Alaska State Legislator Update: Representative Grier Hopkins
Fairbanks Representative Grier Hopkins returned from Juneau after legislators went the the capital city for a few days to appropriate federal funding from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act.
“Juneau went quickly and fairly cleanly which was good, I was happy to see all of the different people in the legislature come together to get the funding out on the street and passed the bill quickly, so that was good to see us all working together to help Alaskans,” said Hopkins.
When asked about how the legislative session went overall, Hopkins said it was one for the ages. “Last year we had one of the longest legislative sessions in the history of the state, and this year we had one of the shortest legislative sessions in the history of the state. We got some legislative passed, some really good stuff for Fairbanks, dealing with the economy and energy prices, but also a lot of good legislation died as well,” said Hopkins.
The session was cut short when legislators went into recess in late March due to the COVID-19 pandemic. “I think that impacted everybody... but being able to come together back in March to pass a budget and to pass protections for people as we enter this economic crisis, and see us all come together then was heartening. So while it’s been a divisive and weird legislature, it’s good to come together when Alaskans needed us,” said Hopkins.
One of the bills that Hopkins worked on was passed -- a bill related to the regulation of electric reliability organizations. “It was excellent to see both the House and Senate come together and pass what ended up being SB 123 that dealt with unifying the electric utilities along the rail belt -- to have them plan together, to bring more renewables online to lower the price for ratepayers from Homer up to Fairbanks, and to hopefully start a long term planning process for our utilities. It was an effort that was underway for over 30 years, and I was proud to work with Senator Coghill to see that pass,” said Hopkins.
Another bill Hopkins helped pass through the legislature was HB 232, which came from Fairbanks North Star Borough Mayor Bryce Ward and the assembly. “That will hopefully be a strong economic boost for our building sectors here as we are able to pass property tax credits for new construction -- both commercial and residential -- to improve air quality, raise energy efficiency and lower energy costs. Hopefully we can see that on the ground as well, and see some new buildings going up in Fairbanks in the coming years,” said Hopkins.
After appropriating the federal funding, legislators returned to their homes and the session concluded. “The legislature sine die, which is when we finalize and end the second legislative session of a legislature, so now campaigning starts,” said Hopkins.
He mentioned that there is still a possibility of a special session. “There are some pieces of legislation the governor still needs to sign and make sure that the CARES Act money gets out on the streets to small businesses to nonprofits who have been doing so much work to help the most needy here”
Hopkins said there is still a lot of work left to do to recover from the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the economy. “We as a legislature need to be ready to act if something comes up in the future and we need to come back down to Juneau,” said Hopkins.
On Wednesday, Governor Mike Dunleavy announced the Permanent Fund Dividend will be distributed in July this year.
“I think the July PFD might end up being good. It’s still a responsible dividend that we were able to come together as a legislature and pass, and that’s what’s important. People getting access to it now is critical. Hopefully it adds on to the unemployment benefits and the federal stimulus that people across the state are seeing. When we normally would have that disbursement in October, hopefully we will be able to pay our electric bills and heating bills and fill our fuel tanks, still with savings people have because hopefully we have another warm winter not like this past one that we all just experienced,” said Hopkins.
Hopkins reminds Fairbanks that the community is still in this together. “As the businesses and infrastructure starts to reopen across our state, it’s still our personal responsibility to maintain social distancing, to wash our hands more, to wear our masks, to do the steps that Dr. Zink is still telling Alaskans that we need to do. We need to follow the experts, listen to the doctors, and make sure that we continue to bend that curve down as Alaska has been doing such a good job of,” said Hopkins.