Senators discuss amendments to a COVID-19 emergency funding bill on the floor of the Senate on Tuesday, March 24, 2020. (Peter Segall | Juneau Empire)

Senators discuss amendments to a COVID-19 emergency funding bill on the floor of the Senate on Tuesday, March 24, 2020. (Peter Segall | Juneau Empire)

Bills are passed, but stalled as final details hammered out

Bills are passed, but stalled as final details hammered out

The Senate unanimously passed an emergency funding bill Tuesday, but that vote was set to be heard again Wednesday as one senator said he wants to reconsider his vote.

Sen Tom Begich, D-Anchorage, said in closing comments he was inclined not to vote for the bill as he felt it did not do enough to protect the integrity of the upcoming elections scheduled during a time of restricted movement. During the debate on the bill, Begich proposed several amendments that he said would strengthen Alaskans’ ability to vote in elections scheduled for this year.

Anchorage has municipal elections scheduled for April 7, and Begich’s amendments were aimed at making it easier for people to vote under the city’s “hunker down” mandate.

Votes for Begich’s amendments broke mostly along party lines, with Democratic senators voting with Begich and Republicans voting against. Sen. John Coghill, R-North Pole, said he didn’t fully disagree with Begich’s intent, but the Division of Elections was already taking steps to accomplish many of the things the Anchorage senator had suggested, such as working to recruit a younger workforce for polling places.

Juneau asked to hunker down as second case confirmed

Several amendments were added to the emergency funding bill, including a cost-of-living adjustment for teacher and public employee retirement programs, prohibiting the increase in licensing fees for medical professionals and allowing the chief medical officer to set special sanitation standards during the emergency declaration for certain retailers.

According to the Legislature’s uniform rules, a reconsideration vote must take place on the next legislative day and expires at the end of that day unless extended by a simple majority vote.

Also on Tuesday, the Senate passed a bill sponsored by Rep. Zack Fields, D-Anchorage, which reversed rate increases at the Pioneer Homes enacted last year and extended the moratorium on issuing new school construction bonds another five years.

On Monday the Senate passed an operating budget bill for FY21 and included in it a $1,000 relief check to be paid out in the coming weeks. Sens. Bert Stedman, R-Sitka, Natasha Von Imhof, R-Anchorage and Cathy Giessel, R-Anchorage, opposed that addition.

A vote to rescind that amendment failed Tuesday, but the bill was sent to a special joint Conference Committee which will negotiate the final version of the bill. Sens. Stedman, Von Imhof and Donny Olson, D-Golovin, will represent the Senate.

Reps. Jennifer Johnston, R-Anchorage; Neal Foster, D-Nome; and Cathy Tilton, R-Wasilla; will represent the House.

Meetings for the committee have not yet been scheduled.

The House still hasn’t passed the supplemental budget for FY20 which contains funding for COVID-19 response and language for the reverse sweep. A vote to reverse the sweep requires three-quarters of both bodies and some House Republican minority members are reluctant to vote on what is easily the state’s largest supplemental budget of more than $600 million.

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