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

By Rep. Louise Stutes 

It’s been a busy February. I wanted to share my brief legislative update. 

Constituent events 

On Feb. 5, I hosted a Lunch and Learn at the Capitol where Nick Mangini, mariculture director of Southwest Alaska Municipal Conference (SWAMC), and SWAMC staff highlighted opportunities in kelp mariculture, as well as the $49 million in US Economic Development Administration, Build Back Better Challenge grand funds awarded to the Alaska Mariculture Cluster in 2022. SWAMC manages these grant funds that can catalyze a sustainable mariculture industry for the long-term benefit of Alaska’s economy. One component is a revolving loan fund to help mariculture entrepreneurs. Contact SWAMC for more information at [email protected] or call (907) 586-4360. 

Honoring Coast Guard Base Kodiak  

Senate President Gary Stevens and I attended the Kodiak Chamber of Commerce’s appreciation dinner on Feb. 2, honoring the U.S. Coast Guard Base Kodiak. Stevens presented our legislative citation to commend the base. It came from my heart when I acknowledged and applauded the work of the active-duty members, civilians, and their families that make the Coast Guard missions possible, such as search and rescue and patrols and essential navigation aids, including lifesaving.  

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Stevens and I will come to Cordova on March 2 and hold an open house from 3:30-5 p.m. at the Cordova Center, and on March 3 will have a meet and greet from 1-2 p.m. at the Powder House Bar and Grill. 

Constituent concerns 

Many constituents have reached out to me expressing concerns about the 12 Executive Orders issued by Governor Mike Dunleavy. I’m particularly worried about executive branch overreach. For instance, EO 131 would grant the governor the authority to appoint all nine members of the Alaska Marine Highway Board. Currently, the Speaker of the House and Senate President each have the authority to appoint two members, which helps maintain balance in the board’s composition. EO 131 could potentially have adverse effects on the Alaska Marine Highway System.  

Additionally, I’ve received feedback from constituents regarding the governor’s decision to dissolve certain boards, such as the Certified Direct-Entry Midwives, Board of Massage Therapists, and Board of Barbers and Hairdressers. 

The legislature has a 60-day window to disapprove the orders. The Senate has conducted hearings throughout the week, and I anticipate that the House will soon review the EOs and take necessary actions. 

U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski’s annual address 

It was great to hear U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski give her annual address on Feb. 15, to the legislature in joint session. One thing we share is our focus on Alaska’s fish, transportation, and infrastructure issues, as well as economic opportunities for Alaska. 

I was particularly pleased to hear about the $416 million in infrastructure funding for the Alaska Marine Highway System. Additionally, she informed us that the Treasury Department is finally closing loopholes in U.S. sanctions that allow Russia to dump its overharvested seafood into our markets. 

Murkowski highlighted the Micro-Grants for Food Security Program she spearheaded. The Department of Natural Resources administers the US Department of Agriculture Micro-Grants for Food Security Program which awards up to $5,000 for individuals and $10,000 for organizations. These micro-grants can be used for various projects, including small scale gardening, greenhouse construction, small scale herding and livestock operations, and subsistence fishing and hunting (not for firearms/ammo), and wild plants. Applications must be filed electronically by 5 pm on March 15, 2024. Find out more by contacting the department by email at [email protected] or by phone at 907-761-3885. 

Education funding, ongoing concerns 

I met with Cordova Superintendent Alex Russin and school board members Barb Jewell and Pete Hoepfner about education funding.  
As I mentioned in my January report, the Senate unanimously passed Senate Bill 140 at the end of last session, which would have substantially increased the base student allocation (BSA) to $680. The House Rules Committee amended SB 140, incorporating the Governor’s education proposal with a much lower $300 BSA, and including several controversial provisions. The legislature is grappling to understand the policy implications, particularly since one provision would provide for teacher bonuses rather than providing our schools with much-needed funding for classrooms by increasing the BSA. The House will begin debating SB 140 this week. 

I am in full support of providing appropriate funding for schools and avoiding the need to revisit this issue every year. Our students need to have excellent skills, knowledge, and training, and our teachers and districts need our support. 

Resources for individuals with disabilities 

This week, I met with several advocate of the Alaska Centers for Independent Living, seeking support for Participant Directed Services under AS 47.80.095, which would give disabled or aging Alaskans more control over their care. Their visit helped me realize that my constituents need to know that Independent Living Centers provide advocacy on behalf of individuals with disabilities and help them navigate services and benefits under Medicaid waivers so they can live at home. ACILs provide services including advocacy, information and referral, care coordination, independent living skills training, peer support, and transition services, including help obtaining assistive devices, home modifications, transportation, and personal care services.  

Transportation funding 

I signed a joint letter from the legislature requesting the Alaska Congressional Delegation to work with the U.S. Department of Transportation to address errors in Alaska’s State Transportation Improvement Program (STIP). We are alarmed by DOT&PF’s inability to rectify these errors and their persistence in submitting federally noncompliant STIP proposals, which now endangers Alaska’s nearly billion dollars in annual federal funding for transportation projects. 

Supporting Alaska’s seafood industry 

A majority of members of the legislature sent a letter on Jan. 26 urging U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack to purchase Alaska seafood through the USDA Section 32 program. These purchases are invaluable in supporting our fishermen, processors, and coastal communities while they attempt to navigate through very unfavorable global market conditions. 

PFD application deadline  

Don’t forget to file your Permanent Fund Dividend application by the deadline of Sunday, March 31.  Since the deadline falls on Sunday, it might be wise to consider filing your paper or online application earlier in case you encounter a glitch. You can contact the Juneau PFD office at 907-465-2326. 

Finally, 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. 

Sincerely,  

Representative Louise Stutes  

Proudly serving Kodiak, Cordova, and Seward 

[email protected]  

907-465-2487 

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