  • Community & Regional Affairs – Sen. Shelley Hughes (R-Palmer)
  • Education – Sen. Roger Holland (R-Anchorage)
  • Health & Social Services – Sen. David Wilson (R-Wasilla)
  • Judiciary – Sen. Lora Reinbold (R-Eagle River)
  • Labor & Commerce – Sen. Mia Costello (R-Anchorage)
  • Legislative Budget & Audit – Sen. Natasha von Imhof (R-Anchorage)
  • Resources – Sen. Joshua Revak (R-Anchorage)
  • State Affairs – Sen. Mike Shower (R-Wasilla)
  • Transportation – Sen. Robert Myers (R-North Pole)

In the coming weeks, we will actively engage with committee chairs and their staff on issues important to the university system. UA Interim President Pitney will meet with freshman Senators Robert Myers of North Pole, and Roger Holland of Anchorage who chairs the Senate Education Committee. She will be appearing before the committee to present how the university provides critical contributions to our state, including the impact of budget reductions and the need for stable funding for the university.
 
Next Friday, January 29, at 9 a.m. the Senate Finance Committee will hear an overview on the Governor’s FY22 Budget. We’ll be tuning-in and will discuss the fiscal challenges facing the state in the next Capitol Report.

Federal COVID-19 Relief and Federal Fiscal Year 2022
In late December, Congress passed and the President signed into law the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act of 2021 (CRRSA). The $2.4 trillion bill includes a COVID-19 supplemental relief measure, Federal FY21 appropriations, and a number of policy measures. Of the total, $1.4 trillion is for the Federal FY21 Omnibus Appropriations that will fund the federal government until September 30, 2021 and $900 billion is for the “Phase IV” COVID-19 relief.
 
This is a follow-on to the CARES Act passed in March 2020, the “Phase IV” COVID-19 relief package included in the bill has a number of impactful provisions, most notably, $82 billion for a “Education Stabilization Fund” that will provide funding to K-12 and higher education. The bill includes a Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund (HEERF) that provides $22.9 billion, through a formula-driven allocation, to colleges and universities to address the impact of COVID-19 to students and institutions. Additionally, the bill provides $54.3 billion to K-12 and $4.05 billion to governors to allocate at their discretion. Initial estimates for the University of Alaska institutions are near $22 million, with a majority coming from the HEERF. The U.S. Department of Education formerly announced HEERF II funding last week, which University of Alaska institutions are set to receive a total of $17.4 million. Like the CARES Act, there are several other programs through which the university will benefit and we’re awaiting additional announcements in the coming days.
 
The Federal FY21 Omnibus Appropriations package included in the CRRSA highlighted numerous priorities identified by UA to the Alaska Congressional Delegation. An estimated $52 million in federal funding was included to programs that impact the University of Alaska’s research, education and public services missions. These range from longstanding federal partnerships like EPSCoR, TRiO and Space Grant; to new initiatives working with the military on suicide prevention and the FAA in developing training for the next generation of Alaskan pilots. These successful outcomes were a direct result of work by the Alaska Congressional Delegation and their staff. It is a testament to their effectiveness in Congress.

New Administration and New Congress
As President Biden takes office, the U.S. Senate has yet to work out an agreement on how to manage a 50-50 partisan spilt in the body. Senator Chuck Schumer (D-New York) is Majority Leader, by virtue of Vice President Kamala Harris becoming Senate President on Tuesday, wielding an effective 51-50 Democratic majority. Beyond Schumer’s ascension to Majority Leader, committee organization has yet to be announced. It is likely a power-sharing agreement will unfold, like what happened in 2001 when the Senate was in a similar situation. Senator Murkowski and Sullivan’s memberships on Senate committees will change, with their titles going from chair to ranking member status. However, with these incredibly thin margins, bipartisanship will be necessary to advance legislation. 
 
Priorities for President Biden’s first 100 days in office are coming into focus. These include the announcement of his American Rescue Plan, a legislative package funding “Vaccinations, Provide Immediate, Direct Relief to Families Bearing the Brunt of the COVID-19 Crisis, and Support Struggling Communities.” Of note, the proposals call for an additional $35 billion in aid to institutions of higher education and students for COVID-19 relief.
 
Since his first day in office, the President has signed a slew of Executive Orders, including some impacting higher education. One requests the U.S. Department of Education to extend a moratorium on student loan interest and payments until at least September 30. Another ends President Trump’s Executive Order regarding workplace diversity and inclusion training. A few more call for reforms to immigration policies. In the meantime, the Senate advances through the confirmation process for President Biden’s cabinet. Senators Murkowski and Sullivan have and continue to meet with nominees throughout the process and have sought the university’s perspective for pertinent nominees.

