Education, public safety bills clear Legislature

Posted: Wednesday, May 09, 2001

JUNEAU (AP) -- On the final day of the session Tuesday, the Legislature gave high school students a reprieve on the exit exam, put $18 million more into schools, got a little tougher on drunken driving and reached a compromise on a breast and cervical cancer bill.

The school funding bill, which had already passed the Senate, cleared the House over objections from Democrats that it benefits urban students more than rural students.

Senate Bill 174 spends about $14 million to boost the basic student allocation by $70 from $3,940 to $4,010.

It fixes a funding glitch that penalizes Wrangell and Petersburg schools and provides some tax relief to municipal school districts by requiring communities to count only 50 percent of any increases in their assessed value toward the required amount they must pay for their schools. That provision adds $3.8 million to the bill's costs.

Democrats said that provision is unfair because it primarily benefits urban Alaska, as does a school grant program Republicans are spending $12 million on that doesn't account for higher costs in rural Alaska.

''You cannot leave people behind and be an effective leader,'' said Minority Leader Ethan Berkowitz, D-Anchorage.

House Finance Co-Chairman Eldon Mulder, R-Anchorage, defended the measure.

''We can argue all day about fairness, about equity, about balance, about this and that. It's all in the eye of the beholder,'' Mulder said. The bottom line is 25 percent of the increase in the state operating budget this year can be attributed to education, he said.

''We're making a major statement here,'' Mulder said.

The House also signed off Tuesday morning on Senate Bill 133, which delays the date when high school seniors must pass a test to graduate from 2002 to 2004. It also allows waivers from the exam requirement for students who arrive in Alaska late in their high school career and allows students with disabilities to take an alternative assessment if they can't pass the regular exam.

Rep. Con Bunde, R-Anchorage, said the bill challenges students to achieve academic success, while providing fair treatment for students who arrive late or have special needs.

''Our current educational system does need some help,'' Bunde said. ''Some that are receiving diplomas are not well equipped to face the challenges of life.''

The bill had already passed the Senate.

Legislators also finished work on a bill to distribute $4.5 million to vocational education programs at the University of Alaska, Alaska Vocational Technical Center, Kotzebue Technical Center and Galena Project Education Vocational Training Center.

A bill providing better pay and benefits for village public safety officers if they take over parole and probation supervision in villages also made it through on the final day. The measure also calls for hiring four regional public safety officers to help train and supervise VPSOs.

A measure that would raise the tax on alcohol by 10 cents a drink didn't make it through, nor did a comprehensive anti-drunken driving measure that would have stiffened penalties and fines and required incarcerated offenders to receive treatment.

But a less sweeping alcohol measure did. House Bill 132 lowers the blood alcohol level at which a driver is considered intoxicated from .10 to .08, contains provisions to combat bootlegging in dry communities and makes it a felony to commit three DWIs in 10 years.

Legislators also passed a bill Gov. Tony Knowles had called a priority. A conference committee agreed on language in House Bill 65, which would take advantage of a change in federal law to allow more uninsured women into a Medicaid program for breast and cervical cancer.

The compromise retains a sunset provision, ending the program after two years. But the agreement calls for the state to pick up 100 percent of the costs for women diagnosed in those years if the state drops the program.

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