Final hours of regular session and a Special Session

Legislators taking pictures of the first circulated copy of the Governor's Special session proclamation

Significant legislation:

  •  $86.7 million for forward funding education through 2014.

  • The total funding to end domestic violence and sexual assault is $11.8 million including prevention and intervention, support for survivors, and law enforcement.
  • 15 more VPSO positions funded. Strengthening penalties for criminals who target some of the state’s most vulnerable citizens was passed by the Legislature. The bill protects these Alaskans from financial exploitation and abuse. The state will begin a four-year veterans outreach program. State officials will visit villages throughout the state to make sure veterans receive the benefits they have earned.
  •  More than $1 billion was approved for highways, aviation, marine highway, harbors, village safe water, and municipal water and sewer projects. Also approved was $453.5 million in general obligation bonds for statewide transportation projects subject to voter approval in November.
  • The funding allows continuing work on a road to Umiat, the Ambler District Road, a road to Tanana, and improvements on the Klondike Industrial Use Highway to Skagway.
  •  The governor’s budget also includes $60 million for construction of a second Alaska Marine Highway System ferry.
  •  Energy plan which includes $31.5 million for weatherization programs to help Alaskans make their homes more energy efficient; $25.9 million for the Renewable Energy Fund targeting projects in areas with the highest energy costs; $38.2 million to fully fund the Power Cost Equalization Program; $20 million for home energy rebates, and an estimated $48 million for the Alaska Low-Income Energy Assistance Program.
  • Digital mapping in the Arctic. The state will use the money to acquire elevation data as a base for infrastructure development that greatly enhances economic opportunities and the preservation of human life in disaster prevention, response, and recovery.
  •  Governor Parnell sponsored legislation to foster more economic development in Alaska with a federal tax credit program called New Market Tax Credits. The legislation will promote new investment in rural Alaska for the financing and construction of a wide variety of projects.
  •  The Legislature approved $25 million for tourism marketing to continue efforts to grow Alaska’s tourist population

The end of the session was probably the most interesting part of the ninety days. Bills changed by the hour, sometimes sponsors knew, sometimes they didn’t. Items were dropped and brought up again. Session lasted until 12:39am April 16, 2012. Then minutes after end of session celebration started the governor’s proclamation of special session started circulating and dampen the mood. Pat Forgey was trying to get interviews as legislators were finally relaxing and debriefing amongst themselves. Then special session brought out a whole new dynamic between the house, senate and governor. Mud flinging and bad behavior was spread quickly.  Three items were called back to the table: sex trafficking, in-state natural gas pipeline and oil and gas tax reform.  Sex trafficking was the only one to pass. Controversy over the governor pulling legislation created an early end to special session, sine die.  All in all it was one of the more interesting years to follow the political process.  Well let’s face it, it’s never really boring. Signing out until next session, hopefully…  hope you’re rooting for us! Cheers.

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The last days

Senator Kookesh, Mary Sattler, MA, Representative Joule

This week has been busy and full of dramatics. On Saturday night, as many members and staff of the Legislature were socializing and listening to music at the “Annual Bowling Awards” night the Senate’s version of the Capital Budget was released. This first release version was quite controversial and that lead to many closed door caucuses and eventually a re-write of the Senate’s Capital Budget. Many legislators, that we had not seen  all session, have begun to visit the boss and ask for his vote and support of their bills and projects. Tuesday, as I sat in for Kimberly as committee aide there was an ambitious schedule and the committee went through seven bills. It was quite interesting as there was a quick overview of many items from the house trying to get to the Senate floor. This was a flood gate of bills, as prior to that were not many house bills going through the Senate or Senate bills going through the House.  Now the Capital Budget is in the House and distrcts 5&6 have done quite well, conpaired to what they looked like last week.

This week was also the confirmation votes on the Governor’s appointments there were a few controversial appointments that got some press: Dr. David Eichler had on record some very racial comments on Rural Alaska Natives from 2006, and he pulled his name from Alaska Public Office Commission consideration. Mr. Lynn Keogh Jr. was up for a board of game appointment and was not confirmed because of the misrepresentation he had in front of one of the previous committees. And lastly Karl Johnstone because of his questionable state citizenship, although his confirmation passed.

