Six bills, six signatures
Gov. Parnell, surrounded by representatives of the Chugiak-Eagle River delegation, signed six bills into action at last week’s chamber luncheon at the Bear Mountain Grill.
First though, he gave a short talk, admitting that he found Washington “pretty dysfunctional.”
“The beauty of what we have is a fully functional legislative branch….who are working well on behalf of you, as Alaskans,” he said.
In the last two years, he continued, spending has been cut by about $1 billion in 2013 and $1.1 billion in 2014 by addressing what he referred to as the “biggest budget driver,” the unfunded pension liability.
“Every one of you has more in your pocket today because together we worked to put money back where it belongs,” he said.
After a short discussion on the state’s oil situation prospects, which he sees as favorable, he got down to business, introduced and signed into law the six pieces of legislation.
Sponsored by Rep. Lora Reinbold, the bill garnered support from both parties and states that “an act relating to the proposed adoption, amendment or repeal of a regulation; and relating to contact with agencies about regulations.”
The measure, according to Reinbold, will make a big difference in the local business community by opening up the communication with the public.
“When I decided to run for office I looked at business in the area and the first thing they told me is that they’re over-regulated,” she said. “And I thought wow, this is a golden opportunity to make a difference in my own community.”
Sponsored by Sen. Anna Fairclough, the bill benefits seniors by changing the age requirements to qualify for a vehicle registration fee exemption from 65 by January 1 of the year a registration is due, to simply 65 at the time registration is due.
“The current state status requires you to be 65 to get your lifetime registration. It was a technical glitch so when I get there, I get it right,” Fairclough said with a laugh.
As Gov. Parnell signed the bill into action she yelled, “Whoo!” and raised her arm up in the air.
Sponsored by Sen. Fairclough, the bill improves the state’s education loan and grant programs. In addition to giving the governor greater flexibility with appointments to the Alaska Commission on Postsecondary Education, SB 195 establishes the concept of “on-time” students and provides for increased grant and loan awards for students. Further, the legislation allows the Alaska Student Loan Corporation to offer below-market loan terms and more money to students.
“I have two boys and one of them is incurring student debt,” Fairclough said. “Students are carrying an enormous debt level.”
The bill will streamline the process so that students will have a better experience, she said.
“But there is more that needs to be done,” she added. “This is the first step.”
Sponsored by the Senate Finance Committee and carried by Sen. Fairclough, the measure allows the commissioner of administration, based on the recommendation of the State Bond Committee, to temporarily transfer funds from the general fund to a general obligation bond construction fund in order to facilitate the construction of bond-funded projects. The transfer amount is limited to 25% of the total bond authorization at any given time.
Sponsored by Sen. Fred Dyson, the bill better protects crime victims by allowing victims’ advocates to request a hearing directly with the court on behalf of a victim for the return of property seized as evidence.
“We found out that if your property gets stolen it often stays in an evidence locker for years, and many businesses are crippled,” Dyson said. “Nobody in the chain, from enforcement all the way through the courts really had it their mission to get the stolen property back.”
What the system needed, he said, was “someone with passion for the victim to get the darned thing to work.”
Also sponsored by Dyson, the measure amends state statute to require the Controlled Substance Advisory Committee to meet at least twice a year.
“It’s a changing world in drug treatment,” Dyson said. “Every administration has been ignorant or not known (how to make changes). This administration said, heck yes, we’re going to do it, and grabbed the baton to go forward.”