Murkowski signs off on six bills

Posted: Friday, May 30, 2003

JUNEAU (AP) Gov. Frank Murkowski signed six bills into law this week, most of them aimed at saving the state money.

Senate Bill 123 eliminates a requirement that the state do annual reviews of the amount of money it provides families that adopt or serve as guardians of hard-to-place children.

The state would still review subsidy amounts upon a parent's request, Department of Health and Social Services officials have said. But eliminating the automatic requirement would save staff time and prevent the cost of the program from rising so quickly.

Savings are estimated at $185,000 in state general funds and $85,000 in federal funds.

Senate Bill 108 eliminates the Medicaid Rate Advisory Commission. The Murkowski administration asked for the legislation, which administration officials said would allow the department to set a more flexible, cost-effective rate-setting process.

There was little opposition to the measure, with just two votes cast against it in the Senate and two in the House.

Sen. Johnny Ellis, D-Anchorage, said he voted against the measure because he did not trust administration assurances that the public and affected facilities would still be consulted.

Murkowski also signed Senate Bill 115, which allows the state to use money generated from the state's prison industries program to pay the salaries of correctional officers who oversee the program.

Currently, revenues generated by the program go to the state's general fund after paying for the cost of materials and wages to inmates.

Some legislators had feared that because the money generated by the program is not enough to pay salaries for all the staff involved, the administration was likely to cut the work program.

The bill was amended to clarify lawmakers intend the prison work program to continue. The bill also lets the program expand to provide products or services to the private sector if doing that provides a benefit to private industry.

Also signed into law Wednesday was Senate Bill 120, which limits compensation for injured state employees who work on watercraft by putting them under the state workers' compensation program.

Currently, seamen can file legal claims under the federal Jones Act, an avenue which is not available to other state employees hurt on the job. The administration has said that results in nearly 75 percent higher costs for claims filed by those workers.

Opponents argued the change will provide inadequate redress for people working in an industry where they can suffer serious injuries.

The governor also signed:

- House Bill 159, which reduces the frequency of state audits of small loan companies to be consistent with that required for banks and credit unions. The bill also eliminates one state audit of the Commercial Fishing and Agricultural Bank, which is still subject to other audits. The administration estimates the bill will save the state $126,000 a year.

- House Bill 23, which allows courts to order restitution to non-profits for time their volunteers spend investigating a crime against the nonprofit.

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