32nd Session Ends: Legislature agrees on budget, confirms Dunleavy Administration priorities
Posted & Edited By MARY KAUFFMAN
May 22, 2022
“This year’s session was the culmination of a four-year effort to bring a greater degree of accountability to public education, continual improvements to the public safety system and rebuilding Alaska’s economy,” said Governor Dunleavy.
Dunleavy said, “Once again, I thank those legislators who prioritized Alaskan’s needs over everything else. Our families are experiencing runaway inflation, soaring fuel prices and economic fallout – they are trying to budget accordingly. Although not a statutory PFD, $3,200 was agreed upon by the Legislature making it the largest PFD to date. This PFD, for a family of four, equates to $12,800 which should assist significantly with battling high rates of inflation.”
Legislative Successes for Alaskans:
Public Safety – Protecting all Alaskans
The budget has continued investments in public safety built upon Governor Dunleavy’s commitment to protect rural and urban Alaskans. New state trooper and VPSO positions will restore the positions eliminated by the previous administration and further restore confidence in the state’s public safety system.
Senate Bill 7, sponsored by Senator Elvi Gray-Jackson (D-Anchorage) requiring the Department of Public Safety to publish current policies and procedures related to the conduct of peace officers employed or regulated by the Department. Senate Bill 7 is part of a package of legislation called Turning Pain Into Progress that stems from the national 8 Can’t Wait initiative.
“This is just one step to building a stronger relationship between the public and law enforcement. When we look at these policy changes, it is critical that we protect our communities and law enforcement officers equally,” said Sen. Gray-Jackson. “This, along with the other pieces of Turning Pain Into Progress, helped develop a dialogue with law enforcement agencies throughout the state and the communities they swore to protect and serve. The progression of these efforts will build better relationships and standards such as preventing the over-policing of Black, Indigenous, and People of Color communities.”
Other legislative components of Turning Pain into Progress iclude:
The State Legislature completed a major overhaul of Alaska's outdated public safety statutes. House Bill 325, sponsored by Representative Sara Rasmussen, addresses many of the deficiencies in current criminal statutes, which currently hinder prosecutors from seeking charges in cases of domestic violence and sexual assault.
“For too long, Alaska has led the nation in the highest rates of domestic violence and sexual assault. With the passage of HB 325 we are taking the necessary steps to protect women in Alaska,” said Representative Sara Rasmussen (R-Anchorage). “Finally, no will mean no. I hope this sends a clear message that rape and sexual assault will not be tolerated in our state any longer.”
"This change to the consent law will impact every sexual assault case in the state because establishing consent is a key element of these crimes," said Representative Geran Tarr (D-Anchorage). "This important legislation fixes three key elements of our broken consent statute to an affirmative definition that consent is a freely given, reversible agreement, removes the use of force from the definition and makes it an element of the crime, and creates a victim centered approach. The current, more than 40 year old statute routinely denies justice to Alaskans and we are fixing that. The bill also establishes the crime of rape by fraud and contains the last piece of our multi-year rape kit reform initiative to require rape kits be tested within six months."
The original bill changes statute to acknowledge the severity of “revenge porn,” in which an abusive individual distributes (or threatens to distribute) explicit images of their partner in an attempt to control, humiliate, or otherwise harm that person. HB 325 redefines this type of behavior as domestic violence, as it has the potential to negatively impact the victim’s life and future.
HB 325 was amended in the Senate to include many of the components of House Bill 5, sponsored by Rep. Geran Tarr (D-Anchorage), and Senate Bill 187, Governor Dunleavy’s criminal justice legislation. These changes include modernizing Alaska’s definition of consent to be a freely given, reversible agreement, specific to the conduct at issue. Alaska’s consent definition currently requires that use of force must be proven in order to prosecute a case of sexual assault. This updated definition modernizes this statute and acknowledges that “freezing” is also a common reaction to a traumatic situation.
This bill also criminalizes what is known as “rape by fraud,” in which an offender impersonates a person known to another individual in order to obtain sex, when that individual would not have otherwise consented. Under current Alaska law, this kind of deceptive behavior would not be prosecutable.
Additionally, HB 325 expedites the processing of rape kits in order to ensure timely justice and answers for victims of sexual assault. Under current statute, rape kits must be processed within a year of receipt. After the passage of HB 325, that timeline will be decreased to 6 months.
