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Alaska Senate approves earthquake aid bill, and House will race to follow suit

Cracks in the walls of the earthquake-damaged home of Leslie Dickson on Thursday, Feb. 28, 2019. (Bill Roth / ADN)

JUNEAU — A fast-track earthquake aid bill has passed the Alaska Senate, and it appears the House of Representatives will race to follow suit.

State officials have warned that the disaster relief fund — which is used to pay emergency housing, grants to individuals and families, state public assistance, and emergency management costs — will run out of money April 1 unless the Legislature acts before then.

The Alaska Senate voted 18-0 on Monday to approve a bill containing $133 million in disaster funding for various state programs, but the Alaska House will not formally receive the bill until Wednesday. Rep. Neal Foster, D-Nome and co-chairman of the House Finance Committee, said it would be difficult for the House to vote on the proposal before April 1.

Rep. Tammie Wilson, R-North Pole and co-chair of the House Finance Committee, was more optimistic.

“If it’s got a timetable, we’re absolutely going to meet it,” she said.

The issue is one of procedure. After the House receives the legislation Wednesday, it will be sent to the House Finance Committee for approval. That could take place in a meeting already scheduled Thursday morning.

That speediness would be made possible by the fact that the committee has already heard testimony about the fast-track budget.

If the committee approves the bill Thursday, it could come up for a vote of the House as soon as Friday. If a vote doesn’t take place that day, a Monday vote is possible.

“I’m going to talk to leadership and make sure we meet that deadline,” said Rep. Andy Josephson, D-Anchorage and a member of the finance committee.

Speed is of the essence, Sen. Bert Stedman, R-Sitka and co-chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, told fellow senators before they voted Monday morning.

“This is a first step, to get this … to respond to the citizens’ needs across the state to respond to this earthquake and prepare for the upcoming fire season,” he said.

If the bill is approved by the House and then signed into law by Gov. Mike Dunleavy, $73.5 million will go to the Alaska Department of Transportation, $67.9 million will go to the disaster relief fund for earthquake-related items, $7.9 million will go to the disaster fund for wildfire season and $1 million will go to the Department of Labor.

More than two-thirds of the funding behind the bill is from the federal government. Less than $50 million is from the state treasury.

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