Sen. Gary Stevens, R-Kodiak, introduces Senate Bill 22 to the Senate Resources Committee at the Capitol on Wednesday, Jan. 30, 2019. The bill would allow organizations to obtain permits and enhance the habitat of shellfish in hopes of improving the seafood industry. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

Sen. Gary Stevens, R-Kodiak, introduces Senate Bill 22 to the Senate Resources Committee at the Capitol on Wednesday, Jan. 30, 2019. The bill would allow organizations to obtain permits and enhance the habitat of shellfish in hopes of improving the seafood industry. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

Capitol Live: Mariculture could be a $100 million industry in Alaska

Senate Bill 22 could pave the way for this industry

4:30 p.m.

Members of the Alaska Mariculture Task Force are giving a presentation to the Senate Resource Committee. Projections from Alaska’s Mariculture Task Force show that mariculture could become a $100 million per year industry in 20 years, in Alaska. Mariculture specifically refers to shellfish and seaweed.

Senate Bill 22 would allow for organizations to obtain permits and enhance the habitat of shellfish in hopes of improving the seafood industry.

The harvest of geoducks, sea cumbers, oysters, clams and king crab are some of the sea life discussed in this meeting.

— Kevin Baird

3 p.m.

The fight against “frankenfish” continues.

Alaska’s senior U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski re-introduced a bill in Washington, D.C. today that would require any genetically engineered salmon to be clearly labeled as such. She has tried to pass similar legislation since July 2017.

The Genetically Engineered Salmon Labeling Act would require genetically engineered salmon products in the U.S. market to be clearly labeled “genetically engineered” in the market name. Last month, the USDA published labeling guidelines for genetically engineered foods, including GE salmon, with requirements that Murkowski claims could confuse consumers.

“USDA’s new guidelines don’t require mandatory labeling, and instead allows producers to use QR codes or 1-800 numbers, which is a far stretch from giving consumers clear information,” Murkowski said in a press release. “There’s a huge difference between genetically engineered salmon and the healthy, sustainably-caught, wild Alaskan salmon. We have the right to know what we’re eating. When you splice DNA from another animal and combine it with farmed salmon, you are essentially creating a new species and I have serious concerns with that. If we are going to allow this fabricated fish to be sold in stores, we must ensure there is at least clear labeling. Americans should not become test subjects for this new product without their full knowledge and consent.”

The bill is co-sponsored by Alaska’s junior Sen. Dan Sullivan, Maria Cantwell, D-Washington, and Jeff Merkley, D-Oregon.

— Mollie Barnes

1:50 p.m.

Republican Sen. Gary Stevens of Kodiak is expected to introduce a shellfish-habitat enhancement bill during the Senate Resources Committee meeting at 3:30 p.m. Senate Bill 22 would allow the state to issue permits to nonprofit groups, allowing them to expand shellfish habitats. State law does not allow for these projects outside the scope of research.

By rehabilitating and improving shellfish habitats, for sea life such as crabs and clams, proponents of the bill hope to improve seafood harvests, give Alaska’s seafood economy a boost and improve the ecological health of the ocean habitats. A similar bill was introduced during the last session, but that bill did not pass.

“Large-scale enhancement projects, especially for king crabs have significant possibility for economic development,” Stevens wrote in his sponsor statement. “Eight of 11 king crab stocks in Alaska have been closed for many years. If successful, these enhancement projects could help reestablish localized populations, which could in turn provide breeding populations to help reestablish larger areas.”

– Kevin Baird

12:40 p.m.

A constitutional amendment requires two-thirds of the House and Senate to agree on it for it to pass. That’ll be a hard sell this year.

Sen. John Coghill, R-Fairbanks, spoke to reporters in his office a bit ago, explaining his take on the amendments. It was an enlightening interview, as Coghill said these amendments might be more for future years than they are for this year.

Sen. John Coghill, R-Fairbanks, listens to a question during a press conference Wednesday about Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s constitutional amendments. (Alex McCarthy | Juneau Empire)

Sen. John Coghill, R-Fairbanks, listens to a question during a press conference Wednesday about Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s constitutional amendments. (Alex McCarthy | Juneau Empire)

“I have a feeling that it’s going to be very difficult to get the higher majority, the two-thirds majority vote, to get it through both bodies this session. That gives us two years to look at it and probably have an engaged conversation both with the governor and with the rest of the people in Alaska.”

— Alex McCarthy

10:45 a.m.

Gov. Mike Dunleavy is here, talking about his constitutional amendments that underline his fiscal plan.

One is a spending limit and savings plan to limit how much money the Legislature can spend. Another is to ensure that the Permanent Fund Dividend can’t be changed without a vote from the people. Another is to make sure that taxes can’t change without a vote from the people.

The main point, he says, is to get people involved up front instead of having them being at the Legislature’s mercy. He said he believes the state’s government is here to serve the people and give them a voice.

“We’re limiting the Legislature,” Dunleavy says. “That’s the purpose of the Constitution.”

We’ll have more later on the specifics of these amendments.

Dunleavy announced the amendments to the public via this video:

— Alex McCarthy

10:30 a.m.

The Alaska House has adjourned until Friday. That marks day 16 of session without a House majority. It seems nobody in the hallways at the Alaska State Capitol is surprised.

Reps talking, but House still unsettled

− Kevin Baird

10:07 a.m.

The House gaveled in at 10:07 a.m. this morning. Reps. Adam Wool and Colleen Sullivan-Leonard are absent today.

— Kevin Baird

8:50 a.m.

It should be an interesting morning here at the Capitol. Starting at 9 a.m., the Senate Finance Committee will hear a presentation on the state’s retirement systems. That will come from Director of Retirement and Benefits Ajay Desai and Director of Personnel and Labor Relations Kate Sheehan.

[Starved for recruits, Alaska police pin blame on retirement system]

At 10 a.m., the House is convening. As you read in our story in today’s paper, representatives are talking but there’s still no majority in place.

At 10:30 a.m., Gov. Mike Dunleavy will announce three constitutional amendments. He outlined these during last week’s State of the State speech.

The first amendment, he said during the speech, is a spending limit and savings plan to limit how much money the Legislature can spend. The second is to ensure that the Permanent Fund Dividend can’t be changed without a vote from the people. The third is to make sure that taxes can’t change without a vote from the people.

Juneau lawmakers were a bit hesitant after the speech about the amendments, as Rep. Sara Hannan, D-Juneau, said she tends to not want to make amendments to the constitution. Sen. Jesse Kiehl, D-Juneau, agreed.

“Alaska has one of the best state constitutions in all 50 states,” Kiehl told the Empire at the time. “Our Constitution uses the same genius of the U.S. Constitution and I hesitate to change it.”

We’ll see what Dunleavy says at that press conference this morning.

Following that, the Senate is having a floor session at 11 a.m.

— Alex McCarthy

Gov. Mike Dunleavy, left, listens as Attorney General Kevin Clarkson describes three constitutional amendments that would be a foundation of his administration’s fiscal plan during a press conference at the Capitol on Wednesday, Jan. 30, 2019. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

Gov. Mike Dunleavy, left, listens as Attorney General Kevin Clarkson describes three constitutional amendments that would be a foundation of his administration’s fiscal plan during a press conference at the Capitol on Wednesday, Jan. 30, 2019. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

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