Session Summary: Legislative Context & Process
Norm Wooten, Director of Advocacy, AASB
During two concurrent presentations, AASB Advocacy Director Norm Wooten provided an overview of progress by the Senate and House in organizing their majorities and committees, as well as a review of key education-related bills that have been pre-filed by both bodies, and their current status within the legislative process.
Organized as an “R” majority caucus with Sen. Lyman Hoffman (D-Bethel) joining the majority.
- President – Sen. Peter Micchichi (R-Soldotna)
- Majority Leader – Sen. Shelley Hughes (R-Palmer)
- Whip – Sen. Mia Costello (R-Anchorage)
- Rules Chair – Sen. Gary Stevens (R-Kodiak)
- Minority Leader – Sen Tom Begich (D-Anchorage)
Majority members – 14
Minority members – 6
It is important to understand that the Senate majority is organized as a non-binding caucus. In a typical binding caucus, all members pledge to vote with the caucus on any substantive issue, primarily the budget. It appears the only way to form the ”R’s” into a majority this session was as a non-binding caucus, which could cause a difficulty in passing a budget. Several Senators ran campaigns on paying Alaskans a “Statutory” PFD. The budget could be “held hostage” over the payment of such a PFD.
The two primary Senate committees that deal with education funding and legislation are Finance and Education.
The Senate Finance Committee consists of the following members:
- Sen. Bert Stedman (R-Sitka) Co-Chair (Operating Budget)
- Sen. Click Bishop (R-Fairbanks) Co-Chair (Capital Budget)
- Sen. Natasha von Imhof (R-Anchorage)
- Sen. Lyman Hoffman (D-Bethel)
- Sen. David Wilson (R-Wasilla)
- Sen. Donny Olson (D-Golovin)
- Sen. Bill Wielechowski (D-Anchorage)
The Senate Education Committee consists of the following members:
- Sen. Roger Holland (R-Anchorage) Chair
- Sen. Gary Stevens (R-Kodiak) Vice-Chair
- Sen. Shelley Hughes (R-Palmer)
- Sen. Peter Micciche (R-Soldotna)
- Sen. Tom Begich (D-Anchorage
House of Representatives Organization
As of Friday, February 7, the House was unorganized with no majority coalition and Rep. Josiah Patkotak (N/A – Barrow) serving as Speaker Pro Tempore.
Two House coalitions have formed, each with 20 members. One side is made up of 20 Republicans and includes all Republicans except Rep. Louise Stutes (R- Kodiak). The other side is made up of 16 Democrats, 3 Non-Affiliateds (Independents), and 1 Republican (Rep. Stutes). This has created a 20 – 20 split, which means all tie votes fail, resulting in a stalemate during which no House business can be conducted.
Without a majority, the House is frozen into inaction. The ramifications of an unorganized House include:
- No pre-filed bills are able to be read across the floor.
- No new bills are able to be introduced and read across the floor.
- Committees are not assigned and so no bill can be assigned or considered – both House bills and Senate bills transmitted to the House.
- The only floor action that can considered is the election for Speaker of the House.
In a surprise move on Thursday, February 11, Rep. Stutes (R-Kodiak) was nominated as Speaker of the Alaska House of Representative and elected by a vote of 21-19. Rep. Kelly Merrick (R-Eagle River) was the “swing vote” for the passage of the nomination allowing for the election of Rep. Stutes as speaker. On Monday, February 15, Speaker Stutes convened the House floor session and appointed a seven member Committee on Committees, which is responsible for nominating members and chairs to fill House committees.