Rep. Louise Stutes, R-Kodiak, on July 27, 2019. File photo by Zachary Snowdon Smith for The Cordova Times

By Rep. Louise Stutes 

Dear friends and neighbors, 

I hope this finds you well and in good spirits. I wanted to provide a brief legislative update on the beginning of the second year of the 33rd legislative session and offer insights on the path forward this session. 

Education  

The session began with a dispute over education funding, in particular, the amount of the base student allocation (BSA). 

Last year, the Legislature approved a temporary one year $175 million funding boost for K-12 schools for fiscal year (FY) 2024, equivalent to an increase in the BSA of $680. However, the governor vetoed half of the amount. The Legislature met on Jan. 18 in joint session to vote on whether to override the veto. Unfortunately, the override attempt fell short by a 33-26 vote. Overrides require a three-fourths majority vote. If successful, overriding the veto would have provided immediate relief to school districts.  

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School funding will again be at the center of budget discussions this year. Senate Bill (SB) 140, as passed last year by the House Finance Committee, would have permanently increased the BSA by $680 per student, effective in FY 2024. On Jan. 17, 2024, the House Rules committee amended SB 140 to adopt Gov. Dunleavy’s proposal limiting the permanent increase in the BSA to $300, while at the same time delaying the increase until FY 2025, although school districts urgently need the funds this year. 

In addition, the newly amended SB 140 incorporates the governor’s proposal allowing the Board of Education to authorize charter schools, potentially bypassing local school board processes, and to provide likely unconstitutional vouchers to religious schools, as well as the governor’s proposal offering a teacher pay bonus, despite testimony that emphasized the greater effectiveness of increasing the BSA for teacher recruitment and retention. 

The House Rules Committee took public testimony on the governor’s proposal in SB 140 for nearly seven hours and passed the bill from committee even though testimony was overwhelmingly in opposition to the bill. 

Executive Orders 

On Jan. 15, Dunleavy issued 12 executive orders (EO). EO 131 would reorganize the membership of the Alaska Marine Highway Operations Board (AMHOB). Currently, two members are appointed by the Speaker of the House of Representatives, two by the president of the Senate, and two by the governor. The governor’s executive order would give him the authority to appoint all six members. The Legislature has 60 days to reject this order. I will urge the legislature to do so. I also understand more executive orders are forthcoming. 

Fisheries 

I had planned to introduce a resolution this session urging President Joe Biden to take action to ban the import of Russian caught seafood processed in other countries. I’m happy it won’t be needed: Biden in December issued an executive order implementing the ban. This will help to provide price stability for Alaska seafood products. Now I will be turning my attention to working with our congressional delegation for funding and enforcement of the ban. 

Three bills have been introduced relating to fisheries. HB 18 would allow stakeholders to develop regional fishery development associations. HB 19 would streamline registration for active commercial fishing vessel owners by removing a requirement established in SB 92 in 2018. I have been working ever since to change or repeal this requirement. HB 19 is currently pending before the House Finance Committee. HB 20 would help the deliberative process in Fish and Game by allowing those with expertise in each subject to offer the comments before the board, but not vote, when they have a conflict of interest.   

Alaska Marine Highway System 

I was extremely pleased to see that the governor’s proposed budget includes $23 million in matching funds for a previously announced federal grant of $92 million. These funds will make possible the construction of a replacement vessel for the aging Tustumena. An additional $38 million in federal funds has been allocated for improvements to the Alaska Marine Highway System. 

Alaska Department of Transportation & Public Facilities (DOT) Commissioner Ryan Anderson announced the availability of the Alaska Marine Highway (AMHS) summer schedule for booking at https://bookamhs.alaska.gov.  

The AMHS customer service center can be reached from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Friday at 1-800-642-0066. In case of long waits, AMHS suggests contacting the terminals for assistance. Their numbers are Kodiak 907-486-3800, Cordova 907-424-7333, Old Harbor 907-465-3941, Port Lions and Ouzinkie 907-228-6886, and Homer 907-235-8449. 

My Juneau Staff 

My chief of staff, Donna Fox Page, has been with me for a year now and brings expertise from her extensive legislative experience within and outside the Capitol. Nancy Hemenway has joined my office, having worked most recently as non-partisan staff, and has prior legislative staff experience in excess of 25 years. 

Please remember I work for you. Please reach out to me with any questions or concerns on these or any other issues important to you and your family. 

Louise Stutes  

[email protected]   

907-465-2487 

Republican State Rep. Louise Stutes represents Kodiak, Cordova and Seward in the Alaska State Legislature.  

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