And throughout all this the office has had quite its share of crises. A staff went to the emergency room, a staff brother-in-law passed away on the job, and a little brother hospitalized for a brain tumor. It’s been a miracle to make it all the way to Friday without further event!

Now we wait for the potential last day of session, likely to be April 15, 2012.

Make a difference

This week was the deadline for the citations, so Monday was quite busy with hearing from family members, editing, making changes and submitting.  After that this office has hit a wait-and-see point, with the exception of the child support bill.  We’ve had two hearings on the child support bill this week in the judiciary committee and they just now passed it through to Senate Finance.  Both out bills are sitting in Senate Finance now.  They may be held up as the chair of finance, Senator Bert Stedman, has said he doesn’t particularly like the bills.  This is a frustration for Senator Albert Kookesh as he is in the majority and is being treated otherwise.

Also, we are now in 24-hour rule, which means a committee chair can call a committee meeting at 4pm one day to convene as early as 8am the following day.  Also, the house and senate appoints three conference committee members each for a joint committee.  This committee has closed doors meetings to negotiate bills where amendments are not amendable to either the house or the senate.  This committee assists to push important bills through to each side.

On an unrelated note, I went to speak with Representative Thomas regarding a non-partisan senate bill to inform victims of criminal charges when decisions or changes have happened in the courts.  He had no concerns with the bill, but plainly told me he wasn’t moving senate bills until the senate starts moving house bills.  So, what was predicted two weeks ago has now begun.

With the permission of the office I have been following sexual assault and violent crime bills for two reasons: I am on the Aiding Women in Abuse and Rape Emergencies (AWARE) board and I have a friend that is going through a horrendous situation of sexual assault of her daughter and passing laws to protect these victim is important to me.

I am happy to learn how to make a difference with the laws of the state.

Staff photo for Celebration 2012 booklet.

I have a cause!

This week I’ve started to find my rhythm, I’ve attending committee meeting and writing citations and taking the senator’s meeting with ease and stride.  I’ve completed the list of citations, which is huge as the deadline in Monday at 5pm.

This week the Senator made us fresh king salmon and deer meat stew.  YUM!

I attended two marches: one on choose respect and the other on the second verse of the Alaska flag song.  The second verse is significant because it acknowledges Benny Benson, an Athabascan, who designed the Alaska flag.  Quoting Katya Wassillie, “Alaska Natives are as much a part of what represents Alaska and its beauty as the mountains, streams and flowers.”

It’s been a great week to represent and be a part of representing the people of Alaska.  I am thankful for the opportunity.

Spring has sprung!

We here went yet another week of session and the tension is building and the capital budget and department close-out budgets are being heard.   There seems to be a consensus that a lot is riding on the oil and gas bills: HB 110 (the governor’s tax reform) and HB 9 the instate gasline.  The house is in the midst of a war and offices are getting short with each other.  The looming doom is when the house stops passing senate bills and the senate stop passing house bills.  There seems to be a rumor that nothing will pass unless the oil and gas items are taken care of.

There is definitely a bit of tug a war happening as each legislator is pushing for their personal legislation to move through the process.  We had a brainstorming meeting on how to pass the second verse of the Alaska flag song.  They’ve been trying since the 80s.  Also, today the bush caucus is meeting regarding redistricting, coastal zone management, and perhaps expanding the legislature to add a senate and two house seats.  Wow, this could be history in the making.

My world had stayed pretty steady with more citation and constituent meetings.  It’s gold medal week, so our office has a lot of visitors.  This week has also been busy for me personally, because of my daughter’s birthday.  She just turned five on the first day of Spring!  My mom, Claudette, and Ella came over. I made homemade pizza dough, and everyone put toppings on individual pizzas.  For dessert we had flourless chocolate cake and Ella brought agutuk from Kotlik, YUM!

