District 9 Rep. Mike Chenault, R-Nikiski, checked in with his hometown chamber of commerce Thursday afternoon, briefing members on his rookie season in the Capitol.
"I had an interesting time in Juneau, I learned quite a bit -- but not nearly all there is to learn," he told the North Peninsula Chamber of Commerce Thursday at its weekly luncheon at the Lighthouse Inn. "There are a lot of unspoken rules down there that you don't learn until they're used on you. Then you remember them."
He said most of his staff's time was spent responding to constituent concerns, mostly involving Division of Family and Youth Services, permanent fund and commercial fishing issues.
"I believe we helped people with their problems," he said. "In the past, we didn't get what we needed in the district, but I didn't get all I wanted."
Chenault talked about his major piece of legislation, House Bill 149, authorizing the Department of Corrections to negotiate with the Kenai Peninsula Borough about building a private prison in Kenai.
"Whether we agree or disagree whether there should be a prison or private versus public, and what it will do to the community, we'll now get answers to our concerns in the next few months," he said.
Gov. Knowles signed the private prison bill into law Tuesday.
"Whether the prison will go through, I can't tell you. But the governor signed it, and it will allow us to talk about the effects on our schools, the infrastructure, sewer and water and social services," he said. "There are no answers now, but there will be the more we talk about."
He also said he introduced legislation to provide matching funds to upgrade the north end of the Kenai Spur Highway, and it will be taken up again next session.
"If it passes, it could go out to bond the end of next year and move it up the list," Chenault said. "It could be built in four years."
The project would rebuild, from the dirt up, the North Road from Mile 22 to 29, and include a bike path. This year, those miles are scheduled to be resurfaced.
Other legislation he introduced will be revisited again next year, including moving the drug GHP, also known as the date-rape drug, to a Schedule 1 drug, which would make possession a felony. He also said the Legislature must look at controlling the trafficking in the pain killers OxyContin and oxycodone, which sell for up to $20 per pill on the street, where they are abused.
He also said he secured $47,000 for remodeling the Nikiski Senior Center's kitchen.
He had just a few words about commercial fishing, saying the industry is in dire straits.
"I don't know if we'll have viable commercial fishing in this community in the next few years," he said.
Lisa Parker of Agrium asked Chenault about the June 7 special session Gov. Knowles called.
Chenault said he is sure the Legislature will be in session just a few days, as soon as the cruise ship pollution bill is addressed by the Senate.
The House passed House Bill 260 during the regular session, but the Senate version was held up in Sen. John Cowdery's Finance Committee.
"If they bring it out of committee, and the talk is they will, we won't be there but a day or two," Chenault said. "The industry supports it, the governor supports it."
He also noted that more money was directed toward peninsula schools, but he said he'd like to see more of it earmarked for the foundation funding formula, which can be matched dollar for dollar by the borough, up to a certain point, rather than go to a different account that the borough cannot match.
Chenault also said he supports the high school exit exam, though he is not sure the math test it requires is "the right one."
As far as redistricting goes, two proposals separate Nikiski from Kenai -- the current District 9 that Chenault represents -- and puts Nikiski with Sterling, Cooper Landing, Hope, Seward, Funny River Road and part of East End Road in Homer.
"I asked them if they do it this way, that they massage the lines," he said.
He said there's a way to trade East End Road and put it in District 7 with Homer, and shave off Kalifornsky Beach Road from that district and include it with the proposed Kenai-Soldotna District 8.
He said he does not believe that residents of East End Road could get adequate representation from a Nikiski-based representative. He said the current District 9 is 40 miles from end to end, and under reapportionment, it would be 350 miles long.
"I prefer they leave it as it is," he said. "The census has us only 107 votes over the limit, and I believe Nikiski has more in common with Kenai than Kenai and Soldotna have in common."
Chenault pointed out that his interim office is open at the old courthouse building in Kenai. The number is 283-7223.
"And my home phone number is in the phone book," he added.
The next North Peninsula Chamber of Commerce luncheon will be on Thursday at noon, and will feature Bob Buch of Alaska Plumbers and Pipefitters as the guest speaker.
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