House committee expected to move budget this week

New lawmaker arrives; many rounds of public testimony scheduled

The Alaska State Capitol. (James Brooks | Juneau Empire File)

The Alaska House Finance Committee, coming off three days of public testimony from Alaskans across the state, will put the finishing touches on its draft of the state’s operating budget this week.

 

Lawmakers last week said they expect the committee to approve a version of the state budget and send it to the full House for a vote in the second full week of March.

Lawmakers have said they intend to pass a budget from the House and Senate within 90 days, but thus far, they are on pace with last year. In 2017, the budget exited the House Finance Committee on March 10 and passed the full House for the first time on March 20. The Senate’s version of the budget was approved April 6, and the two versions were not reconciled until June 22.

New legislator arrives

The Alaska House of Representatives’ 40th member will be sworn into office on Friday. Tiffany Zulkosky, replacement for House District 38 representative Zach Fansler, is expected to arrive in Juneau this week ahead of a formal swearing-in at the end of the week.

Fansler resigned after a Juneau woman alleged he slapped her with enough force to rupture one of her eardrums. Zulkosky was chosen from among five people who applied to represent the district that covers large portions of Southwest, including Bethel.

Fast-track budget vote expected

House lawmakers failed to vote on the fast-track budget bill last week but are expected to advance the proposal this week. The delay was caused when members of the Alaska House Majority were unable to muster 21 votes for either the Wednesday or Friday floor sessions.

House Bill 321 includes $85 million in appropriations and is partially offset by a $25 million health insurance rebate. The rest of the money will be added to the current fiscal year’s deficit. The bill includes $20 million for the Alaska Department of Corrections and $26 million for the Alaska Marine Highway System.

Unless the fast-track bill becomes law, the state’s ferry system is expected to shut down in April. Assuming the bill passes the House, it will advance to the Senate.

Salary hearings set

At 3:15 p.m. Monday and 3:15 p.m. Friday, the House Labor and Commerce Committee is scheduled to hear public testimony on a proposal from Rep. David Guttenberg, D-Fairbanks, that rejects proposed cuts to per-diem expense payments for Juneau’s three legislators.

Earlier this year, the State Officers Compensation Commission recommended per diem be eliminated for lawmakers within 50 miles of the state capitol. House Bill 309, by Guttenberg, rejects that recommendation. The commission’s recommendations automatically become effective unless specifically rejected by the Legislature.

Rep. Sam Kito III, D-Juneau, has specifically cited the commission’s suggestion as a reason for his indecision on whether to run for re-election this fall. Unless the Legislature rejects the commission’s suggestion, Kito has said, he may not consider a re-election bid.

Youth marriage ban

At 3:15 p.m. Tuesday, the House State Affairs Committee will take public testimony on a proposal from Rep. Matt Claman, D-Anchorage, to prohibit marriages involving someone under 18 years old, unless that person is an emancipated minor or a member of the military.

House Bill 310 is the companion of an identical measure proposed by Sen. Berta Gardner, D-Anchorage, before the start of the session.

Spending cap considered

At 3:30 p.m. Tuesday, the Senate State Affairs Committee will consider Senate Bill 196, a proposal to more firmly cap state spending. The spending cap has long been a priority of the majority that controls the Alaska Senate. Senators in the majority say the cap is critical to ensure the state’s budget does not increase faster than the rate of inflation.

Abortion hearings scheduled

The Alaska Senate Judiciary Committee has scheduled a pair of hearings on a bill requiring viable fetuses to be treated as premature babies in the event of a late-term abortion. Public testimony will be taken at 1:30 p.m. Wednesday and 1:30 p.m. Friday.

The bill has been opposed by pro-abortion rights groups and anti-abortion groups who believe life begins at conception.

“Ultimately, were SB 124 to become law, it would simply create a race to the abortion mill before the 20-week gestation mark,” wrote Patrick Martin of the Alaska Right to Life Committee in testimony opposing the bill.


• Contact reporter James Brooks at jbrooks@juneauempire.com or call 523-2258.


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