Did You Know?
The Alaska Legislature has decades-old traditions about how lawmakers are notified and summoned to floor sessions. In the Senate, pages walk through the Capitol playing a 4-note chime on a glockenspiel prior to the start or resumption of floor session. Members of the House of Representative are summoned by the tune “First Call” (known as “Call to the Post” in the horse racing context) played throughout the building.

January 19, 2021

32nd Alaska Legislature Convenes

Today, state lawmakers gaveled-in to begin the first session of the 32nd Alaska Legislature. Your Government Relations Team is on the ground in Juneau, and actively engaged working on behalf of the University of Alaska.
 
There is an excitement in Juneau that accompanies the start of every session, but this year also brings with it a good deal of anxiety. Concerns about COVID-19 exposure are omnipresent. Legislators and their staff are held to strict testing and mask-wearing protocols, and the Capitol complex has been outfitted with screening technology and protective barriers in legislative chambers. Additionally, the House of Representatives has not organized, which creates a great deal of uncertainty.
 
Our goal with the Capitol Report is keeping the university community informed about legislative issues important to UA. We look forward to providing updates on happenings in the Capitol, legislation moving through the process, UA budget news, and the work being done to advance the University of Alaska’s priorities. We’ll have more information on those topics in the days ahead.

Hutchison Leads UA State Relations
Chad Hutchison has joined UA’s Government Relations Team as Director of State Relations. Chad is a lifelong Fairbanks resident, and received his Bachelor of Business Administration from UAF and law degree from Gonzaga University. A practicing attorney since 2007, he started his career in private practice at the firm Cook, Schuhmann & Groseclose in Fairbanks. He joins the university after serving as counsel to the Alaska State Senate Majority, and brings proven experience with the development and passage of legislation.

Chad succeeds Miles Baker who was appointed in August as Legislative Director for Governor Mike Dunleavy. Miles’ work for UA in Washington D.C. and the State Capitol during the past several years has been invaluable. We thank him for his dedicated service to the university, and look forward to continue working with him to build strong relationships for UA within the executive branch.

New Faces in 32nd Alaska Legislature
The 32nd Alaska Legislature brings many new faces to the Capitol after substantial turnover resulting from last year’s elections. In 2020, several members of legislative leadership were defeated for re-election including the Senate President, House Finance Co-Chair, House Minority Leader and the chairmen of both the House and Senate Rules Committees. That level of change amongst legislators in positions of leadership is unusual, and will alter the dynamic in the Capitol this session. Thirteen freshman lawmakers joined the Legislature today, many of whom have a direct connection to the University of Alaska. You can see these and others on our Alumni in Government page on the UA Government Relations website.

Senate Formed Republican Majority Caucus
The Senate gaveled-in and quickly organized a Republican led majority caucus. Republicans in the Senate hold 13 seats to the Democrats’ seven, but have faced divisions within their caucus about policy direction and leadership roles. These disagreements delayed the organizing of a governing majority after the fall election. The organization announced by Republicans is a non-binding “Caucus of Equals.” This suggests that tough decisions around the state spending and the PFD will not necessarily be decided along caucus or party lines. Senate President Peter Micciche (R-Soldotna) heads the caucus with a leadership team comprised of:

  • Sen. Bert Stedman (R-Sitka) - Finance Co-Chair for Operating Budget
  • Sen. Click Bishop (R-Fairbanks) - Finance Co-Chair for Capital Budget & Legislation
  • Sen. Gary Stevens (R-Kodiak) - Rules Committee Chair
  • Sen. Shelley Hughes (R-Palmer) - Majority Leader
  • Sen. Mia Costello (R-Anchorage) – Majority Whip 

Committee chairs and assignments will likely be announced later this week. Senator Tom Begich (D-Anchorage) will serve as Minority leader of the Democrat caucus.

House Split Over Organization
The House convened without selecting a presiding officer for only the fourth time in state history. The absence of a governing majority prevents the House from undertaking any work of substance. Representatives are working in temporary offices, with limited staff, and without committee assignments. Some brief background is helpful to understand this situation.
 
Following each election cycle, legislators start a process known inside the Capitol as “organization.” It’s an exercise in coalition building, networking, and at times brinkmanship. Members work to secure support from enough of their colleagues to weave together a majority caucus capable of establishing working control of their respective body.

Caucuses normally form along party lines, but there are exceptions and bipartisan coalitions are not unusual in Alaska. During the previous Legislature, several moderate Republicans joined with Democrats to form a coalition in the House. In prior years, rural Democrats have joined Republican led organizations to help protect their districts’ interests. Coastal legislators have periodically organized with interior legislators to form working majorities aligned less on partisan affiliation, and more around similar policy objectives.
 
