Capitol Live: Lawmakers celebrate Seward’s Day

Follow along with live updates from Alaska’s Capitol.

2:44 p.m.

Lots of people on social media are commenting on Seward’s Day today. Here’s a few things they are saying:

— Mollie Barnes

11:20 a.m.

Begich is speaking on unfinished business related to a joint bill that relates to forward funding of education. He says his wife’s job might create an ethical dilemma, but he still supports the bill.

“In the interests of being supportive of the law I thought it was important to bring that up,” Begich says. He’s withdrawing his name as a cosponsor of the bill.

They’re taking a brief at ease now.

— Mollie Barnes

Sen. Bert Stedman, R-Sitka, speaks about CSSB 38, a supplemental appropriation bill for earthquake relief, during a Senate floor session at the Capitol on Monday, March 25, 2019. The $130 million bill passed unanimously. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

Sen. Bert Stedman, R-Sitka, speaks about CSSB 38, a supplemental appropriation bill for earthquake relief, during a Senate floor session at the Capitol on Monday, March 25, 2019. The $130 million bill passed unanimously. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

11:14 a.m.

“The bulk of the damage we’re talking about occurred in Southcentral Alaska,” says Sen. Tom Begich, the Democratic minority leader. He says it’s important that a senator from Southeast Alaska introduced this, and that all of Alaska is looking out for each other.

The bill passed 18-0.

— Mollie Barnes

11:10 a.m.

It’s the second reading of the governor’s proposed supplemental budget.

Sen. Bert Stedman, chair of the finance committee, is introducing a legislative substitute to the governor’s proposed supplemental budget.

The finance committee substitute was adopted. They’re advancing it to third reading.

It’s what they call a fast-tracked supplemental bill, Stedman says. This is necessary to get funds out faster for earthquake relief from the earthquake that happened a few months ago in Anchorage.

“The monies in response to that damage appear to run out around the first of April, so this is a time sensitive issue,” Stedman says.

The entire bill is about $133 million rounded off. They added $7.9 million to fire suppression activity because they are expecting a drier summer, which likely means more wildfires.

“This fast-tracked appropriation bill is stripped down to just the needy items that we need to have appropriations for between now and the end of June… unfortunately we’re expecting continued damage to some of our properties around the state during the spring thaw,” Stedman says.

— Mollie Barnes

11:01 a.m.

The Senate has just gaveled in for the day. They’re getting started with the introduction of the guests.

— Mollie Barnes

10:39 a.m.

Gov. Mike Dunleavy is on the road this week for his budget meetings across the state. He’s drawn criticism from some groups and lawmakers, since most of these meetings are sponsored by a group called Americans for Prosperity, a conservative group.

Dunleavy’s office last week announced five public events around Alaska for this week, plus a planned appearance on a statewide radio program and a Fairbanks Chamber of Commerce event.

The five events listed as public are being hosted by Americans for Prosperity, which online describes the events as private and lays out terms by which attendees must abide. The release from Dunleavy’s office did not mention the affiliation.

Ryan McKee, state director of Americans for Prosperity-Alaska, said he understands why there might be confusion. He said the group is renting the space and has the right to remove anyone who is disruptive and make sure the venues aren’t over capacity.

McKee said there are advantages to the group hosting.

“I don’t think it would have been proper for the governor, in a recession, when he is cutting a lot of things, I don’t think him spending a bunch of money on a tour would have probably been the best move,” McKee said, adding later that the group is not paying for anyone outside its own staff to attend.

Panelists for the events, as described by Americans for Prosperity-Alaska, include Dunleavy and other state officials, a regional director of the group and the executive director of the Alaska Policy Forum, whose self-described mission is to promote policies “that grow freedom for all.”

Several senators have offered different venues for the governor’s events in places that would be open to all.

Last Wednesday, Senator Donny Olson, D-Golovin, sent a letter to Governor Dunleavy offering to pay for the space at Old St. Joe’s in Nome so the Governor could hold a public town hall without private special interest funding and restrictions on Alaskans who attend.

