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We Build Alaska

The Sunday Minefield – May 19, 2024

The second session of the 33rd Alaska Legislature adjourned sine die on Wednesday night. Well at least the Senate did. The House was another story. They did not adjourn until early Thursday morning, which was a clear violation of the Alaska Constitution. With the budget passing, a last minute deal for a temporary fix to the correspondence program, and two energy bills passing, there was no need for an immediate special session. With more than 78,000 ballots counted, Suzanne LaFrance is beating Anchorage Mayor Dave Bronson by seven points. And the June 1 deadline to file to fun for the Legislature is less than two weeks away.

A friendly message and reminder to all our readers. The Landmine is made possible by myself and a team of awesome Alaskans. I just got back from Juneau for my sixth session in a row reporting on the Legislature. And we will again be providing in-depth coverage for both the primary and general elections. 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!

Legislature passes operating budget, energy bills, and correspondence fix before adjourning sine die

The following is an excerpt from this week’s edition of the Alaska Political Report. You can click here for more information about the Political Report. A subscription is $1,299/year per organization. Discounted pricing is available for non-profits and government entities. Our coverage of the budget starts with the governor’s proposed budget, and we track everything in detail through the entire process. If you have any questions or would like to subscribe, please email jeff@akpoliticalreport.com.

On the final day of the legislative session, the House and Senate each adopted the conference committee report for the operating budget (see our special edition from Tuesday that details the changes made by the conference committee).

The Senate voted 17-3 to pass the budget just before 11 pm. The House voted 22-18 to pass the budget mere minutes before the midnight constitutional session limit. Because the budget did not require a savings draw from the Constitutional Budget Reserve (CBR), a three-fourths vote was not required for the budget to pass.

The House concurred with the Senate’s changes to House Bill 50. HB 50 was originally a bill about carbon storage from GOP Gov. Mike Dunleavy, but was amended by the Legislature to include another bill from Dunleavy about geothermal resources, as well as several Cook Inlet provisions dealing with natural gas storage regulation, the releasing of seismic and geophysical data, and reserve-based lending – which Bluecrest says is important for further development of their Cosmopolitan field.

The House also concurred with the Senate’s changes to House Bill 307. HB 307 is a Dunleavy bill about utility transmission in the Railbelt, but ended up becoming a broader energy bill. Wasilla Republican Rep. Jesse Sumner had inserted language that said utilities could not pass on the costs of an LNG import facility to ratepayers, but the Senate removed that provision. The bill also exempts new power generation from state and local taxes.

In a clever move, House leadership worked with the Senate to insert the provisions of House Bill 400 – a House Education Committee bill to address the legal issues with the correspondence program – into House Bill 202. HB 202 is a bill from Palmer Republican Rep. DeLena Johnson dealing with opioid overdoses. Because the correspondence language was added to a House bill that was in the Senate, the House was forced to take a concurrence vote. If they had failed to concur, there would not have been enough time for a conference committee to work out the differences. The House voted 40-0 to concur with the Senate’s amendments.

Others in the House had wanted to put the correspondence language in a Senate bill before sending it back, but that would have resulted in a myriad of education amendments on the House floor, like raising the Base Student Allocation (BSA). There was not enough time for that. By passing the correspondence language, the Legislature is likely to avoid a special session later this year to address the issue. The correspondence language is only good until July 1, 2025, meaning the next Legislature will have to deal with this. But this buys them time in an election year and allows them to see what the final Supreme Court ruling is.

The one other reason for a possible special session later this year is Cook Inlet royalty relief. The House majority and Gov. Dunleavy both want to lower the royalty rate for Cook Inlet gas to incentivize more production. The House sent House Bill 223 – a royalty relief bill from Sutton Republican Rep. George Rauscher – to the Senate on Tuesday, but it failed to get a hearing.

Royalty relief is something Furie, owned by John Hendrix, has been aggressively pursuing. Furie holds leases in the Kitchen Lights Unit, where there is believed to be significant natural gas reserves. Furie says that current royalty rates are preventing them from developing more gas. But the Senate, namely Sitka Republican Sen. Bert Stedman, does not want to lower royalty rates without getting proper input from the Legislature’s consultant, GaffneyCline. This is something to possibly watch for in late summer or early fall.

Legislators and staff are already packing up and heading home. The June 1 filing deadline to run for the Legislature is just over two weeks away. We will be providing ongoing coverage and analysis throughout the August and November elections.

Other Happenings 

One of the biggest frustrations this session was the sheer number of bills stuffed into other bills at the end of session. This isn’t uncommon but this year it was a lot more than normal. It makes it hard for even close observers to track what is happening and nearly impossible for the public. One example is Senate Bill 189. This was a bill to stop the sunset of several boards including the Marijuana Control Board and the Board of Game. But at the last minute the House loaded it up with a bill from Representative Julie Coulombe (R – Anchorage) dealing with childcare tax credits and a bill from Representative Mike Cronk (R – Tok) dealing with hunting guides. How all of that fits into the constitutional single subject rule is beyond me. The truth is it probably doesn’t. Check out the new title for SB 189!

