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4/20/15 - Legislators extend session; Governor planning to call a special session

Legislative session continues past scheduled adjournment date

Lawmakers gave themselves another day to stay in session and work out an agreement on the capital budget. The scheduled end of the session was midnight Sunday. But the House and Senate are headed back into session today [Monday].

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Gov. Bill Walker plans to call a special session on Medicaid expansion

At 9:30 p.m. Sunday, Governor Bill Walker held a press conference with his reactions to the work of Legislators. He said he was pleased with many measures they took, and the long hours and focused attention they gave to the budget, which he says was needed due to the state’s fiscal situation. But he says, he doesn’t agree with all the decisions:

“We think the cuts on education went further than we were comfortable with,” said Walker. “The Alaska Marine Highway system, the cuts that have a significant impact on the service and schedules is a concern to us. The contracts, the labor contracts, not honoring those contracts that's a tough one for us. We don't support that. But really, those on the legislative side of things they have a much bigger role and opportunity with that than we do.”

Walker says legislators need more time to address Medicaid expansion, so he’s planning to call a special session. He said he’s going to look at bills lawmaker’s did not address and may add a few of those to the agenda for the special session. When asked what he’ll do if Legislators don’t expand Medicaid, Walker said he would look closely into expanding Medicaid unilaterally. He says there is precedent for unilateral action – it’s occurred in ten states already. But Walker says that’s not the best approach.

“One of the downsides of doing it on my own, is it would not bring the reform with it, number one,” said Walker. “Number two it has a limited period of time potentially, I’ll just put it that way. Because it requires to be sort of funded after the fact, down the road. If it’s not funded, it goes away. So you're sort of providing something and then if the state, if we don’t pick up a portion, There's a problem with that,” said Walker.”

Walker says he would prefer to work with Legislators to reform and expand Medicaid.

“You don't end up with the same result if I do it unilaterally. So that's my hesitation. My -- by far -- preference is to do it in conjunction with the legislature, so we have that working together, that dialogue, and have the reform piece of it as well."

The date for a special session has not been set. 

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Legislators confirm Governor’s appointees

Legislators confirmed Gov. Bill Walker’s Cabinet, and all but a handful of appointees to boards and commissions. Legislators rejected one of Walker’s appointees to the Alaska Gas-line Development Corporation board -- former state Senator Joe Paskvan, a Democrat from Fairbanks. They rejected appointment of the director of the Kenai Watershed Forum, Robert Ruffner, to the Alaska Board of Fisheries. And legislators failed to confirm Vern Rupright’s appointment to the Commercial Fisheries Entry Commission.

All of Gov. Bill Walker's new Cabinet-level department heads won confirmation.

While many of those appointments won unanimous support, four saw dissenting votes: Attorney General Craig Richards; Natural Resources Commissioner Mark Myers; Revenue Commissioner Randall Hoffbeck; and Commissioner of Military and Veterans Affairs Laurie Hummel.

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Tribal health organizations given bonding authority

The Alaska Legislature passed a bill Sunday that would allow regional health organizations like the Yukon Kuskokwim Health Corporation to access financing through the Alaska Municipal Bond bank, which in the past has only financed municipal projects. The bill comes as YKHC is pushing for a 250-million dollar new clinic and hospital renovation. If they use the bond bank, the corporation says it can save millions with better interest terms. 

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