Alaska state Senate President Gary Stevens has often said: "Alaskans saw fit to elect 10 Democrats and 10 Republicans to the Alaska state Senate -- that wasn't an accident." In 2007, we worked across party lines to forge the Senate Bipartisan Working Group, and that group still holds strong. Today, I'm proud to report: bipartisanship is working in the Alaska Senate, especially for seniors.
Consider this major legislative success: Sen. Hollis French led the Senate Judiciary Committee to review and improve SB 86, a measure that gives seniors who are being financially exploited a means for immediate legal protection. French's committee improved the Administration's bill with more than seventy-five individual changes hammered out in collaboration with agency staff. That bill passed unanimously out of the Senate and the House, and should be signed into law shortly -- proof in the pudding that bipartisanship can work for Alaska's seniors.
In contrast, members of the Senate Bipartisan Working Group were disheartened when a bill creating a "Silver Alert" for missing elderly adults never came to a vote in the House. This program, sponsored by Senator Bettye Davis, was modeled after the "Amber Alert" for missing children and would have helped reunite disoriented elderly adults with their caregivers. Unfortunately, after passing the Senate unanimously, this important bill died without a vote in the House, a short-sighted action leaving Alaska's seniors less safe.
I know Alaska's seniors also care about their grandchildren's education. I was very proud when the Senate Bipartisan Working Group passed a suite of three pro-education bills: SB 171, a modest but meaningful three-year increase to school funding; SB 182, a bill to help schools with rising transportation fuel costs; and SB 199, an increase to vocational education. But in the waning hours of the session, the House opted for a reduced one-time funding measure—a major disappointment to teachers and parents around the state.
Let's now turn to a couple of this year's budget items.
First, knowing that seniors struggle to find suitable and affordable housing, we appropriated $4 million to Alaska's Pioneer Homes and $4.5 million to Senior Housing Development Grants. Also, recognizing that seniors rely heavily on public transportation, we added $2 million to a statewide public transit fund. We also funded senior center and transportation projects in small communities all around the State including Anchor Point, Cooper Landing, Craig-Klawock, Haines, Hydaburg, Kodiak, Metlakatla and Ninilchik.
With the 27th Legislature now behind us, we know with certainty that bipartisanship works for Alaska's seniors. By working together, we can ensure Alaska's best days are still ahead.
Alaska state Sen. Johnny Ellis, D –Anchorage, serves as Chair of the Senate Rules Committee.
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