House approves dispatchers, college savings bills

Posted: Thursday, February 24, 2000

JUNEAU (AP) -- The House approved five bills Wednesday, including a measure allowing police dispatchers to retire after 20 years and another to let families shelter up to $100,000 per child for college tuition.

The House also approved bills requiring notification of sexual assault victims in suspects' bail hearings, designating the Ketchikan Indian Corp. as a regional housing authority, and changing community property law to avoid a tax consequence for a surviving spouse.

All five bills passed unanimously.

House Bill 230 would allow police and fire dispatchers at retirement to have the option of converting their service as dispatchers into service as peace officers. Dispatchers now must work 30 years before they're eligible for retirement. The bill would make them eligible at 20 years.

''Dispatchers are in a high-stress occupation with a higher-than-average burnout factor,'' said Rep. Pete Kott, R-Anchorage. He said few stay for 30 years and the bill would be a strong incentive to stay at least 20 years.

Kott said that could mean less turnover and savings in training costs.

The bill requires dispatchers to pay the full cost of conversion of their credited service to peace officer status, Kott said, and will cost the state nothing.

Senate Bill 186, approved by the Senate last week, creates the Alaska Higher Education Savings Trust to take advantage of a federal law allowing states to set up more generous higher education savings plans. Families would be able to shelter up to $100,000 from taxes and most debt collection to put a child through college under the bill.

Earnings would not taxed until they were withdrawn to pay for college or vocation school. The money could be used for schools outside the state. Participants would pay a 10 percent penalty on earnings if they used the money for other purposes.

HB 67, sponsored by Rep. Norm Rokeberg, R-Anchorage, requires courts to notify sexual assault victims, or parents of victims, of the bail hearings of people charged with the crime. Rokeberg said that would allow victims to comment on bail conditions.

''Victims are usually notified of bail hearings in these cases, but there is nothing in statute that requires judicial officers to inquire if such notification has been made,'' Rokeberg said.

He filed the bill after a victim's family in his district was not informed of the release on bail of a man charged with sexual assault in 1996. The bill also permits judges to impose additional bail conditions to protect victims.

HB 340, sponsored by Rep. Bill Williams, R-Saxman, designates Ketchikan Indian Corp. as a regional housing authority. Williams said the bill will allow the corporation to enter into tax-exempt agreements with local governments as required by the federal Housing and Urban Development for providing low-income housing for members under the Native American Housing Assistance and Self-determination Act.

Senate Bill 166 changes Alaska community property laws to avoid tax consequences for surviving spouses. Sen. Robin Taylor, R-Wrangell, said a federal circuit court ruled that after the death of one spouse, the surviving spouse could not change a joint will or trust.

''The surviving spouse had to pay taxes on community property given to beneficiaries who would inherit after the surviving spouse's death,'' Taylor said. The bill will allow taxes to be delayed until the second spouse dies.

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