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School's out for campaign season
Congress has recessed until after the election. Here's what the Alaska Delegation was up to this week.
Hello and greetings from our Nation's Capital!
Last night, the U.S. House of Representatives passed legislation to fund the federal government and avert a shutdown. It had already passed the Senate and has since been signed into law by President Biden. Immediately after the vote, Congress hit the exits, recessing until after the election.
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Senator Lisa Murkowski, Senator Dan Sullivan, and Congresswoman Mary Peltola all voted YEA on the government funding bill, which also included Ukraine funding and support for FEMA. The continuing resolution's funding for FEMA was especially notable given the Delegation's recent success in getting President Biden to cover 100% of the State of Alaska's cost-share for Typhoon Merbok recovery. This effort was a massive win for the Alaska Delegation and Governor Dunleavy. With the passage of the continuing resolution, western Alaska can at least breathe a small sigh of relief that FEMA is fully funded.
Let's jump into some news from the Alaska Delegation you may have missed this week.
Senator Murkowski has the Administration's ear, and they're listening
Senator Lisa Murkowski has long highlighted the platform her seniority gives her to advocate on behalf of Alaskans. This week, she flexed that influence to get the Department of Homeland Security to eliminate onerous bureaucracy and red tape, which has impacted many of her constituents. Countless sportsmen from Alaska (including members of my own family) have made their way to the Lower 48 or even other countries to hunt. Many of these hunters — especially those traveling to the Lower 48 through Canada — are familiar with U.S. Customs and Border Protection's (CBP) Form 4457, the Certificate of Registration for Personal Effects Taken Abroad. The form is meant to expedite a traveler's return to the U.S., but that has not been the experience of many legal gun owners. To the frustration of many sportsmen, CBP has been providing expired copies of Form 4457, making a return home that much more difficult.
Murkowski, for her part, has made a point of maintaining warm and productive relationships with Administration officials on both sides of the aisle. Following several direct conversations with Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, this week, CBP agreed to eliminate the expiration date on the form entirely. An action as simple as removing a form's expiration date removes significant complications for Alaskan hunters traveling abroad with firearms.
"The logistics of travel can be stressful enough without onerous, flawed processes to further complicate the experience. Law-abiding gun owners shouldn't have to endure needless obstacles when traveling internationally with firearms, whether that's crossing the border into Canada or going abroad," said Senator Murkowski. "I am glad that Secretary Mayorkas listened to me and other Alaskans to cut through bureaucratic red tape and find a permanent, common-sense solution to this issue."
John Sturgeon, the Alaskan moose hunter who in 2019 won unanimous support from the United States Supreme Court against the National Park Service and who now serves as the President of the Alaska Safari Club, applauded Senator Murkowski for securing this Administrative change.
“This is great news for both hunters across the nation and everyday Alaskans crossing the Canadian border with firearms,” said John Sturgeon, Safari Club Alaska President. “We appreciate Senator Murkowski’s steadfast partnership and tenacious advocacy for sportsmen and her willingness to work with anyone to cut through bureaucratic red tape to find common sense solutions that get the job done for our members.”
Sullivan's bipartisan coalition for children's health care
Perhaps bipartisanship in D.C. isn't on life support like many national pundits say it is. This week, Senator Dan Sullivan made bipartisan, bicameral health policy news by teaming up with Senator Tom Carper (D-DE), Congresswoman Lisa Blunt Rochester (D-DE), and Congressman Michael Burgess (R-Texas). Together as a team, they introduced the Kickstarting Innovative Demonstrations Support (KIDS) Health Act in both the House and the Senate. The KIDS Act is a significant piece of legislation because it would establish a "whole health care" model for Medicaid and Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP) eligible individuals. This "whole health" model would be achieved by authorizing federal money for state Medicaid programs to improve coordination between mental health providers and other health care organizations that care for eligible children.
In addition to its bipartisan support in Congress, the bill has earned the backing of several organizations in Alaska. The Alaska Children's Trust, the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention - Alaska Chapter, and the Alaska Primary Care Association are among the groups lending their names in approval. Ensuring children's health care includes mental health support has taken on a new urgency. In 2019, 13% of adolescents reported experiencing a major depressive episode, marking a 60% increase from 2007. The COVID-19 pandemic has only made this mental health crisis more dire, with many young people feeling isolated from their communities or grieving over the heartbreaking loss of a loved one.
