123rf.com Stock Photo

123rf.com Stock Photo

Alaska House votes to boost unemployment benefits

The Alaska House of Representatives has voted along caucus lines to boost unemployment benefits statewide.

In a floor session Wednesday morning, the House voted 22-16 to approve House Bill 142 from House Majority Leader Chris Tuck, D-Anchorage. The bill advances to the Senate for consideration.

“I think it’s time for Alaska to pass an increase to our insurance benefit,” Tuck said.

If approved by the Senate and signed by Gov. Bill Walker, HB 142 would increase the state’s maximum unemployment payment from $370 per week to $510 per week. Only the maximum will change; under state law, the amount of an Alaskan’s unemployment benefit is determined by how much they earned while employed. Under the new bill, anyone earning more than $59,500 per year is at the maximum.

That new maximum is half of the state’s average weekly wage, and a clause in the bill calls for the maximum to be revised if the state’s average weekly wage increases. Alaska’s current maximum benefit is the 39th highest in the country. The $510 amount would be the 13th highest in the United States.

Alaska has the highest unemployment rate in the nation, Tuck explained before the vote, and he envisions the bill as a way to help Alaskans who, “through no fault of their own,” have lost their jobs. In written testimony, said a single parent with two children is below the federal poverty line, even if they earn the existing maximum.

According to the latest available figures from the Alaska Department of Labor, 8.1 percent of Alaskans were out of work in January. Alaska is in its longest economic recession since the 1980s.

Alaska’s unemployment benefits are paid with a tax on employers and employees, Tuck said, which means there is no cost to state government.

That doesn’t mean there’s no cost, pointed out Rep. Dan Saddler, R-Eagle River.

Before the vote, he said the increasing benefits will entail an increase in the tax, thus burdening businesses and individuals during the ongoing recession. Seventy-three percent of unemployment benefits are paid by employers; 27 percent of those benefits are paid by employees.

“There would be a significant cost to private industry and a lesser cost to individuals,” Saddler said.

According to the Alaska Department of Labor, those costs wouldn’t kick in until 2021; there would be no cost increase for businesses in 2019 or 2020. By 2023, the department expects an average employer to pay $124 more per employee per year.

The vote, 22-16, was along caucus lines. All 22 members of the coalition House Majority (two independents, three Republicans and 17 Democrats) were present for the first time this year and voted for the bill. Sixteen members of the 18-member Republican House Minority were present and voted against it.

Senate approves police background check bill

The Alaska Senate on Wednesday morning voted 20-0 to approve a measure that would allow the state to perform nationwide background checks on rural public safety officers and people considering training in the state’s police academies. Senate Bill 148 advances to the House for consideration.

Under federal law, state programs that require nationwide background checks must be authorized by legislation, rather than regulation. SB 148 was introduced by Gov. Bill Walker, who has supported its passage as part of his public safety action plan.

Other House action

In a 38-0 vote, the House of Representatives has approved a bill that allows the Marijuana Control Board to continue operating through 2024. House Bill 273 was sponsored by Rep. Sam Kito III, D-Juneau, and advances to the Senate for consideration. The bill’s passage follows a state audit that found only minor problems with the board’s operations in its first three years.

The House also voted 30-8 to dissolve the Legislature’s Administrative Regulation Review Committee. House Bill 168, sponsored by Rep. Mike Chenault, R-Nikiski, advances to the Senate.

According to an analysis of the committee’s actions, it has never suspended a regulation approved by a state agency, and a 1980 Alaska Supreme Court case questioned whether it is in the Legislature’s power to overturn a regulation.


• Contact reporter James Brooks at jbrooks@juneauempire.com or 523-2258.


More in News

Aurora Forecast

Forecasts from the University of Alaska Fairbanks’ Geophysical Institute for the week of Feb. 5

Folks at the Alaska State Capitol openly admit to plenty of fish tales, but to a large degree in ways intended to benefit residents and sometimes even the fish. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)
The bizarre bills other state legislatures are considering

Alaska’s Legislature isn’t mulling the headline-grabbers some statehouses have in the works.

This photo shows snow-covered hills in the Porcupine River Tundra in the Yukon Territories, Canada. In July 1997, a hunter contacted troopers in Fairbanks, Alaska, and reported finding a human skull along the Porcupine River, around 8 miles (13 kilometers) from the Canadian border. Investigators used genetic genealogy to help identify the remains as those of Gary Frank Sotherden, according to a statement Thursday, Feb. 2, 2023, from Alaska State Troopers. (AP Photo / Rick Bowmer)
Skull found in ‘97 in Interior belongs to New York man

A skull found in a remote part of Alaska’s Interior in 1997… Continue reading

(Michael Penn / Juneau Empire File)
Police calls for Saturday, Feb. 4, 2023

This report contains information from law enforcement and public safety agencies.

Officer William Hicks stands with JPD Chief Ed Mercer and Deputy Chief David Campbell during a swearing in ceremony for Hicks on Thursday at the JPD station in Lemon Creek. (Jonson Kuhn / Juneau Empire)
New officer joins JPD’s ranks

The Juneau Police Department welcomed a new officer to its ranks Thursday… Continue reading

These photos show Nova, a 3-year-old golden retriever, and the illegally placed body hold trap, commonly referred to as a Conibear trap, that caught her while walking near Outer Point Trail last week. (Courtesy / Jessica Davis)
Dog narrowly survives rare illegally placed trap in Juneau

State wildlife officials outlined what to do if found in similar situation

Gavel (Courtesy photo)
Public defender agency to refuse some cases, citing staffing

ANCHORAGE — A state agency that represents Alaskans who cannot afford their… Continue reading

(Michael Penn / Juneau Empire File)
Police: Gift card scam connected to hoax Fred Meyer threats

This article has been moved in front of the Empire’s paywall. A… Continue reading

This is a concept design drawing that was included in the request for proposal sent out by the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities seeking outside engineering and design services to determine whether it’s feasible to build a new ferry terminal facility in Juneau at Cascade Point. (Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities)
DOT takes steps toward potential Cascade Point ferry terminal facility

It would accommodate the Tazlina and or Hubbard, shorten trips to Haines and Skagway

Most Read