The outcome of the 2020 election has made organizing the House of Representatives especially challenging. House membership is divided with 21 Republicans, 15 Democrats, and four Independents. While Republicans technically hold the majority of seats, policy differences and political alliances have impeded their ability to form a majority. Kodiak Republican Rep. Louise Stutes has announced that she will caucus with the Democrats and Independents who formed the bipartisan coalition during the previous Legislature. Meanwhile, the remaining 20 Republicans are working to put together a Republican-led majority. During today’s floor session, they nominated Representative Bart LeBon (R-Fairbanks) to serve as Speaker Pro Temp. This largely ceremonial position would preside over the House in place of the Lt. Governor while organization in completed. The motion failed on a vote of 20-20.   
 
Why does all this indecision matter? The outcome of these organizational negotiations determines leadership positions, committee membership and sets the policy priorities. Without an organization they can’t elect presiding officers, legislation can’t be introduced, and committees can’t be formed. There is simply no way to perform legislative business. Discussions among lawmakers will be ongoing, but with no promise of a quick resolution. In 2019, it took the House 31 days to organize, which is significant considering it is a 90-day session.

Lawmakers Release Prefiled Legislation
While legislators are still working to organize, many have already been thinking about legislation they will be filing this session. Lawmakers have prefiled more than 100 bills for early consideration. Yes, legislators can introduce bills before they are even sworn into office!
 
The Legislature’s Uniform Rules, which governs legislative procedure, includes a process known as prefiling. Rule 36 allows legislators to request bills be drafted and submitted for numbering to the Legislature’s Legal Services Division before the first day of session. This is often used by legislators to grab early headlines and stake out positions on policy issues going into session. The prefiled bills include several issues related to the University of Alaska including legislation expanding dual-enrollment programs, the membership of the Board of Regents and expanding scholarship programs. Check out the UA Government Relations website for a full list of Bills We’re Tracking.   
 
In addition to working with lawmakers on legislation, your Government Relations Teams will be strongly advocating for the UA Board of Regents FY22 Operating and Capital Budget request. We will also be working to reauthorize the Technical Vocational Education Program, and to demonstrate to policymakers the value UA adds to Alaska and our economy.

Welcome Senator Ted Stevens Legislative Interns
This week lawmakers welcome this year’s cohort of the Senator Ted Stevens Legislative Internship Program. For more than 30 years, the Legislature has hosted University of Alaska students to intern during the legislative session and to partake in this rigorous public policy program. During his life, Senator Stevens maintained a legendary commitment to education, public service, and the professional development of the next generation of Alaskan leaders. The Ted Stevens Foundation is continuing that legacy, and in recognition of its financial commitment to the program, the university renamed the internship in the Senator’s honor. This year’s cohort is a diverse group of students from every region of our state:

  • Celeste "CJ" Harrell, UAS - Sen. Jesse Kiehl
  • Connor Owens, UAS - Sen. Tom Begich
  • Emma Ashlock, UAF - Sen. Mia Costello
  • Max Robicheaux, UAF - Sen. Scott Kawasaki
  • Riley Nye, UAS - Sen. Shelley Hughes
  • Trevor Bailly, UAF - Sen. Bill Wielechowski
  • Trystin Luhr, UAS - Rep. Chris Tuck

Past interns have gone on to work in law, public service, and industry, and even to serve in the legislature. This is a great professional development opportunity, and worth recommending to all UA students regardless of their field of study or planned career track.

Former Legislator Jay Kerttula Passes
Longtime legislator Jalmar “Jay” Kerttula passed away in November. Kerttula was Alaska’s longest serving legislator, and the only person to serve as both Speaker of the House and President of the Senate. His venerable career representing Palmer spanned more than 30 years and played a pivotal role in shaping our state. Kerttula came to Alaska as part of the New Deal’s agriculture farm project in the Mat-Su Valley and attended the University of Alaska. He is remembered as a statesman, and a building on UAA’s Mat-Su College campus is named in his honor. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family.

Did-You-Know?
Gavel Alaska is a statewide television service providing live coverage of state government. As Alaska’s own version of C-Span, the programming covers legislative committee meetings, floor sessions, leadership press conferences and other political events. The channel, and its website video archives, are on almost constantly in legislative offices as a way to keep up on legislative proceedings. Programming also covers the Alaska Supreme Court, Governor’s Press Conferences and numerous other state events. Journalist Tim Bradner recently interviewed UA Interim President Pat Pitney for Gavel’s series Capitol Views. The 8-minute segment will air on the network throughout the next several months.