Monday recap: Legislature tells state to see missing eyes

The Alaska House has voted to require Alaska businesses to report when an employee loses an eye or a limb on the job.

Senate Bill 148, already approved by the Senate, brings the state into line with federal requirements and passed the House 37-0 with three members absent. It now goes to the governor.

Speaking on the floor Rep. Kurt Olson, R-Anchorage, warned before the vote that if the Legislature and governor do not approve the bill, the state’s authority over occupational safety issues could be jeopardized, and the state could lose some federal funding.

In other business, the House approved Senate Bill 204, which renames a shooting range in the Knik Recreation Area of Southcentral Alaska, and Senate Concurrent Resolution 20, which names April 2016 Sexual Assault Awareness Month.

Both measures passed unanimously among members present.

In the Senate, lawmakers voted 20-0 to approve House Bill 128, which names Aug. 10 of each year “Alaska Wild Salmon Day.”

With no other pressing business on the daily calendar, lawmakers joked about the bill, spending more time discussing it than was spent discussing all legislation in the House floor session.

The House delayed for another day a vote on House Bill 247, which cuts the tax credits paid to oil and gas drillers. In the Senate, SB 203, which exempts medevac crews from overtime pay, did not reach the floor as scheduled.

The House and Senate are expected to hold their next floor sessions at 11 a.m. today.

Sunday recap

The House has approved a Senate bill that will appoint three members of the Alaska Legislature to nonvoting seats on the Alaska Gasline Development Corporation board of directors.

The AGDC holds the state’s share of the trans-Alaska gas pipeline project known as AKLNG.

Senate Bill 125 was approved in a largely caucus-line 25-11 vote with four members of the House absent.

Three members crossed caucus lines: Rep. Paul Seaton, R-Homer, voted with the minority, while Rep. Lora Reinbold, R-Eagle River, and Rep. Harriet Drummond, D-Anchorage, voted with the majority.

While the Legislative seats are non-voting, backers said they will give lawmakers a window into the corporation’s private discussions. They added that legislative members already serve on the boards of other state corporations, such as the Alaska Aerospace Corporation.

Opponents said the change could be more harmful than helpful.

“We have a board structure that works very well,” said Rep. Sam Kito III, D-Juneau.

The bill now heads back to the Senate, which passed a version of the bill calling for only two Legislative members of the board, one from the House and one from the Senate. The third member, added in the House version, is to be a member of the minority caucus in the House or Senate.

The Senate will have to decide which version to approve or send the bill to a conference committee.

The Alaska House of Representatives is again recommending Alaska join a convention to revise the U.S. Constitution.

On Sunday, lawmakers spent nearly 90 minutes debating the merits of a convention to approve a Constitutional amendment allowing states to “countermand” (veto) federal legislation or court decisions.

After the debate, the House voted 24-15 and 25-14 to approve resolutions calling for the state to join the convention and setting rules for the state’s delegates to the convention.

The resolutions were led by Rep. Shelley Hughes, R-Palmer. Among the cosponsors of the resolutions was Rep. Cathy Muñoz, R-Juneau.

The resolutions now go to the Senate for consideration.

Under Article V of the U.S. Constitution, a convention to propose constitutional amendments can be held if two-thirds (34) of the states request one. This process has never been used – all 27 of the existing Constitutional amendments were first proposed in Congress and ratified by the states.

In 2014, the Legislature passed a resolution calling for an Article V convention to “impose fiscal restraints on the federal government, limit the power and jurisdiction of the federal government, and limit the terms of office of federal government officials.”

Tennessee, Alabama, Florida and Georgia have also requested Article V conventions on that topic, according to a list kept by the chief clerk of the U.S. House of Representatives.

Article V petitions are subject-limited, meaning 34 states must request a convention on the same topic. The requests never expire – the House of Representatives list was recently added to include one from Kansas, passed in 1978.

No state has yet requested a convention to propose a countermand amendment, according to the House of Representatives list.

Speaking on the House floor before the vote, Hughes said, “This is not being brought forward because I think the federal government is the enemy. … It is because the balance has tipped and the pendulum has swung.”

Hughes said the pair of resolutions are designed to prevent a “runaway convention” that would address many issues, and Alaska’s intent is to just address the countermand amendment.