There were other amendments added to HB 325 by Senator Roger Holland (R-Anchorage). His amendment requires that an individual seeking to change their name must notify the courts about any charges, parole/probation status, and/or registered sex offender status, and the name change must not be done with fraudulent or criminal intent. Another amendment from Sen. Holland also would require the lifetime revocation of a teaching certificate for individuals who possess and/or distribute child pornography.
"The ANDVSA would like to thank the legislators for passing legislation to strengthen Alaska's response to sexual assault by a unanimous vote in each body," said Brenda Stanfill, Executive Director for ANDVSA. "We appreciate Rep. Tarr’s leadership in this critical area and think these are first steps in aligning the justice system’s response to new community norms- Yes means yes."
"I’d like to take the opportunity to say thank you to Representative Geran Tarr and her amazing staff David Song for their hard work and dedication to seeing HB5 passed the finish line. It is my sincere hope, as a strong advocate for HB5 that victims of sexual assault can finally be comforted knowing that State law believes in them and also support victims of sexual assault because it’s long overdue," said Katie Botz, sexual assault survivor advocate.
"I am glad the state defined consent, and ended many loopholes which were allowing perpetrators to keep hurting people. This law will now be able to help bring justice to so many people," said Niviaaluk Brandt of Nome, survivor and advocate.
"This law was made in partnership with survivors, advocates, law enforcement and health professionals. Our voices are in this bill," said advocate Lisa Ellanna of Nome. "After years of advocacy, our leaders have heard our voices! Thank you to the legislators who did the tireless hard work to make justice a reality! It's a relief knowing our prosecutors now have the tools they need to protect citizens and hold perpetrators accountable!"
“We are absolutely elated about the passing of House Bill 5, and the elements it includes that address affirmative consent, rape by impersonation becoming illegal, shortened timeline for the processing of rape kits, notification of victims when their offender changes their name, and other loopholes making sexual violence more prosecutable," said Jennifer Brown, STAR Development Manager.
"Recent data from the 2020 Alaska Victimization Survey states that 41 out of every 100 adult women who reside in Alaska has experienced sexual violence in their lifetime representing 106,937 Alaska women. These numbers are unacceptable. It is critical that Alaska continues to improve and strengthen their laws to reduce and end sexual violence in our state," said Council Chair Blaze Bell and Executive Director Diane Casto in a statement from Alaska's Council on Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault (CDVSA).
"For these reasons, CDVSA strongly supported HB 5 and are extremely proud of Representative Tarr for her work on changing Alaska’s consent laws and commend the House and Senate for their strong support to revise Alaska’s outdated consent laws. These changes will save women’s live and improve outcomes for all victims and survivors of sexual assault."
HB 325 now goes to the Governor’s desk to be signed into law.
People First Initiative – Safety and Prevention
Governor Dunleavy announced the People First Initiative late last year to address domestic violence, sex trafficking, missing and murdered Indigenous persons, homelessness and foster care. With the administration’s combative efforts against sexual assault in Alaska, Governor Dunleavy was pleased to see the passing of House Bill 325. Sponsored by Representative Sara Rasmussen, the bill contained three components of the Governor’s Victim Rights Crime package – consent definition update, protection of crime victims, and revoking teaching certificates from individuals who committed certain sex crimes. House Bill 172 also passed the Legislature. For the first time in Alaska, people will have somewhere to go besides a jail cell or an ER gurney.
Although 44 out of 60 legislators voted for a $3,850 dividend, the final amount of $3,200 will still be welcomed by Alaskans said Gov. Dunleavy. The budget compromise includes a $2500 Permanent Fund Dividend - half of the 5 % draw of the Permanent Fund's overall value that lawmakers have designated for spending. It also includes a one-time energy relief assistance for every dividend recipient.
Again, Governor Dunleavy believes government should put people first in all of its decisions. While 16 legislators voted against this idea, including Ketchikan's Rep. Dan Oriiz, the vast majority of legislators did put Alaskans first and agreed upon the largest dividend in Alaska’s state history.
