The always changing moods of Juneau

Greetings from Juneau - It was calm and clear when we arrived by night, sunny the next morning, then a front moved in the next day with wind and light snow that swept off the eves in great somber flags. By evening this had turned to rain, and the snow removal equipment was busy moving sloppy snow around the streets. Two-wheel drive cars performed their usual icecapade dances down the steep streets near the capitol, veering, sliding, and spinning out.  

The talk in the capital this week was at first on education funding, and then the Senate Majority released their plan to bring back a defined benefit pension program for new and existing state workers. There was a rally for gun safety legislation on the capitol steps. No gun safety legislation has been filed, and few legislators want to make it an issue this year, though a red flag law bill was introduced last year. Education funding and the pension plan will remain the foundation of discussion and negotiation throughout the session and likely into next year. The new House Republican Majority - with many members holding gavels for the first time in their legislative careers - has been likened to a group of people out on the open ocean building a ship as they go along, much less supplying it with provisions or charting a course.  

By the numbers - with moderate Bush Caucus Democrats and Independents and a moderate Republican or two in the House Majority combined with the House Democratic minority and the Bi-partisan Super Majority in the Senate, the votes are there to pass some form of pension reform and provide a much-needed boost to our education system’s funding. The committee chairmanship in the House is what greatly complicates the equation. The chairs of the House Education, House State Affairs, and other key standing committees wield power to stop these efforts in their tracks, consigning them to the graveyard of bills or holding them as a ransom for whatever far-right policy is on the caucus wish list. That there is a huge problem because the House Majority has not articulated a vision or a policy platform of any coherency, so it is hard to tell what end-of-session horse-trading might look like.  

We are here mainly to talk about our democracy platform - opposition to the repeal of Ranked Choice Voting (RCV) and support for broad omnibus elections bills that include ballot curing and postage paid by mail envelopes. We have met with numerous Senators, Representatives, Staffers, Communications folks, Lobbyists, and Passers-By and have not heard from anyone that the bills seeking to repeal RCV stand a chance. We expect some traction this year on SB 19, elections legislation sponsored by Senator Kawasaki. We bet that SB 19 will pass this year from the Senate to the House. In the House, the bill has to go through the House State Affairs and the House Judiciary committees and Judiciary is chaired by Rep. Vance, who is an election denier, sponsor of an RCV repeal bill, and generally not a lawmaker you want within a hundred yards of any election policy discussion.

We also circled back from our previous visit with lawmakers regarding our clean energy priorities, including a Renewable Portfolio Standard, a state Green Bank, the extension of the Renewable Energy Fund, and legislation to grow Community Solar installations (or Gardens, as we prefer to call them) in Alaska. Good News Flash! We expect a Community Solar bill to be introduced very, very, very soon, and the House and Senate bills to extend the Renewable Energy fund are hurrying through the process like formula one race cars. Both are idling now in their respective Finance committees, the last pit-stop until passage.

We will update you next week when the vibe and the weather have changed a hundred times over. 

As always,
The Alaska Center

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