Legislative Update with Senator Gary Stevens - April 13, 2021

Apr 14, 2021

District P Senator Gary Stevens of Kodiak

KBBI’s Kathleen Gustafson met, remotely, with District P Senator Gary Stevens of Kodiak on Tuesday to talk about extending Alaska's Emergency Declaration, about a bill that would allow crab hatcheries to bring back depleted stocks, and the ongoing work on the Senate’s version of the budget.

Bills discussed in the update:
HB 76  Extending the State's Disaster Declaration
SB 72 Civics Education Requirement
S
B 64 Shellfish Hatcheries
S
B102 Balanced Budget Agreement
S
B 36 UAA Accreditation Process

Transcript

KBBI

This must be a very busy day for you. Legislative Ethics all morning,  Health and Social Services in the afternoon and Judiciary in the evening. Have I got that right?

 Senator Stevens
 Special things come up in between times too.  

 KBBI
 House Bill 76. The Senate Disaster Declaration bill was referred to finance on March 29th. 

  Stevens
  Right now, House Bill 76  is extremely important. You know, enormous amounts of money are coming in from the federal government. There's a division in how this should be approached between the House and the Senate. So the House sent House Bill 76 to us, it's now in the Senate Finance. What we're doing right now is taking that House Bill 76 and making a few amendments to it.   I think the House will hopefully accept that. We realized that we have a little more time than we had thought, in terms of SNAP funds. So I think we're in better shape there and we don't have to rush to a decision right now. The big problem for me honestly, is that I want to make sure the Legislature is involved, and how these monies are spent.

 Last year, these funds went under the control of a Senate and House joint committee. And so they made those decisions, but unfortunately the way it works is they only approve what the governor had already spent. So, that's sort of goes around the, really, the constitutional responsibility the legislature has is to make sure that all funds that are spent go through the legislative process, so it's not just controlled by the administration.

 KBBI
  I want to find out about the budget work that you're doing right now.

 Stevens
  We've got a Finance Subcommittee made up of seven members,,  each of the seven members of finance chair a subcommittee like  Education, University, Judiciary. So I'm on the Judiciary and on a couple of others, Education, as well. 

 Judiciary is fairly cut and dried. And I think we'll finalize that budget in the next couple of days and that'll go back then to the Finance Committee. We're not going to make many changes. There are bigger issues in the Education Subcommittee, where we are dealing with K-12.  University Subcommittee is pretty cut and dry it as well.

 So, they will then report back to the Finance Committee itself and then move towards the writing of that final budget. Everyone has a chance to be involved in it. We hear from the departments, we know the impact our decisions will make.

 And then we've got this issue of all of this enormous amounts of money coming in from the federal government. There's just so much going on in this session. We have a closed campus here. You know, the public cannot get in, which is a real shame because you want to hear what the public wants to say. That's why it's so important that people call in on public hearings. You'd be surprised at how quiet this building is and nobody in the hallways and all because of COVID.But, I think we've done a good job of controlling COVID in the building so far.
 
 KBBI
  I want an update on Homer DMV related bills. Is there anything in the Senate? I've been watching progress in the House. Is there something in the Senate I'm not seeing?

 Stevens
 No, the bill will come over if it passes, but I don't think it has a chance, a snowball's chance of passing. We're not going to eliminate the DMV in Homer.  That's just not going to happen.

 KBBI
 Next, let's check progress on the shellfish hatcheries bill m Senate, Bill 64.

 Stevens
 There's been some opposition to that, some concern about...

 KBBI
 Yes, I have a public radio story from KSTK that expresses those concerns.

 Stevens
  And it's valuable to hear those concerns, you know, but Fish and Game biologists, the experts there, are not particularly concerned about it because we're using the wild stock in the hatchery. It's just the danger, as I understand it, is the pollack,  particularly lthe really tiny baby king crab. So the idea is to get them a little bit larger so that they're not going to be a wolfed up by the Pollock and can actually grow in the wild.

  KBBI
  That's still has committees to get through. It's not near the floor yet. Is it?


 Stevens
  No, it has a long ways to go. And I would not be surprised if it doesn't pass until later.

 KBBI
 Splitting the DHSS (Alaska Department of Health and Social Services) is that still going to happen or is that not going to happen now? 

 Stevens
 You know, there's been a lot of pushback on that. I don't think it's going to happen this year.We'll get more information on it. If it happens, it'll happen next year.

  KBBI
   What about, you wouldn't have seen it yet. I guess, a balanced budget agreement. Senate Bill 102. Do you support it? And what's the purpose of having a balanced budget agreement instead of just going forward with the budget?

 Stevens
 That's a very good question that I've always had. You know, it forces us into the situation that  we might find very difficult. This year, we've got a lot of money coming in from the fed. Some years we have hardly any. Some years, we have a lot of money coming in from oil.Sometimes we have very little so, you know, I hate to see us forced into a situation that would be a very difficult in some years.
 
 KBBI
 Your university land grant bill passed an actual floor vote, didn't it?

  Stevens
 Yes, that passed the Senate. It's over in the House. Now that should be placed on the house floor pretty soon. What it does is give the support to the federal, Congressmen and  women, so that they can do their best to try to get those lands appropriated to the university.
 And of course realize that those are lands  that are involved in the total state.  You know, since statehood we had a lot of lands were supposed to be transferred to us that never happened. So you need to understand that this does not, um... it reduces what would go, what's left for the rest of the State, but, it doesn't,  it doesn't take anything really away from the State.  It would be lands that the State should probably give to the university eventually, anyway.

 KBBI
 And the bill that we talked about last time, Senate Bill 32 - college credit for high school students also passed the Senate.

 Stevens
 It has. That's is now in House Education. We haven't had a chance to present it. We've asked for a hearing there. It's a really good bill and, you know, many schools, including schools in your community, have and are already giving college credit. But we need to make sure that the university is more involved in that and makes it work for every school in the State.

 KBBI
 What's your main concern today?  (Tuesday morning, April 13, 2021)

 Stevens
 We're trying to get a civics bill through the legislature requiring, making sure that the students, when they graduate from high school, know what it means to be a citizen.... 

 KBBI
 Right, I remember. How is that going?

 Stevens
 Well, we ran into a bit of a problem in Community and Regional Affairs.affairs. They want us to change it too drastically. To become a citizen of the United States, you have to take that test or a portion of it. And I think it's reasonable to ask a high school students to take the test and know what it means to be a citizen. I don't care how many times you take it because every time you're learning something and that's the point, isn't it?
  KBBI
 Is there anything else that you'd like to add? 

 Stevens
  Well,  just one other thing, that university accreditation reporting. That's the Senate B ill 36. That's going well so far. It's in House Education and it's simply requiring the university to bring the legislature into the process of accreditation.  You know, we lost accreditation, the university did, for its teacher training program in Anchorage. It was terrible for the university, terrible for the State, terrible for teachers, you know. So, this is simply requiring, the university board of regents to pay attention. They certainly will and always have. But still, they did miss the point about accreditation for that UAA School of Education. So, we want to make sure that we're brought into the process. The regents control it, but I want to make sure that they report to us on a regular basis, on how our accreditation is going. And,  if anything else is in jeopardy in the university.

 KBBI
 I will link that bill as well.

 Stevens
 Yeah, great talking to you, Kathleen.
 KBBI
 Thanks, bye.
 Stevens
 Thanks so much.