Legislature clocks out with early morning adjournment
The Legislature adjourned early Sunday, on day 118 of the regular session and four days short of the constitutional limit.
Barring a special session, lawmakers closed out the thirtieth Legislative session and will leave the Capitol either for good or until a new Legislature arrives in January.
The House and Senate passed a stack of bills, including the state’s operating and capital budgets.
But in the end, the biggest difference remaining between the two chambers came down to $20 million for Medicaid.
Gov. Bill Walker’s administration said it needed a $48 million supplemental appropriation in the capital budget to pay providers through the rest of the fiscal year that ends June 30.
The two sides could only agree upon $28 million. That’s enough money to cover payments through as late as June 10. This means payments between that day and June 30 will be delayed.
Once the new fiscal year begins, payments will resume.
“There are compromises that have to be made,” said House Finance Co-Chair Paul Seaton (R-Homer). “They are difficult compromises. We didn’t want to create that hole.”
This would be the second straight fiscal year the Legislature short funds Medicaid. Seaton cited a $98 million hold for the current fiscal year. The $28 million reflects the second supplemental to help close that gap,
Senate Majority Leader Peter Micciche (R-Soldotna) says no one in the Senate is trying to deprive Medicaid recipients of care, but he says the state needs to manage the program better.
“We are going to cover the costs that need to be covered, but we have sent a message to the department that overutilization is an issue,” Micciche said. “When you start cutting those who are disabled first to expand services for healthy adults it’s time to re-evaluate your priorities.“
Walker called the final funding sum, “unfortunate”.
“It’s not a big of a gap as we had in prior years," Walker said. The problem is it’s going to fall on the backs of the providers. Some of the smaller providers will have a tough time. They are going to have to wait longer for their payment. I know this is a world of compromise.”
The final day began Saturday afternoon and pushed through into the early hours Sunday morning.
Underscored by delays, Senate President Pete Kelly removed the guesswork out of any projections not long after the Senate gaveled in early Saturday afternoon.
He revealed Saturday would be the last day of the session.
From there, the race was on. Some lawmakers began changing flights from Monday to Sunday. Others were simply content to know there was an identifiable end and kept their reservations.
Before leaving, however, there were several bills other than the budgets that crossed the finish line:
- Micciche’s workplace smoking ban bill (SB 63) got the House’s overwhelming support being stuck in the House Rules Committee for over one year. It brings an end to Micciche’s four-year effort to produce this change.
- Another years-long effort came to fruition, this time for House Rep. Les Gara (D-Anchorage). HB 151 creates workload standards for foster care caseworkers.
- A bill (SB 78) by Sen. Click Bishop (R-Fairbanks) enabling Alaskans to donate a portion of their Permanent Fund Dividend was successfully rolled into another education funding bill.
- Legislation (HB 260) by House Rep. Dan Saddler (R-Eagle River) that allows Alaskans to produce a fishing, hunting or trapping license on a smartphone as well as the traditional paper copy.
- House Rep. Dan Ortiz (I-Ketchikan) got his commercial fishing loan bill approved. It increases the amount fisherman can borrow from a state loan fun from $300,000 to $400,0000.
Lawmakers also pushed through some of Walker’s priorities during the home stretch.
On Friday, a sweeping crime bill that significantly alters the state’s current pretrial system. The bill (HB 312) affords judges have an option to consider out-of-state criminal records at bail hearings.
Later that day, they put the final votes on Walker’s proposal (HB 331) to pay off nearly $1 billion in tax credits owed to the oil industry. The Legislature approved of his plan to sell bonds to get them off the books rather than pay a staggered annual minimum.
“There was a lot done this session," Walker said. “There really was. They got a lot done. They really did. The one thing you have to learn to appreciate here is you don’t get everything you want when you want it.“
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