The House unanimously passed a bill that allows private employers to express a hiring preference for military veterans and National Guard members, but Wednesday was more about what the House did not do: transmit an operating budget to the Senate.
On Monday, the House passed a Fiscal Year 2018 operating budget (HB 57) that cuts agency operations spending by $115 million. It increases total spending by $69 million over FY 2017 because it allows for a larger $1,150 Permanent Fund dividend (PFD).
House Minority Leader Charisse Millett (R-Anchorage) asked Monday for reconsideration of her vote on the budget, a common parliamentary move that delays transmittal and requires another vote on the bill.
Wednesday, Millett had an excused absence from the House.
House Majority Leader Chris Tuck (D-Anchorage) asked to delay the reconsideration vote until Monday, March 27, a motion that passed without objection.
A number of House members asked for excused absences over the weekend. Representatives Mark Neuman (R-Big Lake), Steve Thompson (R-Fairbanks), and Chuck Kopp (R-Anchorage) indicated they will additionally not be present for Friday’s House floor session.
The Senate Finance Committee canceled Tuesday and Wednesday hearings, waiting for the House to transmit the operating budget.
Senate Finance Co-chair Lyman Hoffman (D-Bethel), who is in charge of the operating budget, has said he wants to have the budget on the Senate floor on Friday or Monday.
If the Senate is going to hold to that timeline, it will have to break with tradition and advance its own budget without amending the House version.
Wednesday was Day 65 of the 90-day session.
All 50 states and the District of Columbia allow a veteran hiring preference for the public sector.
Tuck, the bill’s sponsor, said HB 2 would make Alaska the 38th state to allow such a preference in the private sector.
“Military veterans that enter the civilian workplace come with a lot of advanced skills: skills in leadership; skills in working with diverse teams; being able to adapt and learn other skills very quickly. So this is a huge benefit to employers and a huge benefit to our veterans returning to civilian life,” Tuck said on the House floor.
“If someone puts on a uniform and is willing to risk their life in the service of their country, we have an obligation to do everything we can to make sure they can get a good job on the civilian side,” Rep. Dan Saddler (R-Eagle River) added in support.
The House Special Committee on Military & Veterans’ Affairs added active National Guard members to the bill and eliminated the requirement that National Guard members serve for eight years before receiving the public hiring preference.
The House unanimously passed a version of HB 2 in 2015, but it died in the Senate Rules Committee, chaired by former Sen. Charlie Huggins (R-Wasilla).
Like the operating budget, HB 2 was not transmitted to the Senate Wednesday because Chenault asked for reconsideration of his vote.