JUNEAU — Gov. Bill Walker is suggesting that legislators, many of whom are in a holding pattern while budget talks are underway, take up a handful of bills while in extended session.
In a letter to legislative leaders Wednesday, Walker said that while the Legislature is still in session, it has an excellent opportunity to address Medicaid expansion and reform. Bills aimed at addressing Interior energy needs, child support and school programs on sexual assault awareness and prevention — all in the Senate’s possession and of “critical importance to Alaska’s children and families” — could be addressed quickly, he wrote.
The focus since lawmakers went into overtime Monday has been on trying to reach a budget agreement. Closed-door talks toward that end continued Wednesday.
Walker has indicated he would call a special session on Medicaid if lawmakers don’t address that issue before adjourning. House Speaker Mike Chenault, R-Nikiski, said he did not see it as being part of the package of legislation to be passed before adjournment.
Senate Majority Leader John Coghill, R-North Pole, said he doesn’t think the Interior energy bill, which Walker has called a must-have, is in any danger of not passing. The bill has been on the Senate calendar for days and is one of the last big pieces of legislation in play. Coghill suggested that the Senate holding onto it was more strategic than anything while waiting for the House to finalize the capital projects budget, another major piece of legislation.
The Walker administration has said Alaska faces losing about $19 million in federal child support funding and $45 million in Temporary Assistance for Needy Families funds if it doesn’t bring its child support law into line with an international treaty under which the United States and other nations enforce child support orders for one another. All states are being asked to do this.
Congress required passage of legislation to receive federal child support funding. About two-thirds of Alaska’s Child Support Services Division is federally funded, and states must have federally compliant child-support programs to receive funds for the needy families program, according to the state.
Coghill said the bill is still in play, but there are a lot of questions about it and not a lot of support for it in the Senate because of the apparent heavy-handedness by the federal government.
Coghill said there’s concern that the bill requiring that school districts have age-appropriate information and training programs related to sexual assault awareness and prevention is an unfunded mandate. There is concern, too, he said, about whether districts have the resources to help children who might come forward as victims as a result of the awareness programs.