OPINION: Bipartisanship produces results

This was one of the most productive Alaska legislative sessions in years. We passed legislation to fight crime, encourage more domestic energy production, improve public education, address workforce challenges, and make our health care system more efficient. We appreciate the collaboration of business and community leaders who worked together with the legislature to achieve these goals.

Fighting crime: We passed omnibus legislation to create stronger penalties for drug dealers, particularly fentanyl dealers whose drugs are killing far too many Alaskans. This bill also strengthens penalties for criminals who violate conditions of parole, and closes a huge “involuntary commitment” loophole that had resulted in tragic assaults and a murder in Anchorage. The Senate also passed critical legislation to fix Alaska’s worst-in-the-nation retirement system for police and other public employees, but unfortunately, this legislation died in the House. We will have more work to do next year supporting police, prosecutors and strengthening our behavioral health care system.

Expanding energy production: The Legislature and governor’s administration worked closely to pass legislation to eliminate unnecessary charges for electric transmission, deploy more locally-produced clean energy, and expand access to natural gas. Together, these bills will enable our utilities to build out more affordable energy produced in Alaska rather than becoming dependent on expensive imported LNG. Working with the oil and gas industry, we also passed carbon sequestration legislation that will enhance competitiveness of Alaska producers while reducing carbon emissions.

Improving public schools: We restored much of the funding that had been cut from public schools over the last decade, and passed bipartisan legislation to support retired teachers who are able to come back to work and fill critical positions in schools. We also passed board-certified teacher incentives to encourage teachers to reach the highest possible levels of training. We updated correspondence school statutes to ensure home school families have stability and predictability going into next year.

Addressing workforce challenges: Over the past few years, far too many families have struggled to find child care as businesses have struggled to fill positions. We worked with the Alaska Chamber of Commerce and many child care providers to pass bipartisan legislation to stabilize and strengthen our child care system. We also updated and expanded the Technical and Vocational Education Training (TVEP) program to help more Alaskans be ready to enter highly-skilled jobs. We’ll have more work to do addressing workforce challenges, but with this year’s budget and legislation we’ve done more to address the workforce crisis than any Legislature in years.

Improving health care: We worked with the governor’s office to pass legislation addressing root causes of higher health care costs in the Medicaid program, and the governor’s Medicaid in schools legislation which will drive down costs and help school districts meet mental health needs. We also passed bipartisan legislation to eliminate costs to access mammograms, which will help up to 1,500 Alaskans per year receive essential screenings for breast cancer.

These results were only possible because of bipartisan teamwork and collaboration with the administration and community organizations. Every election cycle, Alaskans have a choice. Do we want elected officials who work together and get things done, or partisans who just want to fight and grab headlines? After a decade of budgetary challenges and out-migration of working age families, we can’t afford partisanship and dysfunction. Let’s keep working together to deliver common-sense policies that improve public safety, encourage economic growth, and make Alaska the kind of place where our kids want to stay and raise families just like we did.


Sen. Kelly Merrick (R-Chugiak/Eagle River) is a member of the Senate Finance Committee in the Alaska Legislature.

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