“The budget process is messy, and no budget is perfect,” said Governor Mike Dunleavy. “However, the Senate’s focus on the people of Alaska should be commended. I thank the 15 members of the Senate who voted with the people in mind first and foremost. This Permanent Fund Dividend is one of the largest in state history, and it’s coming at a time when people are facing record-high inflation, cost of living increases, and other disruptive events around the world. I hope that the House also recognizes the difficult times people are in and that the windfall the state enjoys will be shared through the dividend fund to alleviate some of the burdens.”
Alaska Reads Act – Accountability
The Legislature also passed the Alaska Reads Act, championed by the Governor and a host of bipartisan Legislators, to ensure expected reading outcomes for our kids. This legislation moves Alaska into putting the needs of children first and foremost.
The Alaska Reads Act includes universal, voluntary pre-K, a reading intervention program, and an increase to the Base Student Allocation (BSA) for the first time since 2016. Members of the Alaska State legislature issued the following comments:
“This is a win for all Alaskan children. Through countless hours of work and committee hearings, I am proud of this accomplishment by the Alaska legislature,” said Senate President Peter Micciche, (R-Soldotna). “We cannot sit back and continue to think that doing nothing will improve education. Passing the Alaska Reads Act will improve Alaska’s educational outcomes and give every Alaskan student a chance to start school ready for success.”
“I am very pleased that the House was able to complete the process of this landmark legislation. This will improve education outcomes for decades to come,” said Senator Roger Holland, Chairman of the Senate Education Committee, (R-Anchorage). “Through a bipartisan effort, we have provided the tools for all Alaskan children to be ready to read by nine.”
Working collaboratively across party lines, the Alaska Reads Act is a bold move in education,” said Senator Tom Begich, (D-Anchorage). “I am proud of the work of both education committees. I am thankful for the energy and efforts of our education stakeholders. I am honored to have walked beside these student-centered advocates to bring forth the single largest investment in Alaska’s most valuable resource, our children, in years.”
" Tonight [May 18th], the Alaska State legislature passed legislation focused on the early learning career of children to ensure students can read proficiently by 4th grade. The passage of the Alaska Reads Act is the result of years of hard work by stakeholders across the state to improve educational outcomes ,” said Representative Chris Tuck , (D-Anchorage).
Alaska Statehood Defense – Protecting Our Sovereignty
The FY23 budget allocates $2.5 million to the Alaska Department of Law to defend Alaska from undue federal encroachment into Alaska’s sovereignty. The Biden Administration has taken unprecedented moves to shut down Alaska’s resource-based economy. Alaska must do everything it can to defend the State’s rights to sustainably manage Alaska’s vast and abundant resources as promised at statehood to ensure that subsistence lifestyles are maintained into the future.
Capital Budget – Critical Infrastructure
The capital budget passed by the Legislature secures funding for critical infrastructure in Alaska port roads and essential corridors of commerce and national security.
“There's something in this budget for every Alaskan to be excited about," said Speaker Louise Stutes (R-Kodiak). "The Alaska Marine Highway System is fully funded. We're putting money down to forward fund K-12 education and refilling the Higher Education Investment Fund. And most importantly we're putting money in our savings to prepare for the eventual drop in oil prices."
"I'm proud that the priorities this caucus fought for when we crafted our budget were maintained, especially our focus on education, " said Rep. Dan Ortiz (I-Ketchikan), a member of the HB 281 conference committee. "Forward funding the K-12 system will give sighs of relief to the teachers, students, and families that have to battle the year-to-year uncertainty if classes are going to start on time.
Funding sources for the Alaska Marine Highway and Alaska higher education scholarships are nearly off the table from future political fights. House Bill 322 passed the Legislature , which is designed to protect the Alaska Marine Highway and Higher Education Investment funds from the annual Constitutional Budget Reserve sweep.
The Constitutional Budget Reserve (CBR) sweep provision, established in the Alaska Constitution, requires that money in the general fund available for the appropriation at the end of each fiscal year be swept, or repaid, to the CBR. While the sweep is reversible by a 3/4 vote of the legislature, that outcome has become difficult to achieve in recent years. Moreover, funds previously held harmless from the annual repayment have since been interpreted as subject to the sweep, destabilizing crucial ongoing state services and longstanding funds.
