Sunday, January 17, 2010

Alaska State Legislature Launches 2010 Annual Session On January 19th; Oil Taxes And A Gaggle Of Pre-Filed Bills Await Attention

The Alaska State Legislature will convene on January 19th, 2010 for its annual 90-day session. Oil taxes are expected to be the highest priority, with sentiment developing to roll back existing taxes to spur additional investment and development in the state to counter rising unemployment and declining resource availability. More about this issue in this Anchorage Daily News story.

But there is also the customary gaggle of pre-filed bills awaiting attention. These bills are enumerated and summarized on two different files, the first list posted on January 8th, and the other list posted on January 15th. These links are temporary and will probably go away a month into the session, but the bills have already been enrolled in the database.

Here's a summarized list of some of the more significant and/or potentially contentious bills. The designations are hot-linked to their corresponding entries in the legislative database, where you can read the specific language (list begins after the jump):

-- HB 248, Rep. Harry Crawford (D-East Anchorage): Establishing a separate primary ballot for voters registered as nonpartisan or undeclared. The Alaska Democrats have criticized the Republicans for having closed primaries; this bill looks like a way for the Democrats to backdoor a closed primary for their party without actually saying so - and facing the inevitable Republican accusations of hypocrisy that would result.

-- HB 254, Rep. Bob Lynn (R-Anchorage Hillside): Relating to confidentiality of ethics complaints filed under the Alaska Executive Branch Ethics Act. Declares an ethics complaint against an Executive Branch member confidential for the entire life cycle of the complaint until its resolution.

-- HB 256, Rep. Mike Hawker (R-Anchorage): Allowing the commissioner of transportation and public facilities to designate a portion of a highway within a traffic safety corridor as a zero tolerance district and setting out the penalties for a traffic violation within a zero tolerance district. This may be in response to an upsurge in serious accidents on that portion of the Seward Highway between Potter's Marsh and Girdwood.

-- HB 257, Rep. Mike Doogan (D-Anchorage): Relating to prohibiting the use of cellular telephones when driving a motor vehicle; and providing for an effective date. Bill does not specify whether this would be a primary violation or a secondary violation. Not worthy of support if it is a primary violation; read conservative activist Alec Gimarc's opposition to this bill in The Alaska Standard.

-- HB 259, Rep. Wes Keller (R-Wasilla): Relating to citizenship requirements and an alcohol impairment and drug testing program for applicants for and recipients of adult public assistance. The strongest part of this bill is the provision to deny public assistance to illegal immigrants. This is a "must pass" bill; recommend support.

-- HB 263, Rep. Mike Doogan (D-Anchorage): Relating to procedures and confidentiality under the Alaska Executive Branch Ethics Act. Passage would allow an ethics complaints against a member of the executive branch to be automatically dismissed if the complainant violates confidentiality. Recommend support.

-- HB 272, Rep. Max Gruenberg (D-Anchorage Mtn. View): Extending the deadline for authorizing school construction debt reimbursed by the state. This bill would extend the debt reimbursement on school construction bonds through November 2013. Debt reimbursement of up to 70 percent has facilitated the passage of otherwise contentious municipal school construction bonds. Recommend support.

-- HJR 36, Rep. Jay Ramras (R-Fairbanks): Proposing an amendment to the Constitution of the State of Alaska authorizing a contractual limitation on taxes related to the production of gas for the purpose of providing fiscal certainty for the construction of a natural gas pipeline.

-- HJR 37, Rep. Harry Crawford (D-East Anchorage): Proposing amendments to the Constitution of the State of Alaska relating to the Alaska permanent fund, establishing the earnings reserve account, and relating to the permanent fund dividend. This would constitutionally enshrine the payment of an individual PFD check in any year the Fund made a profit. This transforms the individual PFD from a bonus into an entitlement, thus making it another welfare check. Do NOT recommend support.

-- SB 197, Sen. Fred Dyson (R-Eagle River): Allowing pharmacists the right to refuse to refer, recommend, or dispense emergency contraceptives; providing immunity to a pharmacy for civil liability for a pharmacist's refusal to refer, recommend, or dispense emergency contraceptives; and prohibiting discrimination in employment against a pharmacist who refuses to refer, recommend, or dispense emergency contraceptives. Pharmacists shouldn't have to violate their consciences to work in their chosen trade; recommend support.

-- SB 202, Sen. Bettye Davis (D-East Anchorage): Relating to the commission of a crime when the defendant directed the conduct constituting the crime at the victim based on the victim's race, sex, color, creed, physical or mental disability, sexual orientation, ancestry, or national origin. This is the same old hate crimes bill Sen. Davis has been trying to ramrod down our throats for years, and each year it mercifully gets buried in committee. It deserves another funeral service. Hate crimes are an implicit violation of double jeopardy standards since proponents claim a hate crime is committed both against an individual and a "protected class". This polarizes the community. Do NOT recommend support.

-- SB 208, Sen. Bill Wielechowski (D-Northeast Anchorage): Requiring the Department of Natural Resources to evaluate current incentives and recommend additional incentives that would increase gas exploration, development, and production in the Cook Inlet sedimentary basin; and requiring the Department of Natural Resources to evaluate the means by which the department may explore for, purchase, and sell natural gas from newly proved gas reserves in the Cook Inlet sedimentary basin. This bill is of paramount importance because declining natural gas supplies in the Cook Inlet threaten energy availability in all of South Central Alaska during peak usage periods. Recommend support.

-- HB 288, Rep. Max Gruenberg (D-Anchorage Mtn. View): Relating to bilingual voting; and relating to the definition of "political party."

-- HB 289, Rep. Max Gruenberg (D-Anchorage Mtn. View): Authorizing state agencies to pay private legal fees and costs incurred by persons exonerated of alleged Alaska Executive Branch Ethics Act violations; allowing certain public officers and former public officers to accept state payments to offset private legal fees and costs related to defending against an Alaska Executive Branch Ethics Act complaint; and creating certain exceptions to Alaska Executive Branch Ethics Act limitations on the use of state resources to provide or pay for transportation of spouses and children of the governor and the lieutenant governor. This bill would minimize the incentive to use the ethics complaint system as a tool of political warfare; recommend support.

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