Leg With Louie: COVID-19 Legislative Response update

By the time you receive this email, the Alaska State Legislature may be in recess, allowing them to leave Juneau and practice effective social distancing, which is not possible during floor sessions and hallway discussions. We should commend their efforts to date. A series of important bills have proceeded in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and its mounting impacts on the economic health, life, and safety of Alaskans. In combination with a federal relief package that authorizes over a billion dollars in aid for Alaska, the state operating budget and supplemental budget being negotiated today contain $100 million in COVID-19 response funds to Alaska.

House Minority Republicans blocked over $100 million in funds in the FY 19 supplemental budget designated to cover unanticipated 2019 costs from the wildfire season, Medicaid, and additional monies added for COVID-19 aid. They did so by withholding the necessary ¾ vote to access the Constitutional Budget Reserve, a strange move considering the urgent need for funding in this public health emergency that is mangling our economy. The Governor will now have to cut the already slim state government by $100 million to cover the shortfall.

Legislation has moved quickly in the past couple of days.

SB 241 - the comprehensive COVID-19 emergency response package passed the Senate, and the House, and is now back in the Senate for final review and a vote on concurrence with the changes made in the House. This bill puts requirements on state agency functions during the public health emergency. You can read the full list here. One significant provision of this bill is a direction to the Division of Elections to hold upcoming Primary and any Special election votes by mail.

SB 242 is an act that extends deadlines for actions by state agencies. It modifies income determinations for specific public assistance programs and pauses action against borrowers who owe money on state loans. SB 242 establishes a temporary moratorium on certain mortgage foreclosures, certain evictions from rental properties, and disconnection of residential utilities. SB 242 is in the Senate Finance Committee. Some provisions of this bill are contained in two bills under consideration in the House - HB 310, which is in the House Labor and Commerce Committee. HB 310 and SB 242 will likely be reconciled into a single consumer protection package.

HB 308 is legislation by the House Labor and Commerce Committee that waives the standard one-week waiting requirement to begin receiving Unemployment Insurance benefits and increases the weekly per-dependent benefit from $25 to $75. This would provide some relief for families who have lost childcare and income simultaneously. This critical bill flew through the legislative process and was signed into law on March 23.

In addition to supporting these policy efforts, The Alaska Center, working in partnership with the Alaska Public Interest Research Group (AKPIRG), Native Peoples Action and the Fairbanks Climate Action Coalition and the Northern Alaska Environmental Center, developed a list of critical public health and safety policy requests. We sent this list to the House Speaker and President of the State Senate today. You can review the full letter here.

The actions of the House Minority aside, the traditional end of session whirlwind with its many moving parts and dealmaking and delays is gone, consolidated to an effort to protect Alaskans, pass a budget, and get out of dodge. Let’s wish our legislators luck and safety, and thank them for their work.

We will keep you updated,

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