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4th Special Session of 30th Alaska State Legislature

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Alaska State Legislature, House District 31

From the Desk of Representative Seaton:

October 30, 2017
 
Greetings from Juneau on this the 7th day of the 4th special session.  The governor called the legislature to Juneau to consider his revenue proposal of a 1.5% payroll tax and SB 54, which makes adjustments to the 2016 criminal justice reform effort.

The House Finance committee spent the first part of the week on the state’s current deficit and revenue picture.  On Tuesday an updated production and revenue forecast was released.  Though oil production is slightly up from last year, the forecasted price is lower.  This will result in an increased state deficit for this year and next year, beyond what was originally calculated. In addition, Legislative Director David Teal informed the committee that due to the use of one-time funding in this year’s budget that will not be available next year, the general fund portion of the budget will be $300 million higher than this year’s just to maintain the same level of service as last year.  Those who claim that oil will rebound and save the state need to keep in mind just how large a deficit we are facing and the economic reality that experts do not expect oil to climb above $60.  Meanwhile, waiting for that future day when petroleum revenues save us is damaging Alaska’s economy today.

On October 3rd I attended the annual State of Reform healthcare conference.  I joined Emily Ricci, with the Department of Administration, and Jeff Jessee, Dean of the College of Health, on a panel titled "Has the Market Proven Unable to Reform Alaska Healthcare?"  Healthcare is a major driver of the state budget, and as healthcare costs rise faster than inflation it is taking up a larger and larger share of state spending.  State and local government, along with Medicaid, covers 40% of all Alaskans.  As the single largest payer in the state, government has an important role to play in healthcare reform.

On Thursday the administration introduced HB 4001, the governor’s revenue proposal for the special session.  It creates a 1.5% tax that applies only to wages and net earnings from self-employment.  The tax due is capped at twice last year’s dividend or $2,200.  The tax, and the tax cap, would apply equally to residents and non-residents.  It would be the lowest income tax in the nation and would raise an estimated $320 million in new revenues, less than half of what is needed to fill the deficit even with a sustainable draw from the permanent fund earnings reserve, making it an incomplete solution to the problem facing Alaska.

HB 4001 is not my preferred choice for a revenue option because it only taxes some forms of income (wages and self-employment) and doesn’t tax others (capital gains, retirement, investment, unemployment), thus impacting Alaskans unequally.  The cap makes it regressive at the higher end, meaning Alaskans who make over $147,000 would pay a lower tax rate than those that make less.  The amount of revenue it raises will not fill the gap, leaving a structural deficit which means each year the legislature will be fighting over painful cuts to services or spending from our savings.  In comparison, the fiscal plan passed by the House during the regular session taxed all income types equally.  Its progressive brackets helped to balance the highly regressive effect of a reduced dividend, and it was a complete solution because it filled the deficit and balanced future budgets. 

Regardless of the flaws with the governor’s proposal, we must continue to work toward new revenue.  The Alaska we know today will not survive without a stable, broad-based revenue source that connects residents and non-residents to the services that we all use.  If HB 4001 can bring other parties to the table in this discussion, then I am willing to put in the effort to craft it into a workable version.  I expect the finance committee will continue hearing the bill at the end of this week or the next.

Thanks to Kelly Cooper and Dr. Bill Bell for sitting in on the vitamin D booth at the annual Rotary Health Fair since I was stuck in Juneau!

This week the finance committee is focusing on SB 54, Crime and Sentencing.  SB 54 makes adjustments to SB 91, the criminal justice reform effort that passed in 2016.  It is easy to blame the current crime rate on SB 91, but the increase in crime began before SB 91 was passed.  Some of the changes the bill made to lower level non-violent crimes may have exacerbated that rise by making those offenses less likely to be prosecuted due to a perceived ‘diminished return’ of the work needed to bring them to court; however it is those changes that SB 54 will address or reverse.  The real issue is that without adequate funding in the budget for troopers, prosecutors, and the court system, the length of sentences that are on the books will not matter because our public safety agencies do not have the resources to keep up with the workload.  The capacity to prosecute misdemeanors is down 33% or almost 7,000 since 2013. 

