Peninsula lawmakers introduce new bills

Posted: Thursday, February 13, 2003

Sen. Tom Wagoner, R-Kenai, has introduced a bill to register and regulate commercial fishing permit brokers under state fish and game statutes.

The measure is one of several pieces of pending legislation introduced this session by the senator from District Q and his former counterpart Sen. Alan Austerman, R-Kodiak, of Senate District R who represents portions of the lower Kenai Peninsula, and other legislators who represent parts of the peninsula.

Some bills have to do with resource issues like oil and gas tax incentives, while others address education funding and fisheries permit issues. Still others propose appropriations for various Kenai Peninsula Borough projects, and health and safety matters. A few are the so-called boilerplate of legislative sessions, such as those extending the lives of various boards.

Below is a quick look at legislation now in Senate and House committees introduced by peninsula lawmakers.

Sen. Tom Wagoner

Senate Bill 61 would require commercial fishing permit brokers to be registered with the Alaska Department of Community and Economic Development and to be bonded to up to $100,000. It has a companion bill in the House introduced by Bruce Weyhrauch, R-Juneau. Senate Bill 61 currently is in the Senate Labor and Commerce Committee.

Another bill would appropriate $625,000 to the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities for design and construction of a trail along the Sterling Highway through Ninilchik linking Ninilchik State Recreation Area north of the town to the Deep Creek State Recreation Area south of town.

Only $46,875 in state funds would be used in the project. The rest, $578,125, would be federal dollars. Wagoner said the paved trail is a top priority of the Ninilchik community, where the population increases significantly during the summer fishing season. The bill currently is before the Senate Transportation Committee.

"It's a safety issue," Wagoner said, noting many people, including children, now must walk along the shoulders of the busy Sterling Highway.

Senate Bill 15 would appropriate $1.5 million in Alaska Housing Finance Corporation receipts to design and build a 10-unit senior housing project in Sterling, one of several communities in the Kenai Peninsula Borough that need low-income senior housing.

In approving its 2003 Legislative Priorities List, the borough assembly gave the project a priority ranking of 1, meaning it is highly ranked.

The Sterling Senior Center already has completed a market study and created architectural and engineering plans for a 10-unit complex to be built adjacent to the present senior center. The plan allows for 10 additional units to be built in the future. The bill is now before the Senate Health, Education and Social Services Committee.

Also before the same committee is Senate Bill 14, a measure to increase the base line allocation in the formula for state education funding from $4,010 per student to $4,110.

Based on projected enrollment, that would mean about $1.7 million in additional funding from state and local appropriations, according to Kenai Peninsula Borough School District estimates.

Wagoner said a recently released study of the education cost differential between urban and rural Alaska "made it graphically clear to see how this school district has been shorted for years."

Wagoner predicted, however, that getting additional school funding would be a battle.

Senate Bills 47 and 48 would extend the termination dates for the Alaska Board of Nursing and the Board of Certified Direct-Entry Midwives until June 30, 2011, and June 30, 2007, respectively.

Meanwhile, Senate Bill 62, introduced by the Wagoner-chaired Senate Community and Regional Affairs Committee would extend the Alaska Regional Economic Assistance Program through July 1, 2008. The Kenai Peninsula Economic Development District is funded, in part, under this program.

Senate Bill 63 would clear up some confusion stemming from the city of Homer's recent annexation. It would make clear that, following approval by the Local Boundary Commission, a municipality could not begin taxing the newly annexed area until the following Jan. 1, unless the annexation became effective Jan. 1.

Wagoner also has sponsored two resolutions.

Senate Joint Resolution 4 calls on Congress to adopt legislation to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling. That resolution passed the Senate on Feb. 7 by a vote of 15 to 1 with four members excused.

Senate Joint Resolution 5 urges President George W. Bush and Congress to ensure that federal agencies do not retain records relating to the lawful purchase or ownership of firearms gathered through the Brady Handgun Bill instant check system.

Sen. Alan Austerman, District R

Austerman, who Monday was named Special Assistant on Fisheries to Gov. Frank Murkowski and who has resigned his seat in the Senate, sponsored Senate Bill 18, that would allow the farming of finfish, excluding salmon, in waters other than those defined as "waters of the state," which are navigable waters and adjacent waters within the territorial limits of the state.

Rep. Kelly Wolf, House District 33

House Bill 88 would prohibit the use of cellular telephones when operating a motor vehicle, unless the phone is a hands-free model.

Rep. Mike Chenault, House District 34

House Bill 47 would prohibit insurers or underwriters from basing their auto-, boat- or homeowner-insurance rate on a person's financial credit rating. Chenault has said he questions the connection between a person's credit rating and, say, their driving record, noting someone may have a poor credit rating but an exemplary driving record and should not be made to pay a higher fee because of unrelated financial difficulties. Insurance companies have claimed that a correlation exists between credit worthiness and driving.

House Bill 57 would amend the manner for determining the royalty received by the state on gas production as it relates to the manufacture of certain value-added products. The bill would require the Department of Natural Resources to enter into agreements with lessees to use the price for gas established in a contract between the lessee and a manufacturer as the value of the state's royalty share.

According to Chenault, the bill calls for the commissioner of the Department of Natural Resources, natural gas producers and natural gas manufacturers (those who make value-added products from gas, such as Agrium) to agree on the state royalty rates at the time of a natural gas lease.

The bill amends existing state law that establishes royalty rates for lessees who provide natural gas to public utilities. It also authorizes the state to consider employment opportunities for state residents as part of state royalties. Chenault said the provision would benefit value-added natural gas manufacturers.

"With these companies on the world market and with gas prices varying widely in other areas of the world, they have to be competitive," he said. "And in order to be competitive, they have to know what their costs are."

The bill, he said, would allow companies to know what their royalty gas share costs are when they sign a contract. Now, the royalty costs aren't always known at first..

However, an analysis by the Division of Oil and Gas shows that the change would mean a hefty loss to the state.

"House Bill 57 will result in a loss of state revenues," says a fiscal note attached to the bill that was approved by Natural Resources Commissioner Tom Irwin. "Should only one manufacture apply under (the statute), the state could lose an estimated $36.6 million in royalties over a period of seven years."

But Mark Myers of the division who prepared the analysis wrote that HB 57 is worded so broadly it could apply even to royalty gas subject to in-state processing into liquid natural gas. That would make the loss significantly more than $36.6 million. A much larger revenue impact could occur with a major sale of North Slope royalty gas.

House Bill 61 would establish an incentive tax credit for persons exploring for and developing reserves expected to produce less than 150 barrels per day of oil or gas.

Among other savings, taxpayers would be eligible for credits against their state tax liability for 10 percent of qualifying capital investment costs and 100 percent of their annual cost of qualifying services for which the 10 percent capital investment credit is allowed. The bill is seen as a way to encourage new development by easing the tax bite.

Rep. Paul Seaton, House District 35

House Bill 51 has the backing of all 23 House Republicans who have signed on as co-sponsors. It would require pharmacists to include information about generic drug names on prescriptions of brand-name drugs. The bill is considered a health and safety matter and is designed to ensure against accidental overdoses taken by patients who may believe they are taking two different drugs.

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