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’s new state senator gets committee assignments, including ‘colossal’ task

Jesse Kiehl assigned to three committees as Legislative session begins

Juneau’s new state senator got his committee assignments Tuesday, just after being sworn in.

Sen. Jesse Kiehl, D-Juneau, will sit on the Senate Judiciary, Senate Resources and Senate Transportation standing committees, according to the Senate Committee on Committees report Tuesday. With the House still at a standstill without a majority in place, Juneau’s newly elected members of the House — Democrats Sara Hannan and Andi Story — do not yet have their assignments.

The Senate Judiciary Committee in particular will be high profile this session. Speaking to the Empire after the Senate adjourned for the day Tuesday, Kiehl said all eyes are on the Legislature’s ability to address public safety concerns throughout the state.

“Frankly, it’s a colossal workload this year,” Kiehl said.

[‘Like the first day of school’: Juneau’s freshmen lawmakers gear up for session]

Kiehl said the committee assignments should suit him well and all of them address Southeast issues. The Resources Committee tackles some of the state’s most pressing issues from fishing to mining to timber to oil. Kiehl said he expects fishing issues, the state’s response to climate change and the potential of a gasline in the future tend to be major focuses on the committee.

The Transportation Committee handles issues from railroads to safe routes to school. It also might end up addressing an issue that’s vital to Southeast — the ferry system.

“As far as lawmaking goes in Transportation, any work on the Alaska Marine Highway Management Reform Project will go through there,” Kiehl said. “That’s of interest to Southeast.”

The AMHS (Alaska Marine Highway System) Reform Project is an initiative through Southeast Conference that aims to find a way to make the ferry system more viable long-term. Proponents of the reform project sought to work with the Legislature last session.

Sen. Shelley Hughes, R-Palmer, is the chair of both the Judiciary and Transportation committees. Kiehl said he gets along with her well.

Kiehl will also appear on budget subcommittees, but those have yet to be assigned. Kiehl is on the same number of standing committees (three) as his predecessor, Sen. Dennis Egan, was during last year’s session.

Egan, also a Democrat, was a member of a total of seven senate committees and subcommittees: State Affairs; Transportation; Fish and Game Finance Subcommittee; Select Committee on Legislative Ethics; Administration Finance Subcommittee; Transportation and Public Facilities Finance Subcommittee; and the Senate Conference Committee on Senate Bill 26. SB 26 was a bill to draw from the Permanent Fund to help balance the state’s budget, and it was passed in May 2018.

[New Alaska ferries need $30M in work before entering service]

Kiehl was a staffer for Egan as well as a City and Borough of Juneau Assembly member, and said he feels experienced in the issues both statewide and locally.

“Over the years, (I’ve) worked on all of these issues in some way or other,” Kiehl said. “With new members, there’s always a new take, there’s always a new proposal, so you work on the issues fresh.”

To start the day, Kiehl and the other incoming senators were sworn in on the Senate floor. Kiehl’s parents, wife and one of his two daughters were in attendance to see him take his oath.

“The ceremony the first day is important,” Kiehl said. “It really is. It drives home that we now hold a constitutional office. We were always going to take it seriously, but this is a part of that process. So now I’m back to work.”


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


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