House approves teacher, loan, justice bills

Posted: Tuesday, April 11, 2000

JUNEAU (AP) -- School districts could hire certain retired teachers and Yukon Territory residents could buy sportfishing licenses for the same price that Alaskans pay under bills passed by the state House on Monday.

The House also approved bills allowing the Alaska Commercial Fishing and Agriculture bank to make tourism and mining loans, encouraging restorative justice and removing regulatory barriers to a natural gas pipeline.

House Bill 277, sponsored by Rep. Andrew Halcro, allows school districts to hire certain retired teachers full-time while letting them keep their retirement benefits. Retired teachers now may work 40 percent of full time in school district without forgoing retirement benefits.

Halcro, R-Anchorage, said both urban and rural school districts face teacher shortages, especially in special education. Under the bill, each district would establish policies for determining when a shortage occurs.

''This restricts the number of teachers who may retire and then return to teaching in order to prevent a mass retirement of teachers who would then expect to be able to return and receive benefits,'' Halcro said.

Rep. Con Bunde, R-Anchorage, said the law is a small step toward addressing a larger problem of teacher shortages. Teachers used to have an incentive to move north, as he did in 1968, because of higher wages.

''Now the salaries are about even with the Lower 48,'' Bunde said.

The bill contains a sunset clause that will end the program in three years unless it's renewed.

House Bill 206 allows Yukon Territory residents to buy Alaska sportfishing licenses and king salmon tags for the same price as Alaskans. The arrangement will take effect only if Alaskans receive a similar deal to obtain Yukon Territory fishing licenses at resident rates.

Rep. Eldon Mulder, R-Anchorage, said the measure is a gesture of friendliness to a close neighbor.

But Rep. Ben Grussendorf, R-Sitka, said the change removes money from license fees that could be used to enhance fisheries and that Alaskans will get little benefit in return for putting more pressure on king salmon stocks. The bill was approved 28-9.

The House voted 37-0 in favor of HB 372, which permits judges to let crime victims and offenders work out sentences designed to make the victim ''as whole as possible,'' according to sponsor Rep. Fred Dyson, R-Eagle River. Judges must determine that victims were not coerced or intimidated.

Cosponsor Rep. Ethan Berkowitz, D-Anchorage, said letting a victim confront an offender, demonstrate the harm from the crime and work out reimbursement is a more effective way of preventing repeated offenses than the current justice system.

''It's a way of healing the community, healing the victim, and in a way, healing or curing the offender,'' Berkowitz said.

Dyson said the law would save money by keeping offenders out of jail and putting them to work to reimburse victims.

Violent offenders would not be eligible for restorative justice. Domestic violence cases are exempt from negotiation because of the possibility of victim intimidation.

HB 290, approved 38-0, lays out rules for intrastate use of natural gas taken from a North Slope natural gas pipeline project. The bill makes clear that the authority of the Regulatory Commission of Alaska extends only to the intrastate transportation of gas in Alaska and that a gas pipeline is required to operate as a common carrier only for gas sold inside Alaska.

The House also:

--Approved Senate Bill 255, exempting the state Department of Natural Resources from conducting exhaustive public reviews of permits to use state land. The bill allows the director of the Division of Lands to issue rights-of-way or easements for transmission lines, roads and other uses. The bill follows an Alaska Supreme Court decision challenging the department's ability to issue a revocable permit for the Golden Valley Electric Association's proposed intertie across the Tanana Flats.

-- Rejected, on reconsideration, a resolution urging Congress to repeal the Brady firearms law. Rep. John Coghill's measure said the Brady law, which requires sellers of handguns and most long guns to check with a designated authority to make sure the buyer has not committed any of a variety of crimes, was unconstitutional. The vote fell one vote short of the minimum needed to pass, 20-15, after opponents said the some aspects of the bill, such as the instant check system, should be retained.

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