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We Build Alaska

The Sunday Minefield – April 7, 2024

We are more than two-thirds through the 121-day session limit. After more than a week of hearing budget amendments, the House Finance Committee passed finally passed the budget out of the committee. Things are sure to get contentious on the House floor this week when they start hearing budget amendments. Several House committees were filled with drama this week with surprise guests and majority members fighting amongst each other. And election results show a run-off election for Anchorage mayor will be between Mayor Dave Bronson and Suzanne LaFrance.

A friendly message and reminder to all our readers. The Landmine is made possible by myself and a team of awesome Alaskans. I am back in Juneau for my sixth session in a row reporting on the Legislature. If you enjoy the content we provide, please consider making a one time or recurring monthly donation. You can click here to donate. We have a donation system that makes it super easy. We would really appreciate it. And thanks to everyone who has been supportive!

Budget Moves to House Floor 

In last Sunday’s column I described the craziness in the House Finance Committee as they fought over the amount of the Permanent Fund Dividend and other budget items. Things were a bit more normal this week as they finished getting through around 100 amendments.

On Friday (4/5/2024) they passed the budget out of the committee. It will be read the first time during tomorrow’s floor session. The budget needs to sit on members’ desks for 24 hours before they can start debating and hearing amendments. Unless they decided to hold a floor session on Tuesday, they won’t start hearing amendments until Wednesday.

Expect a lot of amendments. So unless they hold a marathon floor session, which is unlikely, it should take a few days to get through all the amendments. Let’s say they manage to finish amendments pass the budget out by Thursday, it will still take a day or two to incorporate all the changes into the budget. The House and Senate have a deal to exchange budget on April 12. It’s unlikely they will be able to meet that deadline.

But the question of how exactly the budget get passed remains. The Republican-led House majority has 23 members. It requires 21 votes to pass the budget. Meaning that unless they get help from the minority, the majority can only lose two votes in order to have enough votes to pass the budget.

Several members of the majority want a large dividend. And the majority does not have a rule or requirement that their members vote for the final version of the budget. If the majority fails to get the 21 votes, it’s possible they could get some help from the minority. But based on how the minority has been treated by the majority, that might not happen.

The minority could agree to help them out in exchange for something. Or the majority could convince their members that this is not the final version of the budget as a conference committee will be appointed to work out the changes between the House and Senate versions.

Whatever happens this week, the big question is what will happen in the House when the conference committee report comes back in May. Once each body passes their version of the budget, and then the conference committee agrees to a final version, it goes back to each body for an up or down vote. Last year only ten majority members voted for the budget. But they got help with all 16 minority members voting yes.

The minority is going to ask for some big concessions if the majority needs their votes. Education is sure to be an issue they will focus on. Keep in mind it’s an election year and the minority wants to be in the majority next year. If the majority fails to pass the budget, and a special session is needed, it will hurt some of their members in November. The next several weeks will be very interesting in Juneau.

Other Happenings 

A run-off election between Anchorage Mayor Dave Bronson and Suzanne LaFrance is going to happen. No one got close to the 45% plus 1 to avoid a run-off. Below are the latest results posted. Ballots for the run-off will be mailed out on April 30 (May 6 was incorrect), and the election will conclude on May 14. Look for some major campaigning between the two in the next five weeks. Many are waiting to see if Bill Popp, who got nearly 17% of the vote, will endorse Bronson or LaFrance.

House floor got pretty crazy on Friday. During debate on Senate Bill 45, a bill about direct health agreements, the floor basically turned into a 40-member committee as they debated amendments on specific details about the bill. Then Representative Andrew Gray (D – Anchorage) actually had an amendment to turn Alaska’s healthcare system into a single-payer system. That was eventually ruled out of order. During debate on an amendment for protections of LGBT people, Gray had a bizarre anecdote about a female doctor he used to work with who refused to prescribe Viagra to men living alone in remote Alaska because she was worried they were going to, you know… Check it out!

Later during special orders, Representative Calvin Schrage (I – Anchorage) spoke about objecting to Representative Laddie Shaw’s (R – Anchorage) excusal. Shaw was excused earlier because, they said, he was sick. But Schrage said he had information that Shaw was spotted on an airplane, and added that his birthday was on Sunday. Several majority members did not like that, and words were exchanged! We are not even to day 90 yet. Look for tension to increasingly rise between now and the end of session.

Things got real weird during a House Labor & Commerce meeting on Wednesday (4/3/2024). The committee was hearing House Bill 55, which extends the Technical Vocational Education Program (TVEP), which is set to sunset on June 30. A scathing audit of the program was released in October. During public testimony on the bill, Kris Curtis, the Legislature’s auditor, came up to testify! This is extremely odd. Curtis made it clear that she thought she was going to be scheduled to testify, but apparently decided she was done waiting. It got awkward when Curtis asked committee members if they had a copy of the audit. Representative Jesse Sumner (R – Wasilla), the chair, responded, “We are taking public testimony at this time.” Curtis then spent nearly ten minutes going through the audit. It was super loose, but good on her for not waiting on the committee to schedule her to tell them what’s up.

This Week’s Loose Unit 

This week was a no brainer. This week’s Loose Unit is Representative Jesse Sumner (R – Wasilla), with a Loose Unit adjacent designation going to Representative Justin Ruffridge (R – Soldotna). It will help if you read this Landmine article to get some background on just how loose it got during a meeting of the House Health & Social Services Committee this week.

Long story short, Representative Mike Prax (R – North Pole), who chairs the committee, was attending another meeting. So Ruffridge, the vice-chair, was running the meeting. The agenda was mostly just confirmation hearings for various boards. One of them was Dr. David Barnes to the medical board.

During Barnes‘ testimony, he mentioned how challenging it is dealing with pre-authorizations for insurance companies. Representative Genevieve Mina (D – Anchorage) refenced a bill in the committee, House Bill 187, that would exempt certain health care providers from making preauthorization requests for certain services. This is a bill from Representative Jesse Sumner (R – Wasilla), who sits on the committee. Sumner, seemingly inspired by Dr. Barnes plea for help, made a motion to move the bill out of the committee.

Ruffridge, confused, went along with it. Keep in mind this bill was not scheduled to be moved out of the committee and the chair was gone. This is very loose behavior.

After the bill unanimously passed out of the committee Ruffridge said, “I guess, Mr. Barnes, your testimony on your own medical board appointment has resulted in the prior authorization bill having extra effort put in today.” Barnes exclaimed, “Wow!” Followed with, “Thank you! I have a big grin on my face right now. I didn’t expect that at all. Didn’t even know anything about it.” To which Ruffridge awkwardly replied, “Nor did I.” Sumner could be seen visibly laughing during the exchange.

Then it got way more loose. Sumner moved that another bill, House Bill 366, also be moved out of the committee. This is a bill from Representative Maxine Dibert (D – Fairbanks) relating to residential psychiatric treatment centers. Unlike HB 187, HB 366 has never had a hearing. But these Loose Units did not care! The committee passed that baby out unanimously too! That is a clear violation of the rules about notice requirements for a bill to have a hearing and public testimony. That hearing can only be described as maximum loose.

If you have a nomination for this week’s Loose Unit, or if you have any political news, stories or gossip (or any old pics of politicians or public officials) please email me at jeff@alaskalandmine.com.

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Gunner
1 month ago

At least they are getting something done- right or wrong

andy
1 month ago
Reply to  Gunner

I’m certain we’ll get back to good ol “special session politics”, we can’t just be running the government for free now can we?