Reviewing the legislature's accomplishments

To sum up the 2014 session: It was a good news, bad news session for Alaskans. I had the honor of serving as the Democratic leader in the state Senate, so what follows is a report from our caucus on some issues of importance to Alaska’s fast growing senior population.

Established in 2007, the Senior Benefits Program pays cash benefits to Alaskan seniors with low or moderate incomes. The program faced an approaching sunset date, and Democrats offered a bill in 2013 to keep the program running indefinitely. This session the legislature voted to extend “Senior Benefits,” thus ensuring continued support for Alaskan seniors who need it most.

Senator Johnny Ellis proposed a $2 billion dollar infusion to the PERS/TRS state retirement system in 2011. We were happy to join hands with those on both sides of the aisle to make a $3 billion lump sum payment into PERS/TRS this session. While this reduces our available short term cash in times of fast dwindling reserves, the upfront payment significantly reduces our long term liabilities to the retirement system and guarantees a solvent retirement system that will always meet its obligations to our retirees.

This session was notable for the bad bills that did not pass. In this category is SJR 9, which would have allowed public money to be directed to private and religious schools.

Another dangerous idea was SJR 21, which would have politicized the selection of our Alaskan judges. Alaska has one of the best judiciaries in the country; our caucus believed the proposed changes were unnecessary and potentially dangerous.

If you have any questions or concerns, or if myself or my colleagues can be of any assistance to you, please don’t hesitate to contact our offices. We work for you.

Sen. Hollis French is a Democrat representing Anchorage, District J, in the state legislature.