House Speaker Brian Porter set what he hoped would be the tone of the second session of the 22nd Legislature on Monday when he urged his colleagues to set aside their differences and personal agendas and focus on finding a way to bridge the fiscal gap.
The House, he said, faces "the most serious challenges" it has ever faced.
Once the gavel came down calling the House to order, the work proceeded quickly. The largely ceremonial proceedings allowed lawmakers to greet each other, introduce guests and even sing a happy birthday or two.
House members from the Kenai Peninsula introduced several bills during the first day.
Rep. Drew Scalzi, R-Homer, a commercial fisher and a member of the North Pacific Halibut Commission, sponsored several having to do with aspects of the fishing industry.
House Bill 283 would amend the way appointments are made to the Alaska Board of Fisheries.
Under the provision, the governor would appoint three members from the commercial fishing industry, three from sport or personal-use fishers, and one member actively participating in subsistence fishing.
Members would have to have had at least five years of experience and hold the appropriate permits and licenses.
The measure also would limit persons serving on the fish board to no more than two consecutive three-year terms.
House Bill 286 would broaden the purposes for which a person may hold more than one interim-use or entry permit. Scalzi said Monday that current law, which limits fishers to one permit in one area, is an impediment to consolidation of the industry.
If ownership of multiple permits was allowed, the Alaska Board of Fish still could then write regulations governing their use. Among other things, the board could allow such things as fishing extra gear or perhaps opening extra fishing days.
"It's a creative avenue for holding more than one permit and doing other things with it," Scalzi said.
House Bill 287 would exempt commercial fishing entry permits from claims of creditors and prevent permits from being seized by the federal government to satisfy federal tax obligations.
It also would allow fishers to apply for loans from the Commercial Fishing Loan Program more than once and remove a half-percent refinance fee.
House Bill 288 would permit the Alaska Commercial Fisheries Entry Commission to buy back fishing permits with an established buy-back fund.
Currently, Scalzi said, the buy-back program requires buying back not only the permit but also a fisher's entire operation, including boat and gear. That may actually prevent some fishers from selling.
The program would be backed by the state, perhaps through loans, but actually funded by the industry, he said.
Rep. Ken Lancaster, R- Soldotna, introduced House Bill 306 authorizing the Alaska Department of Community and Economic Development to issue permits to certain agencies to purchase, possess and use certain drugs for euthanizing domestic animals.
Rep. Mike Chenault, R-Nikiski, introduced House Bill 309 setting guidelines for proper handling of certain documents relating to the placement of children by the state Department of Health and Social Services.
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