With the Alaska state legislative session set to resume Tuesday, lawmakers from the Kenai Peninsula see balancing the budget, education and support for the oil and gas industry as priorities to get Alaska moving forward.
Last Monday came the first release of the 2014 pre-filed bills with the second set unveiled Friday. Among the 52 entries, House Speaker Rep. Mike Chenault R- Nikiski sponsored three bills, perhaps none more obscure than House Bill 231.
The bill calls for eliminating the Department of Revenue’s duty to register cattle brands. Chenault said right now there are 146 cattle brands registered across the state that have to pay $1 to re-register every five years. He said the outdated law has run its course.
“The statute hasn’t been looked at since 1957,” he said. “ The state has to send out paperwork and produce a book with cattle brands that I guarantee cost a lot more to manage than the whopping $146 it brings in. Why have it on the books?”
Chenault also introduced HB 218, which relates to felony sentencing of multiple prior misdemeanors when one involves an assault on a correctional employee.
Chenault said a correctional officer who was assaulted by an inmate contacted him. The inmate was never charged with assault and the officer felt the law should be changed.
“I think correctional officers, because of their job, deserve the same respect as a police officer,” he said. “If you assault an officer it is a felony charge. I aim to clarify the rules and it should be supported.”
Chenault, who has been speaker of the house since 2009, said one of the more difficult tasks for legislators will be to try and control the rate of growth in the operating budget, while still setting aside the appropriate funds for public schools.
“The budget is the elephant in the room,” he said. “The House task force hearings on education will be interesting as we try to craft a funding formula for the state and school districts.”
Developing a natural gas pipeline from the North Slope to the Cook Inlet remains a focus for state legislators. Chenault said he expects the natural gas project to dominate talks when the session resumes.
Following Gov. Sean Parnell’s plan to abandon the natural gas pipeline law set by former Gov. Sarah Palin and invest with TransCanada in a revised natural gas partnership, Chenault said passing natural gas legislation will be key to bringing jobs to the Kenai Peninsula.
“It will take a lot of work and money to turn Cook Inlet around,” he said. “I am committed to working with anyone in bringing jobs to Kenai and moving Alaska forward and getting gas to folks.”
Rep. Kurt Olson, R-Soldotna, said he would pay close attention to bills related to the growth of the gas industry. He said he was interested in talking with Rep. Paul Seaton, R-Homer, sponsor of HB 230, which would allow the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority to issue bonds for an oil or gas processing facility.
“We need to be active in encouraging other forms of gas developed business,” he said. “Looking at what more we can do and not be a one-trick pony.”
In addition Olson said he would continue to advocate for changes in workers compensation, and medical malpractice bills related to the Affordable Care Act.
Now beginning his second year in the state Senate, Senator Peter Micciche, R-Soldotna, said working on eight committees in the Legislature turned him from a freshman to a seasoned veteran real quick.
Micciche said when he gets back to Juneau next week his priorities will be responsible spending, addressing HB 77 regarding water rights, addressing fisheries issues and securing the remaining funding to rehabilitate a six-mile stretch of the Kenai Spur Highway.
The first release of 2014 pre-filed bills included Micciche’s SB 112, intended to provide immunity for certain licensed temporary health care providers. He said we live in a state where underprivileged health care providers leave their jobs and his goal is to make sure they have the same level of liability help.
“My goal is not to go to Juneau to make new laws,” he said. “It is more important to modernize existing code to eliminate redundancy.”
Micciche, who served as Soldotna mayor from 2008-2013, said he enjoys the new challenge to expand the ability to positively affect the lives of Kenai Peninsula residents.
“My focus is what’s best for all Alaskans,” he said. “My reason for entering the senate is to get the state moving again and improve the long term.”
Reach Dan Balmer at firstname.lastname@example.org.