Student loans law failed by accident

When the final gavel swing of the 2014 Legislature resounded through the House chambers, there was cheering all around.


Shortly afterward, the leading members of the Republican-controlled House acknowledged they failed to pass an item that seemed to have widespread support.

It was for education, after all.

“I had a 40-0 support in the House, but it seems like it was one of those casualties of politics,” said Sen. Anna Fairclough, R-Eagle River, the primary sponsor of SJR23.

“Those that will suffer are the students of Alaska who could have saw a reduction in debt over the next few years,” she added.

Her proposal was a constitutional amendment that would have allowed the state to contract debt for postsecondary education loans. Being a constitutional amendment, it would have gone before voters this fall, had it been adopted.

The resolution carried 14 sponsors — both Republicans and Democrats — in the Senate, where it was approved by a 19-1 margin. But it only had five sponsors in the House, and none were members of the leadership team.

House Speaker Mike Chenault, R-Nikiski, said it was a matter of running out of time on Day 95 when the Legislature had been scheduled to adjourn five days prior.

“I don’t describe it as a casualty of war,” Chenault said. “Just a casualty of a long session and people wanting to get out of here.”

Senate President Charlie Huggins, R-Wasilla, took the blame.

“I messed that one up,” Huggins said during a post-session press conference. “It was one of those that was so ready — that would be so widely supported — that I underestimated how the system could let it get bogged down because it was so doable.”

The resolution cleared its final committee (Senate Finance) on March 31, but it was not brought up for a vote of the full Senate until April 11 — just nine days before the scheduled end. It was pushed to the bottom of the House’s to-do list shortly before the final votes and adjournment.

“I thought we were there,” Huggins said. “On behalf of the Senate, I turned my attention a different direction, and it was a bad assumption.”

In his post-session talk with reporters, Republican Gov. Sean Parnell also expressed support for the concept.

“I thought Sen. Fairclough had some really great ideas there and created a new path of opportunity for our post-secondary ed students,” Parnell said. “I’d be up for having the Legislature entertain that again.”

That’s exactly what Fairclough plans to do, should she win her re-election bid this fall.

“I hope to bring that back again, and maybe work with students to have them more engaged in the process,” she said.

This time around, Huggins said the same circumstances and choices that led to the resolution’s demise wouldn’t be duplicated.

“We’ll get it fixed,” he said.

• Contact reporter Matt Woolbright at 523-2243 or at Follow him on Twitter @reportermatt.


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