Following Olson’s lead, Senators Bill Wielechowski, D-Anchorage, Tom Begich, D-Anchorage, Elvi Gray-Jackson, D-Anchorage, Scott Kawasaki, D-Fairbanks, and Jesse Kiehl, D-Juneau, also offered alternative locations for Governor Dunleavy to hold public town halls in their respective communities. They said in a press release that this is an opportunity for Dunleavy to cancel his private town halls, hear from the public without limitations.

“Governor Dunleavy’s budget impacts every single Alaskan in this state, and it is only appropriate to provide the public an open and transparent opportunity to voice their concerns directly to the Governor without fear of being thrown out,” said Wielechowski in a press release.

— Mollie Barnes

10:01 a.m.

“We’ll be looking at trying to preserve WWAMI in some concept,” says Stedman. The meeting is over, and tomorrow’s meeting will talk about K-12 education.

— Mollie Barnes

10 a.m.

“If we do not continue forward with our contract with the state of Alaska… students will finish the program and we will just not recruit additional classes,” Allen says.

The governor has proposed cutting $3.1 million in funding from this program. The state pays for about half of the tuition for students, and if they don’t come back to Alaska they are required to pay back the money.

— Mollie Barnes

Sen. Mike Shower, R-Wasilla, questions Dr. Suzanne Allen, from Boise, Idaho, who was giving an overview of the WWAMI School of Medical Education program to the Senate Finance Committee at the Capitol on Monday, March 25, 2019. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

Sen. Mike Shower, R-Wasilla, questions Dr. Suzanne Allen, from Boise, Idaho, who was giving an overview of the WWAMI School of Medical Education program to the Senate Finance Committee at the Capitol on Monday, March 25, 2019. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

9:50 a.m.

Allen says the consortium was built among states that did not have their own medical schools, and that’s why other states are not a part of the program.

Von Imhof wants to know where the comparison number of $5.50 per Alaskan to over $20 per North Dakotan came from.

“Has there been any discussion in an endowment?” Von Imhof says.

Allen says she needs to work on getting the information back to the committee.

— Mollie Barnes

9:43 a.m.

WWAMI has over 200 clinical faculty teaching medical students and residents in 26 different communities.

“For each person who is training our medical students, we do require they have a license… and that they’re board certified… not every physician is board certified but for a faculty appointment we require certification,” Allen says.

There are 377 clinical experience opportunities across the state for medical students and residents.

“This is publicly supported medical education,” Allen says.

Senator Bert Stedman is questioning Allen if there has been discussion on how to deal with budgetary constraints with the state funding portion of the program. She says there has not been a discussion with any other groups.

— Mollie Barnes

9:25 a.m.

She’s comparing the cost now to how much it would be to build a new medical school. She says it costed North Dakota over $100 million to build a new school.

There are some rural focused programs. More than half of the students who go into these rural programs go into primary care.

— Mollie Barnes

Dr. Suzanne Allen, from Boise, Idaho, gives an overview of the WWAMI School of Medical Education program to the Senate Finance Committee at the Capitol on Monday, March 25, 2019. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

Dr. Suzanne Allen, from Boise, Idaho, gives an overview of the WWAMI School of Medical Education program to the Senate Finance Committee at the Capitol on Monday, March 25, 2019. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

9:15 a.m.

Allen says the return on investment is around 70 percent.

She says 61 percent of the graduates from this program return to Alaska, and 11 percent of licensed Alaska physicians are WWAMI graduates. It’s the largest contributing medical school to the Alaska physician workforce.

— Mollie Barnes

9:10 a.m.

Senate Finance is getting a presentation of the WWAMI program this morning. The acronym, WWAMI, stands for the states served by the UW School of Medicine: Washington, Wyoming, Alaska, Montana and Idaho.

Suzanne Allen, the vice dean for Academic, Rural and Regional Affairs at the University of Washington School of Medicine is presenting.

She says that Alaska needs to recruit about 60 physicians each year to keep up with the demand in the state.

This program costs $5.50 per Alaskan compared to over $20 per North Dakotan, which is a state with a similar population.

Senator Natasha von Imhof asks what the payback is that the students have for the state of Alaska. Allen says that information is coming later in the presentation.

There’s 80 students in the program in Alaska, and that is at capacity, Allen says.

— Mollie Barnes

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