Leadership remains unsolved in the House of Representatives on Friday, Jan. 25, 2019. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)
                                Leadership remains unsolved in the House of Representatives on Friday, Jan. 25, 2019. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

Leadership remains unsolved in the House of Representatives on Friday, Jan. 25, 2019. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire) Leadership remains unsolved in the House of Representatives on Friday, Jan. 25, 2019. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

Capitol Live: All eyes on House as buzz circulates

Follow along with updates about the state government.

5:35 p.m.

Much ado about nothing. Tonight’s House session lasts about 20 seconds. Gavel in, gavel out. See you tomorrow.

— Alex McCarthy

5:20 p.m.

Bells are ringing in the Capitol. That means the House session should begin in 10-15 minutes. There’s a palpable buzz here. Lots of optimism that tonight could be the night that ends the standstill. We’ll see.

— Alex McCarthy

4:50 p.m.

Exciting moment here in front of the House chambers. Speaker Pro Tempore Neal Foster just walked into the chambers for a moment, and a small crowd gathered at the door. Foster came out a moment later, two cough drops in his hand.

“That’s funny,” he says to the eager observers. “I was just getting cough drops.”

We’ll keep waiting.

— Alex McCarthy

4:01 p.m.

Murmurs around the building and on social media that today might finally be the day the House organizes. That’s been the buzz before, but the optimists in the building are feeling good.

The House still hasn’t met yet today. Just overheard someone outside the House chambers say they expect the representatives to meet at just about any time.

— Alex McCarthy

1:11 p.m.

It’s a packed room for the Senate fly-in Q&A with school districts from across the state. It’s a joint meeting with some senators and representatives sitting at the table, answering questions from over 80 people in the audience. Paul Kelly from the Juneau School Board is in attendance.

So far comments from school districts have focused on budget strains.

Pete Hoepfner, former Association of Alaska School Board President, speaks about how Cordova School District is experiencing this strain.

“A lot of it boils down to money,” he said. “One of the things that struck me recently was the health insurance, we’ve seen in the last four years a huge increase, 16 percent of our total budget is going to health insurance.”

He said this is money that is being taken out of the classroom. He also mentioned how cuts to the ferry system affect the Cordova School District, because then schools have to fly in students or eliminate education services.

— Mollie Barnes

12 p.m.

At today’s Senate session, Sen. Shelley Hughes, R-Palmer, requested that Senate Bill 32 (one of the four crime bills the governor introduced) be dismissed from the judiciary committee, which she chairs.

Her reasoning for this was that she has a conflict of interest with the bill, since her husband works at a health clinic as a primary care provider, and the clinic sometimes treats Alaskans with addictions who have been ordered by a court for treatment.

“Am I frustrated? Absolutely,” Hughes said on the Senate floor. “I made a commitment to my constituents. (Crime) is the number one mission my constitutions asked me to take on.”

[Ethics restrictions too broad, some lawmakers say]

The bill was reassigned to State Affairs committee, and will have to start over in the legislative process.

Hughes said later in the floor session that the new ethics laws are overreaching.

”When the ethics law erodes an essential function of the legislature there’s a problem,” said Hughes. “Yes, our laws should prevent self-enrichment by legislative measures, but the recent changes overshoot that target by quite a bit. The law needs to be fixed.”

— Mollie Barnes

11:55 a.m.

Sen. Click Bishop, R-Fairbanks, introduced a bill Monday that would establish a $30 head tax to help raise money for schools.

The bill would collect $30 from each person employed in the state, including nonresidents, and would bring an estimated $13 million per year for school construction and maintenance.

Read more in the press release below.

— Alex McCarthy

10:40 a.m.

An environmental group up north is making noise today in reference to multiple recent actions from the Dunleavy administration.

Cook Inletkeeper, located in Homer, sent a press release Monday condemning the administration’s lack of action in regard to the effects of climate change in Alaska. The nonprofit specifically references the Alaska Constitution (Art. VIII, Sec. 1), which requires government officials to develop state resources “consistent with the public interest.”

That press release is embedded below.

Cook Inletkeeper also has a petition out to support Hollis French, a Walker appointee to the Alaska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission who is being fired by the Dunleavy administration. The administration alleges French wasn’t working hard enough and was “browbeating” employees, but some see it as a partisan decision.

You can read more about the petition at the link in this tweet:

— Alex McCarthy

10:20 a.m.

Some Alaska lawmakers are not pleased with last week’s announcement that Wellpath Recovery Solutions, a private contractor, is taking over administration at the beleaguered Alaska Psychiatric Institute.

Read our full coverage here: No-bid contract for psychiatric institute raises questions

— Mollie Barnes

9:17 a.m.

Rep. Sharon Jackson, R-Eagle River, sent out a press release this morning, expressing her disapproval of a culture that allows politicians who have a history of abusing women to be in public office.

“I was shocked this week to learn that an individual who has plead guilty and was convicted of harassing and stalking women was hired not once, but twice, inside the Capitol Building this session,” said Jackson in the press release. She did not specify who the employee was.

Over the last 13 months, three elected Alaskan leaders have been forced to resign in separate scandals involving abuse of women.

[Beaten by a legislator: Juneau woman accuses lawmaker of violent attack]

“This culture of placing power politics over the safety of women is utterly unacceptable, especially from those seeking to exercise leadership responsibilities over the Alaska Legislature,” she said. “I intend to address this by requesting the Legislative Council take immediate action.”

— Mollie Barnes

8 a.m.

It’s going to be a big week for state government, with Gov. Mike Dunleavy expected to release his budget on Wednesday.

The Senate will have a floor session at 11 a.m and the House floor session is delayed until 2 p.m.

At 9 a.m. the Senate Finance committee has a joint meeting with the Senate Health & Social Services committee to hear a the Alaska Healthcare Transformation Project update from Sandra Heffern, executive director at Effective Health Design, Scott Leitz, senior fellow at NORC at the University of Chicago and Lynne Snyder, principal research scientist at NORC at the University of Chicago.

At 1 p.m. the Senate is hosting a school district legislative fly-in for an informal Q&A session regarding Alaska’s public school system.

At 1:30 p.m. the Senate Judiciary committee is meeting and at 3:30 the Senate Resources committee is meeting.

— Mollie Barnes

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