Capitol report

The Capitol Report: May 17, 2019

Governor calls special session

The regular session of the legislature ended Wednesday evening, and Governor Dunleavy immediately called lawmakers into a special session. 
Under Article 2, Section 9 of the Constitution of the State of Alaska, the Governor may call the legislature into special session for a 30-day period. Convening a special session narrows the agenda to specific issues for lawmakers to consider. Other legislation, which did not pass this session, will be rolled over to the next regular session of the legislature in January. The Governor’s proclamation limits topics of this special session to the FY20 Operating and Capital Budgets, appropriations for K-12 education, and criminal justice legislation.

Conference Committee Finalizes UA Budget 
On Monday, the Operating Budget Conference Committee reached agreement on the University of Alaska’s FY20 Operating Budget. The committee set the legislature’s final funding level for UA at $322 million unrestricted general funds (UGF) in two separate appropriations. This constitutes a $5 million reduction over the current year. The committee also adopted intent language encouraging the Board of Regents to study transitioning UA into a single accredited institution, and providing additional focus on the Educators Rising program, which recruits Alaska high school students to consider careers in education.
In a year of substantial budget reductions, the fact that the legislature’s final university budget is only a 1.5 percent decrease over the current fiscal year is very significant. Thank you to Chair Representative Neal Foster, Vice Chair Bert Stedman, the Conference Committee and the members of the Legislature for their work and support of UA. The Conference Committee remains open, and the Operating Budget will be one of the final bills passed during the special session.

Crime Legislation Compromise Reached
Lawmakers began the special session by convening a conference committee on House Bill 49, which makes significant changes to Alaska’s crime statutes. Addressing crime has been a major issue in the Capitol this year. The adopted compromise legislation effectively repeals a previous criminal justice reform measure known as “Senate Bill 91”. The 3-year old law had become a lightning rod for increases in public safety issues across Alaska. HB 49 increases sentences for several major crimes, and will likely necessitate reopening of a state correctional center.

Legislature Honors 20th Anniversary of UA Scholars Program
On Monday, the legislature passed a citation honoring the 20th Anniversary of the UA Scholars Program. The UA Scholars Program recognizes Alaska’s top high school graduates through awarding scholarships to attend the University of Alaska. In the past 20 years, the program has provided financial aid to more than 8,900 students, and has helped Alaska’s best students stay in state to attend college. Thank you to Representative Grier Hopkins for sponsoring this citation.