Salmon labeling makes menu

Coal bed bill awaits changes

Posted: Monday, May 10, 2004

JUNEAU Alaskans eating out in restaurants will know whether the salmon on the menu is wild or farmed under a bill that's passed the Legislature.

The House approved the bill 39-0 Sunday, which requires restaurants to disclose that information about the fish on their menus.

The bill, sponsored by Juneau Sen. Kim Elton, was recommended by the Joint Legislative Salmon Industry Task Force. The task force is seeking ways to help the state's wild salmon industry, which has been hit hard in recent years by competition from salmon farming in other states and countries.

It already has passed the Senate, so it next goes to Gov. Frank Murkowski for consideration.

The bill was among a slew of measures facing lawmakers Sunday, including a bill making changes in the state's coal bed methane leasing program; a measure requiring paper records of votes cast using electronic voting machines; and a bill allowing gambling on gerbil races at the Alaska State Fair.

The coal bed methane bill is a response to an outcry last year over the state's move to a fast-track program to sell rights to drill for the shallow gas.

Landowners in the Matanuska-Susitna Borough and the Homer area protested the sale of drilling rights in their neighborhoods with little public notice and few regulatory safeguards.

The bill would repeal the fast-track program and, instead, require the state to study in detail any new lease offerings and make a ''best interest finding'' before going ahead.

The bill also includes protections for drinking water supplies and requires the state to establish setbacks and noise mitigation measures for compressor stations before approving coal bed methane operations.

Robin McLean, a Mat-Su property owner who's been affected by the program, said the bill will help protect property owners in the future, but doesn't fix existing problems. She and other affected landowners want a buyback of the leases already sold.

''It doesn't help us,'' McLean said.

The Senate had not yet acted on the bill by 9 p.m.

The electronic voting bill was approved unanimously, as was the so-called ''rat racing'' bill.

Rep. Les Gara, D-Anchorage, said the voting bill addresses a concern that the software for the ATM-style machines can malfunction and miscount votes.

Without a paper trail citizens cannot be certain their votes are recorded accurately, and it is impossible to recount votes, he said.

The bill would require paper records for the machines, as soon as that is technologically feasible.

It would prohibit the state Division of Elections from putting more than one of the electronic voting machines in a precinct. Most voters would continue to use the hand-marked ballots Alaska has been using.

The rat race bill would clarify that certain ''animal classics'' fund-raisers put on by nonprofit groups are permitted in Alaska.

Rep. Bill Stoltze, R-Chugiak, introduced the bill after an opinion from the Attorney General's office raised questions about whether the games are legal.

The Palmer Elks Lodge for years has run a game in which bettors try to guess which hole a gerbil will run down as it slowly spins on a wheel. Proceeds go to help local causes.

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