Rep. Justin Ruffridge, R-Soldotna, speaks Monday, May 8, 2023, on the floor of the Alaska House. (Photo by James Brooks/Alaska Beacon)

Rep. Justin Ruffridge, R-Soldotna, speaks Monday, May 8, 2023, on the floor of the Alaska House. (Photo by James Brooks/Alaska Beacon)

Rep. Justin Ruffridge: Time is growing short

Capitol Corner: Legislators report back from Juneau

This week the education omnibus bill (SB 140) passed both bodies of the legislature and was transmitted to the Governor. Teacher bonuses and provisions for charter schools are areas of interest still to be discussed and resolved. I welcome further debate on education, as it demonstrates that we are at a critical and pivotal stage in our state regarding education. I continue to advocate for our school district and our students. I have heard clearly and repeatedly that education funding is necessary due to rising costs and inflationary pressures.

Education is not the only important issue that must be addressed this session. We must make measurable progress on the energy crisis affecting southcentral. Currently the topic of education is driving many conversations and taking a substantial amount of time and effort to resolve. We must transition the legislative focus to energy before time runs out this session. Time is growing short this session and we must make progress and identify solutions that, in some cases, may take several years to implement. I believe we have the knowledge and technical experts in place to resolve this crisis. We must take decisive and deliberate action now.

I am proud to share the House passed HB 148 by a vote of 39-0 on Monday. HB 148 is a House Education bill that makes improvements to the Alaska Performance Scholarship program. HB 148 has been transmitted to the Senate, and the next stop for this bill is the Senate Finance Committee. Keeping students in-state for their postsecondary education will help address our workforce needs for years to come.

HB 371 was introduced in the House Health and Social Services Committee this week. I collaborated with the Department of Health on this legislation to enhance the mortality and morbidity review committee process. HB 371 will give review committees greater flexibility by enabling experts such as state troopers or midwives to sit on these boards and provide input on current health trends or issues. The ultimate goal of these review committees is to investigate ways to lower death, injury, and illnesses among Alaskans and it is important to have the right people who can provide input.

We have all felt the effects of healthcare prices in recent years. SB 121 (Giesel) and the House companion bill HB226 (Sumner) looks to address the pharmaceutical component of healthcare expenses. SB 121/HB 226 seeks to create more transparency for Pharmacy Benefit Managers (PBM’s) and the cost structure surrounding their operations as the “middleman” between insurance plans and local pharmacies. This legislation is being heard in the House and Senate. I look forward to the debate on this topic and how we can potentially decrease healthcare premiums for our residents and leave more money in their pockets.

You reach me by email at Rep.Justin.Ruffridge@akleg.gov or my office by calling our Juneau office at 907-465-2693.

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