Sen. Jesse Kiehl, D-Juneau, receives a kiss from his daughter, Adara, before Kiehl is sworn in on the first day of the 31st Session of the Alaska Legislature on Tuesday, Jan. 15, 2019. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

Sen. Jesse Kiehl, D-Juneau, receives a kiss from his daughter, Adara, before Kiehl is sworn in on the first day of the 31st Session of the Alaska Legislature on Tuesday, Jan. 15, 2019. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

Juneau senator proposes first legislation

Bill aims to help state hire, retain public employees

For the first time this session, a Juneau lawmaker introduced legislation on Friday.

Sen. Jesse Kiehl, D-Juneau, proposed Senate Bill 46, which aims to help teachers, Alaska State Troopers, firefighters and other public employees get a chance to earn a pension. The bill shares the risk of rising health care costs between workers and employers, and past analysis of similar bills show that it could save the state about $70 million over 10 years, according to a press release from the Senate Democrats.

“Alaska teachers and public employees don’t earn the private sector’s defined benefit of Social Security,” Kiehl said in a release. “A lot of folks even lose Social Security benefits they earned in past jobs, making public service less attractive in Alaska. We need to recruit and retain the highest quality Troopers, firefighters, teachers and other public employees. This bill will make Alaska competitive, and it’s fiscally prudent, especially in a time where we’re looking for government efficiencies.”

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

In recent years, public safety officials in Alaska have said it’s difficult for Alaska agencies to compete with those in the Lower 48 because pay and benefits are much better there. Even if they hire people, the employees don’t last long because they can go elsewhere and get into a better financial situation, police and fire chiefs have said to the Empire and other media outlets.

In Juneau, both the Juneau Police Department and Capital City Fire/Rescue have dealt with employee shortages and have had to work with the City and Borough of Juneau Assembly to get more resources. In the past year, for example, the Assembly has funded additional positions at JPD, provided money for a new ambulance crew and approved a bonus system for CCFR paramedics that provides an incentive for paramedics to stay at least five years. Kiehl was a member of the Assembly during that time, and left his seat just last month in order to start his new job with the Senate.

Members of International Association of Fire Fighters Local 4303 attend Monday, Sept. 18, 2017, Assembly meeting to speak to Assembly members about their concern in the number of career firefighters working in Juneau. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire File)

Members of International Association of Fire Fighters Local 4303 attend Monday, Sept. 18, 2017, Assembly meeting to speak to Assembly members about their concern in the number of career firefighters working in Juneau. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire File)

In the release, Kiehl said taxpayers spend around $195,000 to replace a Trooper, $54,000 per firefighter, and an average of $22,000 per teacher.

“Lowering turnover will save the state and the local taxpayer a lot of money,” Kiehl said in the release.

SB 46 was referred to the Senate’s Community & Regional Affairs and Finance committees.

Kiehl is one of three new members to Juneau’s legislative delegation this year. Reps. Sara Hannan and Andi Story, both Democrats, have not filed legislation yet. There’s been very little action in the House thus far, as the body has not yet organized into a majority and minority and has not elected a Speaker of the House.


• Contact reporter Alex McCarthy at 523-2271 or amccarthy@juneauempire.com. Follow him on Twitter at @akmccarthy.


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