If enacted as the 28th Amendment, 30 states would have to pass resolutions countermanding a specific action. There would be an 18-month time limit. If that time elapsed without enough signatures, the countermand would not happen.

Hughes said she believes just the threat of a countermand might be enough to get Congress to reconsider a particular decision, and she does not expect the countermand would be used often if it were an option.

Most members of the Democratic-led House minority opposed the resolutions, as did Rep. Lora Reinbold, R-Eagle River.

Reinbold, noted for her drive to fight federal overreach, said she thinks the countermand movement is well-intentioned but misguided.

“I do believe that it puts the Constitution at risk,” she said. “If you want changes in Congress, you’ve got to change who’s in Congress.”

School testing hiatus — In other business, the House voted 22-17 to approve House Bill 156, which permits Alaska school districts to suspend their standardized testing programs for the next two years.

Rep. Wes Keller, R-Wasilla and the bill’s lead sponsor, said the measure is designed to “take a breather” after the failure of the Alaska Measures of Progress exam.

Designed over three years and intended to be Alaska’s answer to the national requirement for a standardized test to gauge students’ progress, AMP was an abysmal failure. Last year, in the first year of tests, results were delayed and incomplete, providing results that didn’t give administrators the data they wanted.

This year, a fiber-optic cable near the Kansas testing center was severed just as Alaska students were preparing to take their computerized AMP exams. The disruption was so great that the state first postponed, then cancelled all AMP testing.

“We rushed to develop a state-only assessment and what we’ve had is two years of debacle,” said Rep. Jim Colver, R-Palmer, speaking in favor of the bill.

Opponents of the bill warned that without a federally approved testing system, the state is at risk of losing millions of dollars in federal funding contingent upon having a testing system.

“This state will lose almost $100 million in federal funding if we pass this bill,” said Rep. Scott Kawasaki, D-Fairbanks.

“I don’t think the threat is nearly as big as we think it is,” Keller responded, saying that the federal government will give the state time to return to compliance, time in which districts can come up with a solution that can work locally.

“Let’s take a break here and look and review … our accountability and assessment laws,” he said.

HB 156 now goes to the Senate for consideration.

Car seat installers protected — The House also voted 39-0 on Sunday to shield child car-seat installers from civil lawsuits. Fire departments, police departments and hospitals across Alaska offer programs to install child safety seats – booster seats and car seats – for parents who may not be familiar with them.

House Bill 308, brought by Rep. Charisse Millett, R-Anchorage and Majority Leader, legally shields volunteers in those programs if they have passed training programs to install seats correctly.

The bill also requires car seats for children from 1 to 4 years old, instead of 1 to 5 years old. Booster seats are still required for children between 4 and 8 years old who are not big enough for regular seatbelts.

HB 308 heads to the Senate.

Saturday recap

Land trades OK’d — The Alaska House has approved a bill brought forward by Rep. Cathy Muñoz, R-Juneau, to ease a land swap between Echo Ranch Bible Camp and the state of Alaska that would allow access to Point Bridget State Park at the north end of Juneau’s road system.

Currently, the only trail access to Point Bridget is over land owned by Echo Ranch. The ranch is interested in swapping the trail territory with nearby state land.

As Muñoz explained, existing state statute requires exchanges to involve parcels of precisely equal value. The difficulty, she said, is that appraisals are only good for one year, and for the past 20 years, the state and Echo Ranch have never been able to navigate the public process involved in a swap before the appraisals expired.

“If you’re not able to achieve that in a one-year timeframe, you have to start over,” she said. “That is why this statute is not workable” and why changes are needed.

Kito suggested an amendment that would have eliminated sections of the bill that could affect other proposed land swaps, but the amendment was defeated 11-25.

While Kito’s amendment was defeated, he still voted in favor of the bill, which was approved 33-3 and heads to the Senate for further consideration.

Taking stock of crowdfunding — Senate Bill 126, offered by Sen. Mia Costello, R-Anchorage, and approved 18-0 by the Senate on Saturday would allow businesses to offer stock or shares of a company in exchange for crowdfunded donations.

“We often talk about economic development and growing the pie,” Costello said. “This bill does that. It intends on opening a door so we can grow the pie.”

