March 3, 2022

The legislature is quickly approaching the halfway point of the 90-day session as the House Finance Committee takes public testimony on the operating budget.

Meanwhile, several bills of interest are moving through the process.

SJR 12, Social Security Benefit Reduction Repeal, moved out of Senate Finance and is in the Rules Committee to be scheduled for a floor vote. Sponsored by Senator Bill Wielechowski (D-Anch), the measure urges the U.S. Congress to repeal the Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP) and the Government Pension Offset (GPO). Enacted by the Social Security Administration in 1983, the WEP reduces Social Security benefit payments to beneficiaries whose work histories in both the private and public sectors. Depending on the years of earnings, the WEP could reduce benefits by almost $6,000 annually.

FNSB Assembly-member and RPEA member David Guttenberg testified in favor of SJR 12, citing his experience with the WEP. “I’m not getting a windfall, I just want to get paid a benefit I’ve already paid into and nothing more … this hits Alaskans pretty hard.”

HSCR 2, Disapproving Executive Order 121, moved out of the House Health and Social Services Committee with Representatives Spohnholz, Fields, Snyder, and Zulkosky signing do pass. Representatives Prax and McCarty signed do not pass. Governor Dunleavy wants to split the Department of Health and Social Services into the Department of Health and the Department of Family and Community Services with the Pioneer Homes in one department and Senior Benefits and the Commission on Aging in the other. Representative Tiffany Zulkosky (D-Bethel) outlined her concerns with union members noting the wide range of programs and special services to vulnerable Alaskans including children and the elderly. The separation will cost more than $2 million in personnel costs at a time when downward pressure on the budget has cut services in OCS, Public Health, Behavior Health and other divisions. Many front line positions were cut over the last few years while current positions remain vacant due to recruitment and retention problems. For union members, the heavy workload is problematic and they fear the split may lead to privatization.

HSCR 2 was transmitted to the Senate. The process to block the Governor’s Executive Order involves taking up the concurrent resolution in a Joint Session within the next week.

HB 308 will establish a new program focused on dementia awareness including specific ways to involve community engagement, develop educational materials, increase public awareness, and provide a list of providers who provide dementia services. Sponsored by Representative Louise Stutes (R-Kodiak), HB 308 moved out of the House HSS Committee and is now in House Finance.

For the most up to date information on hearings and the floor calendars, go to akleg.gov.