Event”full” week

This week has been more of the same trying to catch-up:  citations, legal research, committee meetings, and file organization.  I completed the newsletter for the office and the Chief of Staff continually says nice things about the work I do.  I feel like there needs to be a balance and have her give me a few tips.  I’ve checked-in with her and she seems to be happy with my performance, so I guess I’ll just stay the course.

A few events of the week to highlight: Unalaska reception with all the crab you can eat; Perseverance play “A raisin in the Sun, about poverty, racism and assimilation; ” Cultural and Education Summit where the kids performed native dances and stood together to say “I like me.”; Women’s Reproductive right Conference Racial equality discussion; and Celebrating women in Alaskan politics with Arlis Strugeluski, Fran Ulmer and others.  It’s amazing what they can pack into one week.

Happy St. Patrick's Day

Happy St. Patrick's Day

Some reflections of the week:  I’ve found “the more I learn, the less I know;” cliché, yes, but true nonetheless.  I realize I may put more emphasis than needed on tasks I am assigned.  I’ve found it necessary to be patience with others as they are working on items ready to make a difference for women, children, health, safety and I am here to learn.  Perhaps one day, I’ll be the one making a difference for these and other groups.  I’m thankful for each opportunity.

Imprints

This week has been eventful, after an amazing weekend with Allison Warden as guest in my home.  She came to Juneau to perform for the Women of Distinction.  She was a big hit and so were all the Distinct Women; amazing women with big hearts leaving trails of healing and rejuvenation in their paths.  I have the honor of serving on the AWARE board and have learned a great deal about the wonderful women in this community and state and the strength they have and share.

The beginning of the week was busy with a few meetings and brainstorming sessions.  It’s frustrating sometimes to begin great discussion only have to end it when solutions start to bubble to the surface due to time constraints.  A 90-day session I starting to find is debilitating, obviously workable and doable, but perhaps not ideal.  John Lamont, from the Lower Yukon School district, met with us and we made to time to discuss education, environment, suicide, alcohol, psychology, transportation and many topics that are needed to create a successful learning environment.  It was fascinating; we were all on fire for education and rural Alaska. It is so great to be surrounded by such like-minded people.  This is the first time I have felt like I belonged, that I fit in.  I have always lived in two worlds, never feeling like I belonged in either one.  My two worlds are now merging and I finally feel at home.

On a lighter note Senator Mark Begich came to Juneau and met with staff talking about his tow bill priorities: ANWAR and By-Pass mail.  Ella and I decided it was a pretty unique situation for two young women from Kotlik to both work at the capitol during the same session, so we gave him the honor of getting his picture taken with us.

This week the senator went to DC to honor Don Young for the mountain of legislation he has pushed through on behalf of indigenous people.  He came back from that trip after an all-night flight and got up and made is lunch.  What a treat, for your boss to serve you.  It just doesn’t happen very often.

One of the Senator’s bills was heard in Senate Judiciary this week and I went and watched.  I was frustrated how I waiver, when good points are made in opposition.  Trying to learn to take a stand and stick with it, but still stay open-minded when the opposition really has a valid point.  There was not a quorum at the committee meeting, because of energy break.  There is a conference in DC regarding energy that a number of legislators attend, and while they are gone, other legislators go home and hold meetings.  While others still, take the well-deserved rest, to get ready for longer work days, sometimes lasting into the night.

Ella is taking the time to go home to Kotlik, I’m envious.  I’d love to go and bring my children.  I get anxious spending that kind of money, but some days I think I should just do it and adjust the budget later.  What are your thoughts?

The Senator wrote a letter to Governor Parnell regarding the percentage of non-resident hire on the north slope and many industries across the state, I think by the time he signed, four lines of my original letter remained.  I understand this process well, and I’ve see it in many offices.  It’s always rewarding when a letter goes through untouched.

The other items I worked on this week were drafting memoriams and citations.  I am amazed at the accomplishments of so many people in this state, let alone the Senator’s district.  It’s inspiring to read about their lives and loved ones and the imprint they have left behind.