Alaska House approves stopgap ferry, Medicaid funding bill

House Bill 321 keeps services running until ordinary budget passes Legislature

Rep. Paul Seaton, R-Homer, speaks about House Bill 321 on Monday, March 12, 2018 on the floor of the Alaska House of Representatives. (James Brooks | Juneau Empire)

The Alaska House of Representatives has passed a stopgap funding bill to keep the Alaska Marine Highway and state Medicaid program operating.

 

In a 32-7 vote, the House approved House Bill 321, which moves to the Senate for consideration. HB 321 includes $24 million for the Alaska Marine Highway and $45 million for Medicaid. That money (and other appropriations within HB 321) will be used to keep state programs operating until the Legislature passes the ordinary state supplemental and operating budgets.

Lawmakers considered five amendments before voting on the final bill, but they accepted only two. One of the rejected amendments, offered by Rep. Lance Pruitt, R-Anchorage, would have reversed a move made last year by the Legislature to transfer $21.285 million from the Juneau Access road project.

The amendment failed 19-20, and the money stayed transferred. Gov. Bill Walker has already said he will not proceed with the project, and the amendment was opposed by Rep. Sam Kito III, D-Juneau; and Rep. Justin Parish, D-Juneau.

The accepted amendments added the $45 million for Medicaid and cut $2.5 million requested by the Alaska Department of Corrections. Rep. Paul Seaton, R-Homer, said both agreements had been previously coordinated with the chairs of the Senate Finance Committee, thus keeping the bill on track.

“I want to thank the body for keeping this bill so it can remain fast-tracked,” Seaton said.

Roadhouses get a break

The House voted 39-0 to create a grandfather clause for 34 businesses on the wrong side of a 1985 law that sets standards for so-called “tourism dispensary licenses.” Under state law, those licenses must have a number of hotel/motel rooms determined by the area’s population. Rep. Adam Wool, R-Fairbanks, said it is unfair for longtime established businesses to meet a standard determined by the community that has grown up around the business.

House Bill 301, creating the grandfather law, advances to the Senate for consideration.

Workers compensation rules updated

The House also voted 25-14 to approve House Bill 79, a measure from Gov. Bill Walker to update the state’s rules governing workers’ compensation claims.

“The bill does primarily concern process,” said Rep. Andy Josephson, D-Anchorage.

The 20-page bill covers, among other things, electronic filing of claims, and more clearly defines who is an independent contractor and who is an employee under Alaska law.

HB 79 goes to the Senate for consideration.


• Contact reporter James Brooks at jbrooks@juneauempire.com or 523-2258.


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