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Kenai city council shows support for HB 141

Posted: February 6, 2014 - 9:10pm

The Kenai City Council voted to approve City Manager Rick Koch draft a letter, signed by mayor Pat Porter, in support of House Bill 141 regarding workers’ compensation medical fees.

The letter shows the city is in favor of three provisions made to the bill sponsored by the Legislature’s Labor and Commerce Committee, lead by Rep. Kurt Olson R-Soldotna.

The bill would require providers of workers compensation medical treatment to submit bills to employers within 180 days. It would also require health care providers to charge the workers’ compensation rates established in the state the work is provided.

Koch said reform is needed because Alaska’s workers’ compensation rate is the highest in the nation.

“On a number of occasions, Alaskans went outside for workers’ compensation issue and rates are substantially lower than here,” he said. “Because of the way the law is presently written, they are able to bill for Alaska rates even though it is billed someplace else.”

Koch said another provision is that if a provider’s billing is denied by an employer, an appeal can by filed to the workers’ compensation board within 60 days.

The council voted 5-2 in favor of the letter as long as mayor Porter signed it. Council members Mike Boyle and Robert Molloy voted against the letter.

Boyle said he felt the issue doesn’t involve the city directly and had a cause for concern that the bill is just another way of politicians taking money away from providers. Molloy said he would have liked time to hear from health care providers about the effect of the bill.

Council member Tim Navarre said he supports the bill because a lot of local businesses have workers’ compensation and the state should look at changing the billing.

The House Labor and Commerce committee will hold a hearing on Friday to discuss HB 141 in Juneau.

Three representatives from the City of Kenai will travel to Washington D.C. later this month to lobby for federal funding to address the city’s No. 1 priority for more than 20 years — bluff erosion.

At the Kenai City Council meeting Wednesday night, Porter, Koch and Navarre confirmed the trio has scheduled the trip for Feb. 24 to meet with congressional delegates and the undersecretary for the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers to push for the final project review prior to funding.

Koch said the city has already secured its 35 percent of the funding through a $2 million bond from Kenai voters and $10 million from State of Alaska appropriations, but has been waiting on 65 percent from the federal government to address the coastal erosion issue.

The Army Corps of Engineers has spent $5 million on an economic feasibility study and also conducted other studies to find an engineering solution to erosion along the mouth of the Kenai River, but the city has been waiting for a final authorization from the undersecretary for the past three years, Koch said.

Bluff erosion has been calculated at an average of 3 feet per year, he said.

“In the time this has been the city’s number one priority, at least 60 feet of that bluff is gone,” Koch said. “It is in an area of Old Town of historical and archeological significance land is being lost. Hopefully, we came make some positive inroads and come back with positive news. We just need to keep pushing.”

If the base of the slope can be stabilized, which studies have shown can be done, over time the bluff will stabilize, he said.

While the rest of the city council recognized the importance of the trip, council members Terry Bookey and Ryan Marquis questioned how the travel expenses will be handled and noted no policy has been in place for determining who should go and how it should be paid.

The council then came to an agreement to decide on a policy for council travel at a scheduled work session on March 4 at 7 p.m. The council also rescheduled the Personal Use Fishery work session to March 4 at 6 p.m. so Koch could attend.

Reach Dan Balmer at daniel.balmer@peninsulaclarion.com.

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