The goal of SB 91 was to increase the effectiveness of our public safety dollars by reinvesting them in approaches that have been proven in other states to reduce recidivism (the rate at which prisoners re-offend after they complete their sentence).  Reducing recidivism means reducing the crime rate because those former inmates are not committing new crimes.  One way SB 91 did this was to create better pre-trial tools.  The pre-trial population, people being held before they have been tried or convicted, has increased by 81% over the last 10 years and makes up as much as 47% of the incarcerated population.  Oftentimes these individuals were being held simply because they could not afford bail.  SB 91created a pre-trial assessment tool to determine an individual’s risk of reoffending or failing to appear in court.  Under this new system individuals will be released based on their relative risk and not whether they have enough cash to make bail, and those that are released will be supervised by the newly created Pretrial Services Officers.  Although SB 91 did change or reduce sentences for some smaller non-violent crimes to reduce the amount of exposure first time offenders get to more ‘hardened’ criminals, it also increased sentences for more serious violent crimes such as murder. 

SB 54 adjusts the law by adding back in jail time for repeat offenders of those lower level crimes such as theft and shoplifting, and also addresses a few areas that are considered loopholes or unintended consequences of the previous bill.  There are several resources that can help clarify the sometimes complex topics in SB 91 and SB 54.  The UAA Justice Center created a summary of the Alaska Criminal Justice Commission’s recommendations that formed the heart of SB 91; the Department of Law published this FAQ on SB 54; and both Speaker Edgmon and Representative Gara provide concise newsletter summaries of some of the goals of SB 91, some of the current myths that are out there, and what changes SB 54 makes.  

Last week I had the opportunity to attend a panel discussion on the opioid epidemic and KTVA’s town hall “Addicted in Alaska.”  The rise in opioid addiction and abuse is certainly a contributing factor to the rise in crime our state has experienced over the last few years.  The legislature has worked over the last two sessions to reduce addiction by lowering the amount of prescriptions on the street and requiring doctors to check the database before prescribing opioids, but the opioid epidemic is a complex issue.  One of the main calls of advocates across the state is to increase the number of outpatient treatment facilities and residential beds, but the reality is that those facilities are in short supply in this state and creating enough new ones to meet the need will not be a fast process.  In the meantime, I have been advocating for vitamin D education as a simple and cheap way to help reduce pain and lower the need for opioid use in the first place.  In a case-controlled study released just this year, palliative care patients supplementing with 4,000 IUs daily of vitamin D decreased their use of opioids by 29% while the control group’s use increased by 172%.  What’s more, 18% of the treated patients stopped opioid use completely.  You can see the results and read my summary or the full study below.  There are many other studies which point to vitamin D as a factor in reducing pain and fatigue, but many Alaskans are currently vitamin D deficient.  Although no ‘silver bullet’, I see this as a simple ‘outpatient’ choice that many Alaskans can make to give themselves and their bodies the best possible start at avoiding pain and reducing the risk of opioid dependence. 

A newly released, case-controlled study shows that vitamin D supplementation can help reduce the need for opioids for palliative care patients.  You can read my summary or the full article.

Public Testimony Opportunities

Due to the 24 Hr. Rule being in effect, please contact the Homer or Kenai LIOs noted below for more information.

Public testimony (when scheduled) can be given in person at your LIO or call (907) 465-4648 prior to the meeting for a phone option.  Written Comments are best addressed to the chair of the committee where the bill is being heard.  If you are interested in a public testimony meeting that is not listed above please call the Kenai LIO 283-2030 or Homer LIO 235-7878.  For a full list of all upcoming meetings, please visit the Alaska State Legislature’s webpage at akleg.gov

Following Bills & Committees
 
Access bills and committee schedules through the Legislature’s BASIS home page.  Get automatic alerts when a bill is scheduled for hearing or public testimony by signing up for “Track Bills in BTMF”.  Most committee hearings are broadcast on Gavel-to-Gavel at www.360north or through the Live Now tab on the BASIS home page. 
 
NEW!  "Chat with Legislative Information Staff
Monday-Friday between 8:30am and 4pm you will find a new chat interface in the lower right corner of AKLeg.gov. The LIO staff can help answer questions about finding things on the website, answer questions relating to tracking legislation and help you get in touch with your legislator. Let us know how we can help you!
 
