A file photo of the Alaska State Capitol. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

A file photo of the Alaska State Capitol. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

Capitol Live: Southeast legislators discuss housing problem

Live updates from inside the Capitol.

1:50 p.m.

In about an hour and a half, there will be public testimony about the governor’s bill to eliminate the Ocean Rangers program. This program puts marine professionals on cruise ships to monitor them for emissions and pollution.

We wrote a bit about that yesterday here.

A bit ago, Rep. Sara Hannan, D-Juneau, tweeted out ways for her constituents to call in:

— Alex McCarthy

12:55 p.m.

After legislators made noise about the restrictions imposed by a conflict of interest law passed last year, a bill was introduced Wednesday that seeks to make some changes. Sen. John Coghill, R-North Pole, introduced Senate Bill 89, which repeals portions of the conflict of interest bill passed last year.

— Alex McCarthy

12:50 p.m.

It’s question time.

The first question: In regards to a shortage of housing for seniors, has that been discussed in the legislature and if so what did that conversation entail?

Ortiz says they haven’t spoken specifically on this yet, because most of the conversations have focused on the governor’s proposed budget.

— Mollie Barnes

Sen. Jesse Kiehl, D-Juneau, left, Rep. Andi Story, D-Juneau, Rep. Jonathan Kreiss-Tompkins, D-Sitka, and Rep. Dan Ortiz, I-Ketchikan, right, speak at the Native Issues Forum in the Elizabeth Peratrovich Hall on Wednesday, March 13, 2019. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

Sen. Jesse Kiehl, D-Juneau, left, Rep. Andi Story, D-Juneau, Rep. Jonathan Kreiss-Tompkins, D-Sitka, and Rep. Dan Ortiz, I-Ketchikan, right, speak at the Native Issues Forum in the Elizabeth Peratrovich Hall on Wednesday, March 13, 2019. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

12:40 p.m.

Story mentions that Juneau has one of the lowest vacancy rates in the state.

“This does not put pressure, I want to be very respectful to all the people who are landlords, but there’s not a lot of support to put in new carpet, flooring, basic things to keep our homes that we rent looking well, so I would really like to see that move forward,” Story says.

She says one thing in the governor’s budget concerns her. Dunleavy has a proposal to cut $11 million out of $12 million to homeless programs. She says 601 individuals received services through those programs last year, so this would be extremely downsizing, and that she will be advocating to not cut that from the budget.

Now Kiehl is taking a turn.

He says many of his committees don’t directly deal with housing, but he’s on the Senate Transportation committee that does work with the ferry system.

“The Marine Highway System is the road to most Southeast Alaska communities,” Kiehl says. “Every community has the opportunity to move freight, building materials, workers on the ferry. One of the challenges that you’ve heard my colleagues talk about is the cost. You won’t hear me apologize to address the cost of labor in Southeast, I have no complaints with people earning a living wage. But the cost to move materials around is high.”

He says it’s important to think holistically about the housing issue, from the cost of materials to the economy.

“When we look at the entire picture…we need apartment buildings and condos, and we need higher rise development in addition to single family homes,” Kiehl says. He says Alaska also need more transitional housing for people getting out of prison. He also applauds Tlingit and Haida for working on this issue.

— Mollie Barnes

12:30 p.m.

Kreiss-Tomkins is taking a turn speaking now. He says he’s in his seventh legislative session, and he’s been on the State Affairs committee for all of those years.

He’s talking about Dunleavy’s proposal to get sell the Sheldon Jackson Museum in Sitka in an effort to balance the budget.

He mentions that the committee will be hearing the bill that proposes moving the capitol from Juneau to Anchorage. That gets some chuckles from the crowd.

Story wants to thank elders who have been behind these issues for decades.

“I am tired of not prioritizing the people’s needs — the faces of our children, of our elders, and forward funding issues like the ferry where you need to have a schedule to run more than year by year, and same with education,” Story says. “You need to forward fund education.”

Story says she’s thrilled to be part of the House Majority to be able to have a strong voice for the needs of Juneau and Southeast Alaska.

“The Senate and the House are working good together… we’re also trying to keep a good working relationship with the governor,” Story says. “We all care deeply.”

— Mollie Barnes

12:20 p.m.

“The same would be true for senior housing,” Ortiz says. The average age of residents is getting higher and these people fall into more fixed income levels, since many are retired. “The availability of housing for seniors is a problem.”

But he says, Southeast Alaska and the state overall is nothing if not a group of people that can overcome challenges. He says he’s hopeful that there will be thriving folks working well to continue to make Southeast Alaska a place where people can afford a home.

— Mollie Barnes

12:12 p.m.

The weekly Native Issues Forum is getting started.

Today, Sen. Jesse Kiehl, D-Juneau, Rep. Andi Story, D-Juneau, and Rep. Dan Ortiz, I-Ketchikan, and Rep. Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins, D-Sitka.

They’re talking about housing issues in Southeast Alaska in partnership with the Tlingit Haida Regional Housing Authority.

“Single family homes available for under $300,000, they’re becoming less and less available throughout Southeast Alaska, and yet the average income doesn’t match that ability to buy that single family home at $300,000,” says Ortiz. “If you’re a young earner with family, you might be more likely to purchase a $180,000 home. But the problem is there’s just not that many homes out there in the market to make that particular purchase, so that’s a problem.”

He says another issue is not enough supply of low income housing and apartment rentals for seasonal workers.

— Mollie Barnes

9:25 a.m.

Should disposable-plastic shopping bags be prohibited in Alaska? Rep. Andy Josephson, D-Anchorage has, introduced House Bill 81, which would ban the use of these.

— Kevin Baird

9:05 a.m.

One thing we’re looking for today: Rep. Sara Hannan, D-Juneau, is expected to unveil legislation that would tax the sales of electronic cigarettes. She mentioned that last night at the town hall meeting.

— Alex McCarthy

9 a.m.

Yesterday belonged to members of the public, who showed up in droves to provide feedback to their legislators. A record number of people called into a hearing of the House Transportation and Public Facilities Committee to weigh in on the future of the Alaska Marine Highway System in the afternoon.

Then a similar amount of people called in at night as well to continue to share their thoughts on the importance of the ferry system. There’s still a demand for more testimony, so the committee will accept more public comment on Thursday.

Also in the evening, Juneau’s trio of legislators held a town hall meeting. Well over 200 people showed up to that as well. Read our coverage of that here.

— Alex McCarthy

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