Capitol report
January 22, 2020

Capitol Report – Session Begins

Lawmakers gaveled in at the Capitol yesterday to start the second session of the 31st Alaska Legislature.
Your government relations team is on the ground and working on your behalf in Juneau. We look forward to providing regular updates and analysis on the legislative session. We’ll be closely monitoring the process and looking for opportunities for you to engage with the legislature. Our goal is to keep you informed on issues important to our students, the university, and the broader education community.
UA will be well represented in the Capitol this week by students visiting from UAF’s Bristol Bay campus and others participating in Sea Grant’s Young Fishermen’s Summit. Next week representatives from our three alumni associations will be in town as part of their annual legislative fly-in. Active engagement by our students and alumni is a valuable part of the legislative process and makes an impact. We appreciate your enthusiasm and participation.

Legislative Priorities
In August, the Board of Regents signed a 3-year budget agreement with Governor Dunleavy, which establishes a FY21 state operating budget of $277 million - $25 million below current levels.
Our priority this session is to fully secure those operating funds and to look for opportunities to provide additional financial support for the university. UA maintains more than 400 facilities throughout the state with a deferred maintenance backlog in excess of $1.2 billion. Addressing this backlog is a top priority, and we will be working with the legislature to secure capital funds to do that.
Protecting the Alaska Higher Education Investment Fund, the endowment which funds the merit-based Alaska Performance Scholarship, the needs-based Alaska Education Grant and the WWAMI medical school program, is a perennial legislative priority.
This year we will be working with other education partners around the state to reauthorize the Technical Vocational Education Program (TVEP), which will otherwise expire this year. TVEP uses a portion of employee unemployment insurance contributions to fund high-demand, career and technical education programs.
As always, we will be looking to showcase the university’s significant resources and talent, and to improve access to education for all Alaskans.
Notable New Legislation
Several bills were filed prior to the start of session, and introduced during yesterday’s session. There will certainly be other policy ideas suggested before the session concludes, but here are a few that we will be following closely:
SB 151/HB204 – by Governor Dunleavy and SB 6 by Senator Begich, the “Alaska Reads Act” creates a comprehensive statewide K-3 reading policy, including teacher training on literacy instruction, with the goal of improving reading outcomes. The bills have been referred to the Education and Finance Committees and a hearing is scheduled for Thursday at 3:30pm.
HR 12 – by Rep Andy Josephson creates a House Special Committee on Climate Change. The resolution was referred to the House Resources Committee and a hearing is scheduled for Friday at 1:00pm.
HB 180 – by Rep. Adam Wool expands the university Board of Regents to include one full-time tenured faculty member. The bill has been referred to the Education and Finance Committees.
HB 188 – by Rep Zach Fields would expand the Alaska Education Tax Credit to include contributions employers make towards child care and child care facilities. The bill has been referred to the Education and Finance Committees.
HB 193 – by Rep. Andi Story adds a second verse to “Alaska’s Flag” the official state song. The song’s copyright is owned by the University of Alaska Foundation. The bill has been referred to the Education and Finance Committees.
HB 195 – by Rep. Andy Josephson expands the university Board of Regents to include one full-time tenured faculty member. The bill has been referred to the Education and Finance Committees.
HB 196 – by Rep. Zack Fields increases the maximum award for top-tier Alaskan Performance Scholarships to the average cost of annual resident tuition,  which is estimated to be $7,740 for academic year 2021. The bill has been referred to the Education and Finance Committees.
HB 208 – by Rep Gary Knopp renames College Road in Soldotna as Alan Boraas Road. Dr. Boraas was a professor of anthropology at Kenai Peninsula College who passed away in November. The bill was referred to the Transportation Committee.
Upcoming Hearings
This Friday, January 24, at 1:00 p.m., Dr. Brian Brettschneider, a research climatologist with the International Arctic Research Center (IARC) at UAF, will be presenting to the House Resources Committee on Alaska’s changing climate.
University of Alaska President Jim Johnsen will be in Juneau next week, meeting with legislators and presenting before three legislative committees.
On Tuesday, January 28, at 1:30 p.m., Johnsen will appear before the House Finance Committee to provide an update on the university and to present UA’s FY21 budget.
At 5:00 pm that evening, the President will present to the University of Alaska House Finance Operating Budget Subcommittee.
On Wednesday, January 29, at 8:30 a.m., President Johnsen will appear before a joint hearing of the House & Senate Education Committees to provide an update on the university and to discuss our 2020 legislative priorities.
Capitol Changes
The Senate majority announced some significant committee reorganizations yesterday:

  • The Finance Committee, which was expanded to nine members last year, has returned to seven members with the removal of Senator Micciche and Senator Shower
  • Senator Micciche replaces the late Senator Chris Birch as Resources Committee chair
  • Senator Bishop replaces Senator Reinbold as Labor & Commerce chair
  • Senator Coghill replaces Senator Hughes as Judiciary Committee chair
  • Senator Costello replaces Senator Hughes as Transportation Committee chair
  • Senator Revak replaces Senator Shower as State Affairs chair and co-chair of the Joint Armed Services Committee

Fairbanks representatives Steven Thompson and Grier Hopkins will serve on the House Finance Subcommittee responsible for reviewing the university’s FY21 operating budget. Thompson and Hopkins replace Reps. Adam Wool and Gabrielle LeDoux who served on the committee last year. Recall that Rep. Wool now serves on the full House Finance Committee and this year will chair the budget subcommittees for Corrections and Community and Economic Development.
Mel Gillis of Anchorage, has been sworn in as the newest member of the House of Representatives. Rep. Gillis, a former lodge owner and guide, was appointed by the Governor to House District 25, following Josh Revak’s move to the Senate. Senator Revak will serve-out the term of Senator Chris Birch following his death last year.
On Monday, Governor Dunleavy named Juneau resident Neil Steininger as Director of the Office of Management and Budget. Steininger has held various roles at OMB over the last five years and replaces Donna Arduin, the Governor’s first OMB Director.
The Legislative Finance Division is still without a director following the retirement of David Teal who served in that role for more than 20 years. Teal has been the legislature’s go-to resource on state fiscal policy and an invaluable resource to the state. The Legislative Budget and Audit Committee has scheduled a hearing for today at 1:30 p.m. and may announce a decision on a new director.

Federal Update
Last week, President Johnsen traveled to Washington, D.C. to present the university’s FY21 federal funding priorities with the Alaska Congressional Delegation. In addition, the President provided the delegation an update on recent university activities, a preview of our state legislative priorities, and efforts to address the university’s long-standing federal land grant deficit. While in D.C., he met with high-ranking officials at the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Interior in support of university priorities, and did several media interviews.

Senator Dan Sullivan
President Johnsen met with the Alaska Congressional Delegation including Senator Dan Sullivan during his visit to Washington D.C. last week.