Legislative Information Offices (LIO) – Our Homer and Kenai LIOs are a great resource for tracking bills and participating in hearings.
 
Homer: Amber Corey 235-7878, 270 West Pioneer Avenue
Kenai: Mary Bea Byrne 283-2030, 145 Main St Loop, Suite 217
 
POMs Email is the preferred method of communication for our office.  POMS is currently operational but may experience a delay in reaching our office.  If needed, contact your local LIO office who can email us your comments.

Bits & Pieces

 
Special Announcement: November 27th Deadline for Corbell Settlement Claimants
 
Nikole Nelson, executive director of the Alaska Legal Services Corporation, recently brought an important matter to our attention. A deadline is fast approaching for claimants in the Corbell vs. Salazar Settlement who are on the “Whereabouts Unknown” list to supply information to the claims administrators. Those Alaska Natives on this list, or their heirs, may be eligible for payments under the settlement.
 
Corbell vs. Salazar was a case brought against the federal government for mismanagement of Indian trust funds. It was settled in 2009 with an award of several billion dollars, and claims administrators are in the final weeks of locating claimants for payments.
 
Claims administrators have listed a “Whereabouts Unknown” list of Alaska Native claimants, or their estates, at www.indiantrust.com. You can go there to see if you or someone you know is on the list. At the website, click on the map under “Whereabouts Unknown: Help Locate Your Record” on the right-hand side of the page. For Alaska, the lists are broken down by ANCSA regions.
 
If you or someone you know is on the list, follow the instructions to be connected with claims administrators. If you have any trouble with the process, you can contact any of the Alaska Legal Services offices for help. (You can find ALSC contact information at https://www.alsc-law.org/.)
 
Don’t delay checking out whether you or someone you know is listed as a claimant. There are hundreds of Alaska Natives in all regions of the state listed. The deadline is November 27th, just a few weeks away.
 
NOTICE OF PROPOSED CHANGES IN THE REGULATIONS OF THE ALASKA BOARD OF FISHERIES
 
The Alaska Board of Fisheries proposes to adopt, amend, or repeal regulation changes in Title 5 of the Alaska Administrative Code, dealing with fishery and aquatic plant resources.  Read the proposed changes here.  The first comment deadline is November 17: details on how and when to comment are available here.
 
Peninsula Job Center Calendar and Workshops
The Peninsula Job Center has announced their calendar and workshops for the month of November, including a few class on starting a business.  The job center is located at 11312 Kenai Spur Hwy, Suite 2, Kenai AK 99611.
 

Contact Us

If you would like to speak to me regarding a specific issue, it is helpful to first get in touch with the member of my staff handling related issues. 

Homer: May-December
270 W. Pioneer Ave., Homer AK 99603
907-235-2921 or 1-800-665-2689; Fax: 907-235-4008

Juneau: January-April
State Capitol – 120 4th St., Juneau, AK 99801
New location: Room 505
907-465-2689 or 1-800-665-2689; fax: 907-465-3472

Kenai: 907-283-9170 (will transfer automatically to Homer or Juneau)

Rep. Paul Seaton Rep.Paul.Seaton@akleg.gov
website:  http://akhouse.org/rep_seaton/

Jenny Martin Jenny.Martin@akleg.gov
Constituent issues and questions, General Capital & Operating Budget information,CAPSIS requests, Personal Legislation

Taneeka Hansen Taneeka.Hansen@akleg.gov
Legislation & Sustainable Fiscal Plans in House Finance, Personal Legislation
  
Elizabeth Diament Elizabeth.Diament@akleg.gov
Legislation & Sustainable Fiscal Plans in House Finance, Personal Legislation

Arnold Liebelt Arnold.Liebelt@akleg.gov
Operating Budget, Finance Subcommittees

Rep. Paul Seaton

Thanks for signing up for my newsletter and engaging in the public process. I try every week to keep you abreast of issues and bills discussed at the committee level, where YOU have an opportunity to participate.

 

Newsletter Archives

October 6, 2017 Newsletter
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