The latest election count shows Suzanne LaFrance well ahead of Anchorage Mayor Dave Bronson. The election is scheduled to be certified on May 31. LaFrance will be sworn in as Anchorage’s next mayor on July 1. Anchorage mayoral terms are three years, with a limit of two consecutive terms.

The June 1 filing deadline to run for the Legislature is fast approaching. Stay tuned for a Landmine article detailing all of the races to watch. One thing is certain, there will be much less turnover this cycle than the last one. A big factor for the high turnover in 2022 was it was a redistricting year – something that happens every ten years. Two House incumbents aren’t seeking re-election, Representatives Jennie Armstrong (D – Anchorage) and Laddie Shaw (R – Anchorage). And Representative Ben Carpenter (R – Nikiski) is challenging Senator Jesse Bjorkman (R – Nikiski). There will be four or five other House races to watch that will determine who controls that chamber next year.

Representative David Eastman (R – Wasilla) filed a letter of intent for re-election two days ago. There was speculation he might run for the Senate seat, but he filed for his House seat. He faces Republican Jubilee Underwood. That will be a race to watch.

Republican Doyle Holmes filed a letter of intent today to challenge Representative Kevin McCabe (R – Big Lake) again. McCabe beat him by 10 points in 2022 after votes were retabulated using ranked choice voting.

I have to give a big shout out to my girl Katie McCall for her win in our 100 meter dash on Wednesday. During the debate of the transgender sports bill last weekend I joked with her that I could beat her in a 100 meter dash. It quickly became obvious that everyone thought I stood no chance! So we decided to race. It came together on the evening of the last day of session during the dinner break. The race took place behind the Capitol. I could not believe how many people came to watch! You can watch the race here. Someone sent me that hilarious video. Even though I lost the race I kind of feel like I won for three reasons: I did not get hurt, I did not fall, and I did not get smoked! Looking forward to our rematch next year!

This Week’s Loose Unit 

On rare occasions we get a back-to-back Loose Unit. This is one of those occasions. This week’s Loose Unit is again the entire 40-member Alaska House of Representatives. It would take too much space to highlight just how loose the House got on the last day of session. So I am going to leave it to three things.

One, the House did not pass the operating budget until eight minutes before the constitutional deadline. And if that was not loose enough, the vote almost failed. When the vote total was 22-18, Representative Andy Josephson (D – Anchorage) switched his vote from yes to no. This promoted Representative Jesse Sumner (R – Wasilla) to also switch from yes to no, making the vote 20-20, one short. Sumner likely did this to get Representative McCabe (fellow Valley rep and majority member) to switch from no to yes, which he did. Then, Sumner went back to yes. The whole thing was super loose. You can even hear the chief clerk say, “This is not a game.” You can watch the crazy vote here. Representative Carpenter was the only majority member to vote no.

Two, the House passed five bills after the constitutional deadline of midnight. You can read this Landmine article that details just how loose that was.

Three, after all of that the House failed multiple times to get the 21 votes needed to adjourn sine die. Honestly House Speaker Cathy Tilton (R – Wasilla) should have just gaveled out and said they were well past the clear constitutional deadline. But she chose to wait to get to 21. It was further complicated by someone placing a call on the house, which prevented any member from leaving the chamber without an escort. All of it was over trying to get the elections bill out of the limbo file. Some majority members wanted to vote on it but many, including the original sponsor, hated the changes the Senate made. This is what caused the deadlock. In addition to being super loose, the whole thing was also really embarrassing.

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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Brian Webb
26 days ago

I’ll be one to step in and thank the legislature for one instance of bill-packing….. At the 11th hour, HB 126 included our HB 57 which was a grassroots Alaska emergency medical services bill to give us the same protections in our quality assurance activities that hospitals and clinics have always enjoyed. It was our attempt as one measure to keep volunteer EMS clinicians and our volunteer EMS medical directors from leaving. Not a sexy bill, but it was needed. Oh, and it finally recognizes Alaska EMS as a healthcare entity….. 🥳

Just an Alaskan wanting some accountability
26 days ago

Right on Ben Carpenter! Someone has to be a grown up in Juneau!

Media Critic
26 days ago

Well, that wouldn’t be Carpenter.

Dan Svatass
25 days ago

The Alaska constitution specifies that legislative sessions of Alaska’s legislature are limited to 120 days. In 1989 the Supreme Court of Alaska bent over backwards to allow that limitation to expand to 121 days.

There is no way in hell that the Supreme Court of Alaska will now allow Alaska’s legislative sessions to extend to 121 days and two hours.These bills are illegal.

Mark Kelsey
25 days ago

I’m not convinced McCabe is really running. He’s got some court time ahead of him. Regardless, Doyle Holmes should be out knocking on every door on Echo Lake Road in Big Lake reminding those folks that their road is still unpaved because the entitled McCabe hijacked money designated for that project in 2022 and steered it to his road instead.

Mark Kelsey
24 days ago
Reply to  Mark Kelsey
Elizabeth Henry
23 days ago

Thank you for the crazy down and dirty synopsis of the end of the session. I wondered about HB223 and where it had ended up. Dang.