FAIRBANKS, Alaska. (KTVF) While the legislative session is in recess due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we are talking with legislators from our Interior Delegation about the legislative session. In this segment, we spoke to Fairbanks Representative Bart LeBon.
Representative Bart LeBon speaks about the legislative session and possible plans to return to Juneau. (Sara Tewksbury/KTVF)
“We passed the budget and went home at the end of March. We’ve been, in the meantime, hunkering down like most of Alaska has. We’re all starting to emerge, House Finance has had several hearings. We heard from the Office of Management and Budget regarding the CARES Act and how that money is heading to Alaska, and how it’s being proposed to be allocated among communities,” said LeBon.
He says they had a House Finance Committee meeting on Thursday and heard from community mayors and leaders about the impact of COVID-19, and the challenges the communities are having financially, “Both with responding to the coronavirus and also lost revenue from various factors, the sales tax, bed tax, other revenue sources that are down by significant amounts,” said LeBon.
LeBon says he quarantined for two weeks after returning from Juneau and has been staying at home mostly, but is now starting to get out. “I think a lot of Alaskans are happy to see our communities once again emerge to get back to some semblance of normalcy. I am happy to see local restaurants are starting to reopen, and barbershops and hair salons are reopening, so that’s encouraging,” said LeBon.
Since they left Juneau, the legislators have been trying to decide if they are going to need to return to Juneau before the end of the session. LeBon says he thinks they should. “The power of appropriation is with the legislature, the CARES Act funding comes to the state and then how that money is spent within the state has to be part of the legislative process. We’re the appropriating body. We have a role to play and we can’t play that role unless we are together, House and Senate, down in Juneau,” said LeBon.
He says there has been talk about going back to Juneau. “The key to that decision though is both bodies need to be together on that. For one body to go back and the other one not be prepared to go back, really that is only half the formula. We need each other. If we pass out an appropriations bill, we need the Senate to be there to take it up, debate it, and do likewise. If it is just us [House] or just the senate, it is kind of like only half the solution, if you will, to passing any bill out of the legislature. There’s discussions going on between House and Senate leadership as to how we do that, when we would go back, and what would be on the agenda,” said LeBon.
LeBon said the legislative session up to the point they went into recess went by quick. “We had a sense of urgency placed upon us by the COVID-19 crisis. The budget was passed in what I believe was under 70 days, and in a typical year you are declaring a victory if you pass it within 90 days. We certainly did not need 120 this year. We got to the main responsibility and that is the operating budget, and we passed that out within 70 days. That was an accomplishment. Technically the session is still ongoing. We’re now approaching May 1st, we have another twenty days where we could be in session,” said LeBon.
He says Fairbanks is starting to emerge as a community and getting more active.
“I sent off an opinion piece, a letter to the editor today [Thursday] about the 2020 Census. That is an important thing for our community -- and if I had one piece of advice for our community, it's to participate in the 2020 Census. This helps determine our state representative and state senator representation in the legislature. The more of us that are counted, the more we have in those two bodies as far as representation,” said LeBon.
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