Knowles signs 19 bills into law, vetoes one

Posted: Sunday, June 23, 2002

JUNEAU (AP) -- Gov. Tony Knowles has signed a bill that raises the fine for driving too slowly and vetoed one that would have told voters how often judges are late with decisions.

Also signed into law is a bill that lets doctors band together to negotiate with insurance companies. Knowles approved the measure despite objections from two departments within his administration.

A Knowles spokesman had no immediate explanation for why the governor signed the physicians negotiation bill.

The bill's sponsor, Sen. Pete Kelly, R-Fairbanks, has said the measure would help level the playing field between doctors and big insurance companies.

But state and federal regulators said the measure would at best create a needless bureaucracy and at worst could drive up prices for health care. Officials with the Department of Law and the Division of Insurance testified against the bill in hearings.

Knowles signed 19 bills into law on Thursday at the same time that he vetoed Senate Bill 161, which would have required the state Division of Elections to print in the state voter's guide how many times judges were late with decisions.

The governor said the bill would violate constitutionally required separation of powers between the Legislature and the judiciary.

''While I believe that it is desirable to encourage prompt judicial decisions, it is another matter to use unconstitutional means to achieve that end,'' Knowles wrote in his veto letter.

Existing law already requires judges to render decisions within six months of hearing a case in order to be paid.

The bill's chief backer, Sen. Dave Donley, R-Anchorage, argued it simply provided the public with information on whether judges complied with that law.

''I worked directly with the chief justice in crafting that legislation, and the court system didn't oppose it,'' Donley said.

Knowles signed another bill that Donley sponsored, Senate Bill 222. It increases the penalty for driving too slowly on a two-lane highway.

The bill increases fines from $30 to $100 if a driver has five or more vehicles behind him and does not pull over when it's safe to do so.

Knowles also signed House Bill 527, which permits oil and gas exploration and development in the Minto Flats refuge unless it can be demonstrated, using sound science or local traditional knowledge, that the activity would be incompatible with the purpose of the refuge.

Environmental groups had urged Knowles to veto the measure, saying it set a lower standard of protection for the refuge than for other state lands.

Other bills signed into law include:

-- House Bill 182 to prohibit certain deceptive sales and advertising practices by car dealers.

-- House Bill 208 to require the state to identify 90 new sites for growing shellfish.

-- House Bill 402 to allow a larger percentage of the state's welfare caseload to be exempt from a five-year lifetime limit on benefits. The new law also allows harsher action when clients fail to follow a plan for moving off welfare.

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