Prison, Peace Corps bills among the dead at session's end

Posted: Wednesday, May 22, 2002

JUNEAU (AP) -- A private prison won't be going up in Whittier, and Peace Corps volunteers won't get Alaska Permanent Fund dividends while they're out of the country.

Those proposals are among more than 700 pieces of legislation that died when lawmakers left Juneau this week.

During their two years of work, members of the 22nd Alaska Legislature proposed 924 bills and another 190 generally nonbinding resolutions. They passed 261 bills and 88 resolutions.

That's not unusual, said retired state Rep. Ben Grussendorf, D-Sitka, who once served as speaker of the House.

''In the time that you have, you have to start doing triage, and get to those that are most important to the largest number of people,'' Grussendorf said. ''Some things are just not going to make it to the gate.''

And that's not a bad thing, he said.

''There's a lot of pieces of legislation that are introduced that should not become law,'' Grussendorf said.

The Whittier private prison bill was one of the two measures favored by Anchorage oil field services and construction firm Veco that faltered this session. The other was a proposed $760 million tax break to spur construction of a gas pipeline from the North Slope.

The prison bill came close to passing. It made it through the House and through most of its Senate committees, but ran into a roadblock in the Senate Rules Committee.

Committee Chairman Randy Phillips, R-Eagle River, said he did not like the bill because the state had not sought bids through a competitive process.

''I'm not opposed to privatizing prisons, but I do have a real problem with sole source,'' Phillips said.

Proponents of the bill said Whittier had gone through its own competitive bidding process.

Sen. John Cowdery, R-Anchorage, tried to revive the prison bill during a just-ended special session, but the session ended before he could hold a hearing on it.

A couple of attempts to heal racial tensions made it through the House, but foundered in the Senate.

Aniak Republican Rep. Carl Morgan's bill to add a second verse honoring Alaska Natives' contributions to the state song, ''Alaska's Flag,'' died in the Senate Finance Committee.

A proposal by Rep. Mary Kapsner, D-Bethel, to require high school students to take Alaska history was also buried in a Senate committee.

Proposed hate-crimes bills by Gov. Tony Knowles and Sen. Georgianna Lincoln, D-Rampart, never got hearings in either body. The legislation was introduced in response to an incident last year in which three youths targeted Alaska Natives in paintball attacks.

Anchorage Republican Sen. Dave Donley's answer to hate crimes -- automatically sending juveniles who commit felony hate crimes to adult courts -- passed the Senate but met its death in House Judiciary.

Anchorage Republican Rep. Norm Rokeberg's bill to set up an insurance pool for nonprofit organizations and small businesses expired in the Senate Health Education and Social Services Committee

Chairwoman Lyda Green, R-Wasilla, said the insurance bill was too complicated to consider with just a week left in the session when it arrived in her committee.

''That's a big, big deal,'' Green said. ''That has to be gone over very, very carefully.''

Green's committee was also the graveyard for the Peace Corps and Alaska history bills.

Several bills that could have tightened personal budgets for low- or moderate-income Alaskans didn't pass.

A proposal that would have removed welfare checks from many Alaskans during the month they receive permanent fund dividends died in the House State Affairs Committee.

Also falling by the wayside was a plan to tighten the eligibility requirements for state health insurance for children of low- and moderate-income families.

And a measure that would have automatically reduced some benefit programs if the state budget ran short got stuck in the House Health Education and Social Services Committee.

Nobody's version of a fiscal plan to bridge Alaska's anticipated fiscal 2003 budget gap of $963 million passed the Legislature.

The House passed bills to raise about $570 million next year through an income tax, use of permanent fund earnings and raising the excise tax on alcohol. The only piece that survived the Senate was the smallest one -- the alcohol tax increase, which is expected to add about $20 million to state coffers.

On the Senate side, Finance Co-chairman Donley largely failed in pushing through legislation he said would reduce spending or help constrain the growth of government.

Several of his proposals would have saved money by trimming programs that benefit rural Alaska, and House Community and Regional Affairs Co-chairman Morgan refused to hear them.

Donley's proposed constitutional amendment to limit state spending also never made it to the House floor. In fact, lawmakers declined to put any constitutional amendments on this fall's election ballot.

And Alaskans will continue to set their clocks forward in spring and back in the fall. A proposal to eliminate daylight savings time died in the House Rules Committee.

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