Host of new bills filed in advance of Jan. 21 session

Posted: Sunday, January 12, 2003

JUNEAU (AP) -- It would be more difficult to get an initiative on the ballot, easier for some to get a permanent fund dividend check and illegal to send anonymous spam e-mail under bills filed by lawmakers Friday.

The Legislature returns Jan. 21 to consider hundreds of proposed laws and craft a plan to fund state government for another year.

Lawmakers pre-filed 80 bills that were released on Friday, taking aim at everything from class sizes to the way in which dividends are calculated.

Senate Bill 18 would legalize some types of fish farming in Alaska with the exception of salmon, which currently is farmed in Canada and elsewhere.

A glut of farmed salmon in the world markets have depressed the prices of wild salmon for Alaska fishermen and prompted a Salmon Task Force to explore ways to weather the tough times.

Sen. Alan Austerman, R-Kodiak, said he sponsored the fish farming bill to spark debate over the state's prohibition.

''The whole world is farming fish except Alaska. I'm hoping just to get the debate started,'' said Austerman.

Several education bills were filed Friday, including measures to address the state's current teacher shortage and to increase per-pupil spending in the foundation formula.

Sen. Gary Wilken, R-Fairbanks, predicts education issues will monopolize much debate this session. A study on rural education costs is expected to be complete this year and next year high school exit exams will be enforced, Wilken said.

Meanwhile, Alaska is grappling with how the new federal No Child Left Behind Act will impact the state, said Wilken, who co-chairs the powerful Senate Finance Committee.

Wilken is sponsoring Senate Bill 1 to raise the school funding formula to $4,090 per student. The 2 percent increase in the base student allocation accounts for inflation and would cost the state about $17 million, Wilken said.

House Bill 42, sponsored by Rep. Beth Kerttula, would limit some grade school classrooms to less than 20 students per teacher. Some high school classrooms would have no more than 25 students per teacher under the bill sponsored by the Juneau Democrat.

House Joint Resolution 4 would limit legislative sessions to 90 days. Current sessions are 120 days. The proposed constitutional amendment, sponsored by Anchorage Reps. Ralph Samuels and Norman Rokeberg, would have to be approved by voters in 2004.

Telephone solicitors would fund the state's so-called ''No Call List'' under two bills filed on Friday. House Bills 8 and 15 would require telemarketers who want to operate in the state to purchase a list of Alaskans who do not wish to be bothered.

House Bill 36 would require unsolicited ''spam'' e-mails to include contact information of the person sending them. The bill is sponsored by Rep. Les Gara, D-Anchorage.

Two proposed constitutional amendments seek to regain state control over subsistence management on federal lands and waters. Two more would base permanent fund dividends on the market value of the $23 billion fund rather than its investment earnings.

House Bill 14 would allow Alaskans who leave the state to care for a terminally ill grandparent to receive a dividend. Rep. Hugh Fate, R-Fairbanks, sponsored the bill.

House Joint Resolution 5 and House Bill 31 each would make it more difficult to place initiatives on the ballot. The legislation, sponsored by Republican Rep. Bill Williams of Saxman, would require petition drives in three-fourths of the 40 house districts across the state.

Last session the Legislature approved a dime-per drink increase in the state's alcohol tax. This session, Rep. Gary Stevens, R-Kodiak, is proposing an alcohol tax cut for small wineries.

House Bill 35 allows the state's small wineries to apply for a reduction in their current $2.50 per-gallon tax rate. John Lucas, owner of Kodiak Island Winery, said his tax rate more than doubled this year due to the increase.

''It's just giving the small guy a little break and a chance to get going,'' Lucas said.

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