By James Brooks
Alaska Beacon 

Legislature starts process to reject governor's change to ferry advisory panel


February 21, 2024

The Alaska Senate has taken the first formal steps needed to reject some or all of the 12 executive orders Gov. Mike Dunleavy issued at the start of this year’s legislative session, including the order that would take away the Legislature’s authority to name four members of the state ferry system advisory board.

Lawmakers in the Senate introduced 12 resolutions of disapproval on Feb. 12, and hours later the Senate Labor and Commerce Committee approved three of them. Those three resolutions would preserve the boards that govern massage therapists, barbers and hairdressers, and midwives. The nine other resolutions have been referred to other committees.

The Senate Transportation Committee has scheduled two hearings for this week — Tuesday. Feb. 20, and Thursday, Feb. 22 — on the executive order that would give the governor the sole appointing authority for all nine members of the Alaska Marine Highway Operations Board. The Legislature created the advisory panel in 2021 to help guide the beleaguered ferry system.

The governor proposed dissolving some state boards and changing some agency rules in order to improve efficiency, his office said. Since the initial proposal, people affected by the changes have been urging legislators to reject many of the ideas.

On their own, introducing the resolutions of disapproval doesn’t stop the governor’s proposed actions — doing so requires a vote in a joint session of House and Senate before mid-March — but Senate President Gary Stevens, of Kodiak, said the resolutions and committee hearings are intended to get ready for what he now sees as an inevitable legislative vote on the governor’s actions.

“My goal is to make sure each and every one gets heard,” he said, “subject to an up or down vote.”

He suggested that there’s tentative agreement between the House and Senate to call a joint session, but House Rules Committee Chair Craig Johnson, of Anchorage, said that “agreement might be a strong term.”

Speaker of the House Cathy Tilton, R-Wasilla, said the House majority caucus hasn’t come to any decisions on supporting a joint session, but “I believe that at this particular time … that there are some concerns with a few of (the executive orders). … The midwifery board seems to be one that brings people together with concern.”

Alaska has only about 40 licensed direct-entry midwives — childbirth experts who aren’t nurses or doctors — but they delivered about 6% of Alaska’s births in 2022, according to the state’s annual statistical report.

The governor’s proposal calls for dissolving the board governing those midwives, and turning over the board’s responsibility to staff at the Department of Commerce, Community and Economic Development.

That’s drawn alarm from licensees and others who deal with childbirth in the state; they’ve testified against the proposal during legislative hearings.

The Alaska Beacon is an independent, donor-funded news organization.


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