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Local lawmakers pre-file bills; mining, gas, governmental efficiency to be on docket

Future bills

Posted: January 14, 2013 - 9:34am

Local lawmakers will pitch several measures addressing issues like an in-state gas line, corporate taxes, interstate mining lobbying and governmental audits when the first session of the 28th Alaska State Legislature gavels in Tuesday.

Perhaps the biggest piece of legislation a local legislator has tagged his or her name to is House Bill 4, the newest incarnation of last year’s effort from House Speaker Mike Chenault and Rep. Mike Hawker to see a 24-inch, 500 mcf per day gasline built from the North Slope to Southcentral Alaska.

Nikiski’s Chenault said the bill is similar to what was introduced last year, which passed the House, but was ignored by the Senate. The bill would allow the Alaska Gasline Development Corporation to determine an ownership model for the pipeline, negotiate agreements and secure funding to advance a pipe through the design and engineering work to an open season when gas producers and shippers determine market interest.

The group needs $335 million from the state to advance the $7.52 billion pipe and Chenault’s bill would lay the tracks for that appropriation. The bill also assures that much of AGDC’s work would be confidential.

“They are quite a bit similar,” Chenault said of the bills. “There has been some adjustments here and there because we found a better way to say it and do it.”

The only real difference, he said, between the previous bill and this year’s effort is the addition of a contract carrier status. That, Chenault said, gives companies the guarantees they want over a common carrier line.

“As far as I’m aware almost every gas pipeline in the U.S. is a contract carrier line,” he said. “You agree to ship X amount of gas for X amount of time and you buy that space.”

Chenault is also a sponsor of House Bill 30 with Rep. Kurt Olson, R-Soldotna and many other legislators. The bill would allow for a close examination of how Alaskan programs and government functions are operated, funded, if they are effective, and for audit teams to come back with ways to “better improve services to Alaskans at a better price,” he said.

“What it does is it would allow for an independent audit of each of the departments over a period of time,” Chenault said. “You would only take maybe two departments a year and you would basically send an independent audit team in to look at how that department was one, being funded and two, how those funds were being expended.”

The bill passed the House two years ago, Chenault said, but never had a hearing in the Senate despite wide non-partisan support.

Olson said he supported it because it adds a new tool to the legislature’s management box.

“I think we want as many tools as we can because we are going to be making some long-term decisions and we need to be able to have all the information that we can,” he said.

The Soldotna Republican felt the bill had good chances to become law and went as far as to call it “imperative” given the status of the state’s budget.

“I think we need it so we can get to the root of some of the problems,” he said. “Obviously that’s how we are spending the money. We are going to be looking at budget shortfalls in the next couple years.”

Olson also filed House Bill 6 to establish standards for audits of pharmacy records by an insurer, hospital, medical service corporation and others.

“Let’s just say there may have been some abuses of the system on the way things were billed and it is tightening that up,” he said.

The bill is part of ongoing work with the Department of Administration, he said.

“Obviously the state is probably the number one consumer of prescription drugs either for state employees and dependents, teachers or dependents, or retired state employees and teachers, and then people that are receiving public aid for prescription drugs,” he said. “We need to make sure it is being handled in a proper way.”

Olson is also introducing House Bill 7 to define the scope of what naturopathic doctors are and aren’t allowed to do compared with regular, medical doctors.

“They can only use natural substances, they can not write prescriptions, they can not issue prescription drugs, there are a number of medical procedures they can’t do,” he said. “This is cleaning up the language so there are no questions about what they can or can’t do.”

A naturopath in Southeast writing prescriptions prompted the issue, he said. Olson noted that several Lower 48 states allow naturopaths to do so but not Alaska.

“This particular naturopath had prescription pads and during a routine audit of a pharmacy they found out this particular doctor had written hundreds of prescriptions for things that were not authorized,” he said.

Olson will also introduce House Bill 22, which will extend the termination date of the Board of Marine Pilots through June 30, 2018.

Sen. Cathy Giessel, R-Anchorage, will introduce two pieces of legislation relating to mining. The first would establish May 10 of each year as “Alaska Mining Day” and the other — Senate Bill 2 — would make Alaska a full member of the Interstate Mining Compact Commission.

Alaska is currently an associate member of the 19-member group along with states like Colorado, Utah and Wyoming. Regular members include numerous East Coast states and Texas.

Giessel said the group has a “significant amount” of influence on mining regulation and oversight. By becoming full member — a cost of $40,000 for the first year — Giessel said it would put the state at the national level “in terms of discussing best practices in mining.”

The Senator said joining wouldn’t affect specific mine projects in Alaska and there is no mandate to enact certain legislation.

“I think one of the most positive things is that we do it right in Alaska and this is an opportunity for our state to become more of a leader nationally in terms of protecting our environment and best mining practices,” she said.

Giessel’s Senate Bill 7 seeks to adjust the state’s corporate income tax, which she said is more than three decades old and based on the value of the dollar then.

Currently, the state’s top tax bracket is any corporate income above $90,000. Giessel wants that top number to be $222,000.

Top corporate earners will continue to pay “significantly high” taxes — one of the highest in the country — while smaller business will see tax reductions for money earned in the state, she said.

She said the bill adjusts for the value of the dollar, more evenly distributes the tax burden over the middle tax bracket and results in a slightly lower tax collection overall — the state would see about $3 million less per year, she estimated.

“Which isn’t very much when you look at the big picture,” she said. “But what it does is help out our small businesses, which are in those middle income brackets and they jump up quite rapidly to a higher and higher tax rate.”

Brian Smith can be reached at brian.smith@peninsulaclarion.com.

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