JUNEAU (AP) -- The twisted path of a bill dealing with the governor's power to spend money on disaster aid may finally be coming to an end.
Senate Bill 101, which started off as a bid to alter the state's legal definition of a disaster last March, was passed out of its third conference committee on Monday.
The previous version of the measure had been passed by both the House and the Senate last year, but those votes were taken back last month after lawmakers discovered a mistake in the bill. The new version will likely come to a vote this week.
The conference committee altered wording that would have forced the Legislature to meet in special session or have all lawmakers sign off on disaster funding above $500,000 during a fiscal year.
Without that change, a disaster that took place during the eight months the legislators aren't in session could be old news before lawmakers could approve relief money.
''Whatever the disaster, it would be ancient by the time that happens,'' said House Speaker Brian Porter, R-Anchorage.
The current form of the bill is also acceptable to Gov. Tony Knowles, who initially opposed it as an intrusion on his power.
The measure was introduced last year by the Republican-led Senate Finance Committee after Knowles declared a natural disaster -- and spent $8.1 million -- in response to poor fish returns in Western Alaska in 1998.
He had declared a similar disaster the year before, and some GOP lawmakers felt he was abusing the system to offset a natural downturn in the fishing industry.
The measure went through several different drafts, and the House and Senate approved different versions. After both chambers refused to accept the other's changes, the bill was shunted to a joint conference committee. The first conference committee's attempt at a compromise was rejected.
Lawmakers agreed to a version produced by a second conference committee -- until the error was found.
The final version of the bill doesn't change the process by which a declaration of an economic disaster is approved. It does require additional reporting from the administration to lawmakers about where disaster relief money is coming from, how much state money gets matched by federal funds and how long a disaster is expected to drain state resources.
It also loosens what had been a strict list of what qualifies as a disaster. The list in earlier versions of the bill was designed to rule out disaster aid for poor fish runs by confining the definition to such events as floods and earthquakes.
''They were defining exactly what a disaster is,'' said Carol Carroll, director of the Administrative Services Division for the Department of Military and Veterans Affairs, which administers the state's response to disasters. ''You can never really list everything that might happen.''
Sen. Kim Elton, a Juneau Democrat, still doesn't like the bill, saying it tries to draw a false line between a natural event and the financial impact it can have on people.
''I think you can't separate the economics from a disaster,'' he said.
Peninsula Clarion ©2013. All Rights Reserved.