2021 AARP Mid-Session Legislative Update

Posted on 04/06/21

Legislative Building - JNU

2021 AARP Mid-Session Update: 32nd Alaska Legislative Session

The Alaska Legislature began its 32nd session on January 19, which will run for two years (2021-2022). By state statute, the Legislature has 120 days to conduct their regular session, and we’ve just passed the halfway point.

The only thing the Legislature is legally obligated to accomplish each year is to pass the next state fiscal year’s budget (July 1 – June 30) in order to avoid a government shut-down. However, much of legislative business focuses on making and amending laws through bills, drafts of proposed law.

Of the 150 House Bills introduced, three have passed the House. Of the more than 100 Senate Bills introduced, six have passed the Senate. Most bills have not yet had a hearing and some never will. All bills receive at least two committee referrals. All throughout the committee process, as bills are scheduled for hearings, there are opportunities for Alaskan citizens and organizations to support, oppose, or make comments about the proposed bills, and for legislators to amend the bills. After the bill has passed through its assigned committees, then it goes to the full House or Senate for a floor vote. Then the process begins again in the other legislative body (House or Senate). For a full description of the legislative process, click here.

AARP Alaska follows the legislative process on many bills and does research on the issues. However, we don’t take action on all of the bills we follow, choosing to exert our organizational influence where most needed in advocating for and with Alaskans on issues important to our members.

Below is a mid-session update on the bills we’ve taken action on so far this legislative session:

HB4/HB76 Business & Professional Licensure COVID Immunity – provides legal immunity to COVID-19 exposure of staff and public for all businesses and professional license categories. AARP opposes any proposal to shield nursing homes, assisted living facilities and other long-term care (LTC) facilities from liability. That includes immunity for harm that may have been caused to residents due to negligence that occurred during this pandemic.

AARP Alaska Advocacy Director Marge Stoneking met with sponsor staff on this bill to express our concerns around immunity for long-term care facilities and AARP advocacy volunteers raised these concerns in our meetings with legislators during our legislative advocacy week in February. We also submitted our concerns and recommended statute language to the House bill sponsor, as well as the prospective Senate bill sponsor.

HB4 has not been heard in committee at this time. However, the legal immunity language has been added to HB76, Extending the Disaster Declaration, in a committee substitute which passed the House and is currently being heard in Senate Finance. AARP Alaska submitted a statement opposing COVID-19 legal immunity for nursing homes and assisted living facilities.

SB67/HB14/HB83 Nursing Licensure Compact –The Nursing Compact makes it easier and more affordable for nurses to practice across state lines without the cost or unnecessary delay of applying for separate licenses. This is important to help Alaska address the nursing shortage in our state and efficiently expand access to care in Alaska’s many underserved and remote areas.  We need to work now to address the challenges of an aging population by maximizing the use of nurses to help address Alaska’s most pressing health care challenges—access, quality, and cost.

AARP Alaska Advocacy Director Marge Stoneking met with sponsor staff on this bill in January, and these bills and our position were discussed during our legislative advocacy week meetings led by volunteers. AARP Alaska also submitted letters in support of HB14 and SB67. SB67 has had two hearings in its first committee, Senate Health & Social Services. Marge Stoneking and two advocacy volunteers testified by telephone at the public hearing. House bills have not been heard yet.

SB78 Telehealth – This Labor and Commerce committee bill seeks to allow out-of-state providers to be permanently eligible to provide telehealth services in Alaska, which was temporarily allowed under the now-expired state emergency disaster declaration. AARP Alaska has provided written amendment suggestions to the Labor and Commerce Committee Chair as well as to the full Health & Social Services Committee to permanently expand telehealth flexibilities covered under the state Medicaid program which was also allowed during the state’s disaster declaration. SB78 is on its way to its second committee and has a hearing scheduled.

SB90 Electronic Wills – SB90 was introduced after the lapse of the state’s disaster declaration, which included a temporary provision for electronic wills; it would allow electronic wills permanently. At a time when only about a quarter of all Americans, and just 55% of the 55+ population nationally have a will, SB90 could provide an electronic option for will creation, enabling more Alaskans to finalize their last wishes. It creates a process that recognizes wills without requiring them to be signed, witnessed and/or notarized in-person can be helpful in situations where meeting in-person may be difficult.  With such provisions, it will be easier for people to execute wills and for legal professionals to offer remote services.  AARP Alaska submitted a letter of support for permanently allowing electronic wills. The bill has passed out of its first Senate committee, Judiciary, and is now awaiting a hearing in its second committee, Labor and Commerce.

SB89/HB103 Assisted Living Homes House Rules on Visitation – this bill would bring Alaska into compliance with federal rules for person and family centered services allowing for resident choice of visitors and time of visit before the 2023 deadline, however unlike other states, these Governor’s bills propose the statute change for all assisted living facilities, not just those receiving federal funding. AARP Alaska submitted a letter of support. Both bills are moving through the committee process at this time.

SB93/HB113 All Payer Claims Database – establishes a state-run database that requires insurers and providers to submit their cost and quality data for the purpose of analysis and cost-containment. With the highest medical cost per capita in the country with the highest medical costs in the world, Alaska has much to gain with improved price transparency and data collection. The Alaska Healthcare Transformation Project in their 2019 A Roadmap for Reform stated, “The establishment of an All Payer Claims Database (APCD) will be key in providing an ongoing and detailed source of information on Alaska’s health care marketplace. Current, detailed, and complete data about Alaska’s health care marketplace will be critical to developing and comprehensively monitoring policy changes to improve the cost, quality, and access to care in Alaska.”

AARP submitted a letter of support for SB93. The bill has been heard in Senate Health & Social Services Committee and is on its way to its second committee.

HB69/SB49 Operating Budget re: Alaska Legal Services funding - Alaska Legal Services serves thousands of low-income Alaskans statewide with free civil legal services, and nearly half of those clients are seniors. AARP submitted a letter opposing the Governor’s proposed budget $450,000 cut to our state legal services assistance organization. 

re: Division of Public Assistance funding - AARP Alaska signed on to Alaskans Together for Medicaid coalition letter to the Commissioner of Health and Social Services and the Alaska Legislature with 30 partner organizations raising concerns about the impact that a proposed budget cut that would result in a 25% reduction of front-line staff would have on Alaskans applying for or renewing their benefits through Supplemental Nutritional Aide Program (SNAP), Medicaid or other public assistance programs.

For more information on any of these bills, visit www.akleg.gov and type the bill number in the search bar at the top or reach out to our Alaska Associate State Director of Advocacy, Marge Stoneking at mstoneking@aarp.org.

Thank you for your continued support and advocacy on behalf of 50+ Alaskans.  We’re making a difference!

This story is provided by AARP Alaska. Visit the AARP Alaska page for more news, events, and programs affecting retirement, health care, and more.

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