RPEA Legislative Report - January 27, 2023

The thirty-third legislative session is underway with the state senate taking the lead in getting organized and establishing priorities. One of the senate’s top concerns is that of worker shortages in all spectrums of employment, especially within state service. According to the Office of Budget and Management (OMB), nearly 18% of jobs are unfilled including Corrections and Public Safety, but most notably with the Departments of Health, Resources, and Labor. The administration reported that recruitments are taking much longer and are less likely to result in a hiring. Attempts to use various incentives have had mixed results. The Alaska Council of School Administrators (ACSA) reports a similar uptick in vacancies among educators. There are several theories behind the problem including the out-migration of younger residents, limited affordable housing, general budget uncertainty, and the lack of a pension.

During the Senate Majority’s first press availability, leadership spoke on the need to address chronic recruitment and retention issues including restoring some form of a defined benefit retirement program. There are currently two key pieces of legislation addressing this problem.

First, SB 11 would allow all public employees and educators the option of choosing between the current PERS Tier IV-TRS Tier III Defined Contribution Retirement Plan (similar to a 401-k) or a new tier with a Defined Benefit Plan. Assigned to Senate Labor and Commerce then Finance, SB 11 is sponsored by Senator Jesse Kiehl (D-Juneau) who has immersed himself in this issue since the Defined Benefit Plan was repealed in 2005. Kiehl has a seat on the Senate Finance Committee.

Second, HB 22 would provide PERS Tier V Defined Benefits for police, fire, and correctional officers. Last year, a similar measure passed the House before being stalled in Senate Finance towards the end of the session. This bill is again sponsored by Representative Andy Josephson (D-Anchorage) and had it’s first hearing in House Community and Regional Affairs, chaired by Representative CJ McCormick (D-Bethel). The companion bill is SB 35.

If HB 22 is passed out of committee, it has a ways to go. The Speaker of the House, Representative Cathy Tilton, assigned it to State Affairs, Labor and Commerce, and, finally, the Finance Committee.

Upcoming Hearings of Interest:

Monday, January 30

Senate Finance will take up SB 40 Operating Budget with Legislative Finance Director Alexi Painter

Senate Education will hear a presentation from Sandy Thompson, President of APEA/AFT (RPEA is a chapter!)

Tuesday, January 31

House Community and Regional Affairs Committee: Public Testimony on HB 22 Defined Benefits Police/Fire

Senate Community and Regional Affairs will hear from the Alaska Municipal League with Nils Andreesen

Wednesday, February 1

AARP will give a presentation entitled “Impact, Needs, and Services for Seniors” beginning at noon

House Ways and Means will meet to review the 2021 recommendations from the Fiscal Working Group

Thursday, February 2

House Community and Regional Affairs will again take up HB 22

For a complete list of upcoming committee hearings, go to akleg.gov. You can also watch the proceeding by going to https://www.ktoo.org/gavel/schedule/ or by checking your local television stations.