Saturday recap: House votes to put lawmakers on gasline board

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.

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.

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