JUNEAU House Democrats tried unsuccessfully Monday to increase the benefits that would be provided under Gov. Frank Murkowski's proposed senior citizen prescription drug bill.
They also tried once more to revive the senior citizen Longevity Bonus Program, forcing Republican majority members to cast another vote on the issue, which Democrats could use against them in this fall's election.
House Bill 374 as proposed by the Mur-kowski administration would give low-income older Alaskans a choice between two programs a $120-per-month cash assistance option the administration set up last summer or the new $1,600-per-year prescription drug reimbursement plan.
Democrats had proposed six amendments to the bill by the time the House recessed at 12:45 p.m. Monday and were expected to offer another seven when the House returned to work at 5 p.m.
Rep. Sharon Cissna, D-Anchorage, proposed boosting the prescription benefit to $2,000 a year and Rep. David Guttenberg, D-Fairbanks, pitched a raise in the monthly cash payment to $150.
''I'm not sure if even $150 is enough, but I want to give seniors a little more comfort, a little more cushion in the later part of their lives,'' Guttenberg said.
Rep. Bill Williams, R-Saxman, said the state cannot afford that.
''We know we don't have enough money to fund all these programs that we have today,'' Williams said.
All the Democrat amendments offered early in the day failed along mostly caucus lines, but some came close to passing. An attempt by Cissna to remove what Democrats were calling the ''marriage penalty'' failed 16-17.
The income limits in the administration proposal allow two single adults to have more money than a married couple could. The amendment would have allowed a married couple to have income twice what's allowed for a single person and still qualify for the program.
Democrats also proposed restoring the senior citizen Longevity Bonus Program, which effectively ended last year when Mur-kowski vetoed the $45 million needed to fund it.
That program provided monthly checks of up to $250 to senior citizens regardless of income. It was being phased out and applied only to people who had turned 65 by the end of 1996.
Rep. Bob Lynn, R-Anchorage, joined minority Democrats in voting for the amendment, which failed 12-23.
Reps. Tom Anderson, R-Anchorage; John Harris, R-Valdez; Beth Kerttula, D-Juneau; and Bruce Weyhrauch, were out of the room for that vote. Rep. Cheryll Heinze, R-Anchorage, was excused from the floor session.
The bill calls for the cash assistance and prescription drug help to end when a federal prescription drug plan for senior citizens takes effect in January 2006.
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