Taking respite from the nearly 80 degree heat outside, dozens of Juneauites gathered at Centennial Hall in downtown Juneau Thursday evening for a Town Hall forum with the city’s delegation to the state Legislature.
Reps. Sara Hannan and Andi Story and Sen Jesse Kiehl, all freshman Democrats, spoke to a crowd of over 50 people explaining work of the Legislature over the past several months. The second special session came to and end Wednesday and earlier Thursday, Gov. Mike Dunleavy signed the first piece of legislation from that session to be sent to his desk into law.
That bill, Senate Bill 2002, provided funding for a number of state services and included language that reversed “the sweep,” restoring funds for the Alaska Performance Scholarship and Power Cost Equalization Programs.
Dunleavy also vetoed over $34 million in appropriations from that bill, including $10 million for the construction of additional addiction recovery centers.
The delegation began with a moment of silence for Sen Chris Birch, R-Anchorage, who passed away Wednesday from a heart attack at the age of 68.
Following the moment of silence, Kiehl then recapped for the audience several pieces of legislation the Legislature was, or wasn’t, able to pass during the past legislative session.
Kiehl high-lighted House Bill 49, passed in May, which proposed longer sentences for certain crimes. However, Kiehl added, that the veto of funds for addiction treatment was, “short-sighted” and “undercuts everything we’re trying to do on crime.”
When someone driven by addiction commits a crime, Kiehl said, “they go to prison and there’s no treatment. They come out and there’s no treatment.”
Story said that it was “a relief to everyone” that SB 2002 had provided enough state funds to secure federal matching funds for transporation and infrastructure projects. She said she was also pleased that the Alaska Marine Highway System had received money to provide maintenance on its vessels.
Hannan said that she believed that the public response generated by the governor’s vetoes earlier in the summer, what she called a “hue and cry,” had motivated Dunleavy and certain Legislature to backtrack on their efforts to cut so much from the state budget.
The delegation then opened the floor to questions but there were few actual questions asked.
Many took to the microphone to make comments about how upset they were, to thank their representatives and to urge their fellow residents to action.
One speaker told members of the audience to run for local office, either for the city Assembly or the school board, both of which have elections in the near future, while another urged working with the campaign to recall the governor.
One resident asked what she could do beyond writing letters and emails, something she said she had done multiple times already. She expressed skepticism that writing to legislators from other districts would have any impact.
Hannan suggested that Alaskans continue to contact the governor’s office. More importantly, she said, was to talk to your friends and family throughout the state and urge them to contact their own representatives.
“Don’t attack,” she said, but try and make the story more human and personal. Many of the legislators favoring cuts in social programs say “‘their families can provide early childhood education,’ so you need to show them how these thing affect you or people you know,” she said.
“There’s nothing that moves things inside the Capitol faster,” Kiehl said, “than Alaskans talking outside the capitol.”
Contact reporter Peter Segall at 523-2228 or firstname.lastname@example.org.