Right now, Alaska businesses backed on Kickstarter and other crowdfunding platforms can only offer tangible goods, not stock, in exchange for contributions.

Costello’s bill allows Alaskans to contribute up to $7,500 per company per year.The money is held in escrow by a bank until the company seeking funding reaches a certain threshold. A company may crowdfund up to $1 million through the bill.

The measure now goes to the House.

Other items — The House has voted 35-1 in favor of a resolution, HJR 30, calling on the American Psychiatric Association and others to use the term “Post-Traumatic Stress Injury” instead of “Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.”

In the House, lawmakers approved HB 188, which allows disabled Alaskans to create a tax-free savings plan not unlike the state of Alaska’s 529 college savings plans. The measure passed 36-0. The bill, which heads to the Senate, calls for the savings program to be set up with a grant from the Alaska Mental Health Trust. Once the grant is spent, program fees will pay for the program, just as the college savings program is run.

If Senate Bill 145 is approved by the House and governor, the state would be able to garner the Permanent Fund Dividend of a person who is accidentally overpaid by the state’s public assistance programs. Proposed by the governor’s office, SB 145 was approved 18-0 by the Senate on Saturday. Speaking on the floor, Sen. Peter Micciche, R-Soldotna, said it could result in as much as $500,000 in repayments to the state per year.

Senate Bill 147, proposed by the governor’s office, states that a person is only eligible for Alaska’s senior benefits if he or she is an American citizen or a legal alien. Sen. Micciche, R-Soldotna, said the bill will save roughly $47,200 per year in payments to illegal immigrants. The measure was approved 18-0 and now goes to the House.

A clean-energy power plant generating up to 65 megawatts of electricity is permanently exempt from oversight by the Regulatory Commission of Alaska under Senate Bill 193, which was approved 17-1 on Saturday and now goes to the House. The exemption, created in 2010, was expected to expire this year. Sen. Bill Wielechowski, D-Anchorage and the only vote against the bill, said on the floor that the bill will lead to higher electricity prices for ratepayers. Sen. Lesil McGuire, R-Anchorage, replied that the companies that buy power from these plants will still be regulated, and the exemption will not apply to power plants partially funded by state grants.

The House voted 35-0 with five members absent to approve House Concurrent Resolution 35, which waives the normal Legislative rules to rename Senate Bill 125, the AGDC board bill.

More in News

Jasmine Chavez, a crew member aboard the Quantum of the Seas cruise ship, waves to her family during a cell phone conversation after disembarking from the ship at Marine Park on May 10. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire file photo)
Ships in port for the week of May 18

Here’s what to expect this week.

(Michael Penn / Juneau Empire file photo)
Police calls for Friday, May 17, 2024

This report contains public information from law enforcement and public safety agencies.

(Michael Penn / Juneau Empire file photo)
Police calls for Thursday, May 16, 2024

This report contains public information from law enforcement and public safety agencies.

Students and staff play a kickball game on the field between the Marie Drake Building and Juneau-Douglas High School: Yadaa.at Kalé on Friday afternoon. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)
School district leaders debate biggest needs for extra $5.2M approved by Legislature, in hope governor won’t veto it

Staff for special education and gifted students, homeschooling, paying off city loan high on list.

Rep. Andi Story, D-Juneau, speaks Wednesday, May 8, on the floor of the Alaska House of Representatives. (James Brooks/Alaska Beacon)
After several deadly drownings, Alaska Legislature votes to require harbor safety ladders

Bill by Rep. Andi Story, D-Juneau, passes on final day of session.

Members of the Thunder Mountain High School culinary arts team prepare their three-course meal during the National ProStart Invitational in Baltimore on April 26-28. (Photo by Rebecca Giedosh-Ruge)
TMHS culinary arts team serves a meal of kings at national competition

Five students who won state competition bring Alaskan crab and salmon to “Top Chef”-style event.

(Michael Penn / Juneau Empire file photo)
Police calls for Wednesday, May 15, 2024

This report contains public information from law enforcement and public safety agencies.

Sen. Lyman Hoffman, D-Bethel, listens to discussion on the Senate floor on Wednesday. (James Brooks/Alaska Beacon)
A look at some of the bills that failed to pass the Alaska Legislature this year

Parts of a long-term plan to bring state revenue and expenses into line again failed to advance.

Most Read