Legislature tackles board of fisheries appointments
Alaska lawmakers have about one-third of the regular legislative session left to finish their work, and the to-do list does not appear to be getting any shorter.
The agenda for the final 30 days includes confirmation of board appointments, consideration of dozens of bills, and finalizing capital and operating budgets.
The governor is tasked with making dozens of appointments that then go to the Legislature for confirmation, and lawmakers are working through the confirmation process.
March 13, the Senate Resources Committee held a hearing on the three candidates for the state Board of Fisheries.
Gov. Bill Walker reappointed Petersburg's John Jensen and Reed Morisky of Fairbanks to each serve another consecutive term on the board, and also appointed Dillingham drift fisherman Fritz Johnson who served previously but has been off the board since last summer.
Cook Inlet fisheries issues were at the forefront of that March 13 hearing for all three nominees and much of the public testimony, although Johnson was also asked about a previous fishing violation and garnered significant support. In Dillingham, eight people turned out to listen to the hearing at the Legislative Information Office, and seven testified in support of Johnson.
Curt Armstrong, a Dillingham resident and commercial fisherman, told the committee that all three board members being considered were helpful when he took an issue to the board in December 2015, and that he supported their confirmations.
Johnson also received support from those testifying elsewhere in the state, and most of the testimony statewide was supportive of all three appointees.
Board of Fisheries member Sue Jeffrey told the committee that she has served with all three nominees, and wanted to see them serve again.
"Our fisheries are vast and complex, and confirming all three... is especially important," she said.
Boards and budgets aren't the only issues currently being discussed.
The effort to increase the maximum value for commercial fishing loans made by the state's Department of Commerce, Community and Economic Development is also working its way through the legislative process. The House version of that bill passed out of the fisheries committee and is now up for discussion in the House Finance Committee. The Senate version is being considered in the Senate Labor and Commerce Committee, which is scheduled to hold a hearing and take public testimony at 1:30 p.m. March 16.
On March 6, Gov. Bill Walker also added a little more to the agenda when he introduced a set of bill meant to help stem the tide of opioid overdoses in the state. The legislation would allow patients to turn down opioids while in medical care, require medical providers to take continuing education in pain management and opioid addition, and require more frequent updates to the prescription drug database, among other items.
House Bill 159 and Senate Bill 79 addresses prescriptions and the database, while another piece of legislation focuses on a disaster declaration. That comes after the state last month issued a disaster declaration last month that is meant to help Alaska access additional funds for care, treatment and prevention. House Bill 174 and Senate Bill 91 would extend the disaster declaration. Public testimony on the House version of that bill is scheduled to be taken March 16 at 3 p.m.
Dillingham residents have a few other opportunities to weigh in to the Legislature. On March 16, the Senate Finance Committee will take testimony at 5 p.m. from the Dillingham Legislative Information Office on the state operating budget and mental health budget.
And on March 18, area residents can meet with Rep. Bryce Edgmon at the Dillingham LIO at 2 p.m.
Lawmakers have already passed about a dozen bills and resolutions so far this session.
Just a few have passed both the House and Senate, including resolutions regarding state wildlife management authority and black history month, and the bill naming the state ferries.
Among those that have passed in one body is Edgmon's bill regarding protection orders from tribal courts and other states, which would change how the state handles foreign protective orders, including those issued by Tribal courts. That is expected to make it easier to get protective orders issued by Tribal courts enforced by the state and brings Alaska law into compliance with the federal Violence Against Women Act.
The House passed that in a 38-2 vote on March 6. Before it becomes law, it must also get approval from the state Senate. It's first Senate hearing is scheduled for March 16 in the Senate Community and Regional Affairs committee.
Molly Dischner can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.