Several new laws take effect after Wednesday

Posted: Thursday, January 02, 2003

JUNEAU (AP) -- Several new laws that took effect Wednesday will affect some veterans, motorists, volunteer firefighters, major shareholders and minimum wage workers.

The most significant law taking effect Jan. 1 will raise the state's minimum wage by $1.50 per hour to $7.15 per hour. The law will transform Alaska's wage from the lowest on the West Coast to the highest.

But several other laws will take effect with less fanfare.

Disabled veterans will have an easier time getting free license plates after Jan. 1 under a new law that lessened the eligibility requirements.

Under the new law, a veteran classified as up to 50 percent disabled would be eligible for the free commemorative plates. The previous law limited the plates to veterans who suffered up to 70 percent disability.

The new license plates will also feature a new red, white and blue design to replace the plates now issued to about 1,058 disabled veterans in Alaska, said Mary Marshburn, director of the state Division of Motor Vehicles. It is unclear how many veterans will be eligible for the plates, Marshburn said.

''What we have been told by the veterans organization is that this is a more attractive plate and they believe there will be more veterans wanting the plate,'' Marshburn said.

The new law does not change federal requirements for veterans to obtain special handicapped parking privileges, Marshburn said.

Road builders may have to look farther into the future when they design projects in Anchorage and Fairbanks under another new law.

It would require state designers to consider the traffic patterns over the next 10 years on a road project costing less than $5 million. Roads costing between $5 million and $10 million would require a 20-year design life and roads costing more than $10 million would be designed for 25 years.

Anchorage has experienced a great deal of growth in recent decades and the new law is intended to force state transportation officials to do a better job of anticipating future growth.

Dennis Poshard, spokesman for the state Department of Transportation and Public Facilities, said it could add to the cost of some road projects and result in fewer but larger projects being constructed.

Certified volunteer firefighters and emergency medical technicians in some areas could be eligible for a property tax exemption of up to $10,000 on their assessed value.

Sen. Gene Therriault, R-North Pole, said the bill was intended to aid communities that are having difficulty attracting volunteer emergency personnel.

The Fairbanks North Star Borough and Kenai Borough both supported the bill, Therriault said. The local governments would have to enact such a property tax assessment exemption for emergency workers to receive the benefits.

Lawmakers last session also passed a law to allow corporation shareholders to vote by proxy and receive official meeting information through e-mail. About 25 other states currently have such a law, said a sponsor statement by former Rep. Lisa Murkowski, R-Anchorage. Murkowski, who sponsored the bill, was appointed to take her father's seat in the U.S. Senate.

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