"We are in the midst of a heartbreaking spike in mental health challenges among young people," said Senator Sullivan. "Worse still, our country's bureaucratic, siloed approach to health care and social services is not serving our kids well at a time when they need support the most. Senator Carper and I have crafted legislation that will remove unnecessary barriers and red tape that are limiting young Americans' access to mental health treatment. We want to empower communities to innovate, adapt to the unique needs and circumstances of our youth, and build more efficient and effective 'whole child' models of care that will hopefully save lives."
Honoring her predecessor and long-time family friend, Congresswoman Peltola re-introduces eight of Congressman Don Young's bills
The Congresswoman for All Alaska, Mary Peltola, has long talked about and reflected upon her relationship with the late Congressman Don Young and his family. I didn't realize it then, but in November 2021, when I saw them together in the Congressman's office and at a hearing on the Magnuson-Stevens Act, I was really getting a glimpse at Alaska history.
The Peltolas and the Youngs are long-time family friends. Her parents campaigned for Congressman Young when the future Congresswoman was still in the womb. Later, when Peltola attended college in Pennsylvania and had nowhere to go on Thanksgiving for the first time in her life, Congressman Young invited her to spend the holiday in Virginia with him, his late wife Lu, and their daughters. Now, as his successor in the House, Peltola continues working to honor his legacy and secure results for Alaskans.
This week — only her second week on the job — Peltola re-introduced eight pieces of legislation that Congressman Young was working on before he passed away in March. Among Young's bills that Peltola re-introduced is legislation creating an Ambassador At-Large for Arctic Affairs, an initiative to bolster the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), and a bill to recognize the Alaska Native communities — commonly referred to as "Landless" — that were excluded from certain claims under ANCSA. Picking up the baton from Congressman Young isn't just a way for Peltola to honor her friend; it's a critical chance to prove just how much common ground she shared with a man who was re-elected by Alaskans 25 times. Smart governance and smart politics.
"I'm honored to be able to continue Don's legacy by bringing attention back to these important pieces of legislation," said Peltola. "We shared many of the same views on policies that are important to Alaskans, and I will work tirelessly to see these bills through the House."
Read more about all eight bills here.
Alaska At-Large (but also in-brief)
Fish, Family, Freedom, Bipartisanship
While it's usually the elected officials themselves who get attention from the press, it's not unheard of for staff to see their moment in the spotlight as well. This week, Roll Call covered Congresswoman Peltola's staffing practices in a detailed piece that shows just how seriously she's aking this new job, right down to who she hires. Congresswoman Peltola made waves by hiring Congressman Young's Chief of Staff, Alex Ortiz, as her own. I can attest to Alex's professionalism, dedication, and commitment to Alaska, but in Roll Call's piece, you can hear him in his own words. Peltola also kept Congressman Young's Scheduling Director Paula Conru on and hired Josh Wilson to handle communications. Like Alex and Paula, Josh also had a previous boss from team red: former Governor Terry Branstad (R-IA).
Peltola campaigned by staying above the partisan fray. Fostering a tremendously bipartisan staff is proof that she's willing to not only talk the talk, but she's walking the walk.
Senator Sullivan pushes back on Putin
Senator Dan Sullivan, a U.S. Marine Reservist, had strong words for Russian President Vladimir Putin, who delivered a [bizarre] speech as he announced the annexation of four regions in western Ukraine. Sullivan has been a strong supporter of Ukraine and voted for the government funding bill that included support for the European nation this week.
Volcano news (yes, you read that right)
The late Congressman Don Young was a towering, influential, and revered figure, not just in my life but in the lives of dozens of former Young staffers. He'd also be the first to admit that he could sometimes tend to be loud and disruptive. This week, Senators Murkowski and Sullivan introduced the Don Young Recognition Act to honor his legacy and commitment to Alaska. I wish I could see the look on Congressman Young's face when he found out from the great beyond that a bill called the Don Young Recognition Act" exists. He'd probably find it hilarious; I certainly do. Among the bill's tenets is the designation of Mount Cerberus in the Aleutian Islands as "Mount Young." It's one of the island chain's most active volcanoes, and, as Senator Murkowski noted, just as unpredictable as my late boss. Read more here.
"Through this legislation, my goal is that we not only pay tribute to a great man who did so much for our state, but that it ensures that what he has done for Alaskans is not forgotten. Don Young moved mountains for Alaska, it’s only fitting we name one after him–even if it is a bit unpredictable.”
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