HB 322 removes the Alaska Marine Highway System (AMHS) Fund, the AMHS Vessel Replacement Fund, and the Higher Education Investment Fund (HEIF) from the equation by moving them from the state’s general fund to the state treasury.
“When Alaskans chart their trips on the Marine Highway, they want to know that the ferry schedule will be reliable and robust," said Speaker Louise Stutes (R - Kodiak). "This legislation will help ensure the Marine Highway System consistently serves Alaskans, without a yearly fight over funding, while allowing AMHS to bank farebox receipts into an endowment that will help rebuild our fleet."
“Alaska’s youth shouldn’t have to worry that the scholarships they were counting on to become our next generation of doctors, nurses, scientists and business leaders is arbitrarily on the chopping block each year," said Representative Andy Josephson (D - Anchorage).
"The recipients of the merit-based Alaska Performance Scholarships and the needs-based Alaska Education Grants reward our best and brightest and assist those who are looking to advance their education," said Representative Bart LeBon (R - Fairbanks). "We should promote every opportunity to keep the next generation of Alaskans here in Alaska."
HB 322 passed the Senate with a vote of 14-4 and goes to Governor Dunleavy's desk for his consideration and signature.
Some additional iems included in the budget:
Energy Diversification – Preparing for the Future
A growing and diversified economy requires stable and affordable energy. Governor Dunleavy’s legislation encouraging the use of microreactors, Senate Bill 177, passed this session and could revolutionize power generation, especially in rural communities that depend on expensive diesel fuel and heating oil.
Executive Order 121 – Dividing the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services
Governor Dunleavy has proposed Executive Order 121, to divide the State’s largest department in two. It will become law effective July 1. The success of Governor Dunleavy’s initiative will be improved outcomes for the most vulnerable people services by Alaska’s largest and most costly state agency. The reorganization of the Department of Health and Social Services (DHSS) will create two smaller, more nimble departments. The Department of Family and Community Services, and the Department of Health. The two departments will be able to manage their programs more efficiently and more responsibly to the constituents they serve.
The Alaska Senate Democrats organized around a set of common interests and goals: recover Alaska’s economy, protect safe and healthy neighborhoods, and provide quality public education to all Alaska children. To accomplish these, we worked with colleagues across the aisle to put Alaska back on a path of sustainability, bolster our infrastructure, and fulfill Alaskans’ needs. Some of these accomplishments include:
Recover Alaska’s Economy
Protect Safe and Healthy Communities
“These last two years have shown us the benefits of telehealth," said Representative Ivy Spohnholz (D - Anchorage). "More access to care and cost savings for both Alaskans and the state make it clear why patients and providers alike are excited to continue the expansion of telehealth. I’m grateful for the bipartisan legislative and widespread community support for HB 265.”
“This is a widely supported bill, among legislators, health care providers, and Alaskans," said Senator David Wilson (R - Wasilla). "I'm thrilled that all Alaskans will be able to enjoy the freedom to seek high-quality health care without having to travel to obtain it."
HB 265 has received wide support from over 40 health care organizations, including the Alaska State Medical Association, Southcentral Foundation, Alaska Association on Developmental Disabilities, Alaska Behavioral Health Association, Alaska Association of Retired Persons (AARP), Alaska Primary Care Association, Alaska State Hospital and Nursing Home Association, Alaska Native Health Board, and Alaska Mental Health Trust Authority, and dozens more.
Quality Public Education, from Pre-K to UA
The Alaska Senate Democrats also strove for infrastructure needs, creating quality jobs for Alaskans. Many of the Alaska Senate Democrats’ priorities include:
“The past two years have been a struggle for many Alaskans, and they looked to the legislature for solutions. Throughout the process, coming together and helping Alaskans was always the common goal. At the end of the day, I believe we achieved that for Alaskans,” said Senate Minority Leader Tom Begich. “Sometimes the process can look sloppy, and we can get stuck in the nuances of things, but I believe we have changed Alaska’s course for the better through these collaborative efforts.
Governor Dunleavy added, “While the budget accomplishes many of my priorities, I will closely examine the overall level of spending in the FY23 budget to determine where money can be saved to preserve as much of the windfall from high oil prices as possible.”
Once Governor Dunleavy receives the budget bills, he will carefully review and analyze the options best suited for Alaskans.