Knowles signs cancer measure, 20 other bills

Posted: Tuesday, June 26, 2001

JUNEAU (AP) -- Gov. Tony Knowles signed 21 bills into law Monday. One new law provides breast and cervical cancer treatment to poor women, another repeals term-limit pledge laws, and a third requires convicted burglars to submit to DNA testing.

House Bill 65 takes advantage of a change in federal law that lets states provide Medicaid coverage for breast and cervical cancer to women whose income is up to 250 percent of the poverty level.

A single woman earning $26,075 a year would qualify under those guidelines. The program, financed mainly with federal funds, is expected to cost the state $175,000 a year.

Knowles says about 40 women a year will be treated through the new program.

''These women have been trapped in a terrible predicament,'' Knowles said.

They make too much to qualify for the regular Medicaid program but not enough to pay for insurance, he said. They were eligible for free screening for breast and cervical cancer, but not free treatment.

Knowles said work isn't finished on the issue. Next year, he'll ask the Legislature to remove a sunset provision that ends the coverage in two years.

Sen. Lyda Green, R-Wasilla, has said the sunset provision was warranted because other options for insurance and treatment may become available. Green has concerns about expanding Medicaid programs.

Knowles also signed House Bill 189, which repeals two citizen initiatives to identify candidates who supported term limits by stating that position beside their names on the ballot.

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Norm Rokeberg, R-Anchorage, said the laws were repealed in response to a U.S. Supreme Court decision that found a similar Missouri law unconstitutional.

Alaskans approved an initiative in 1996 requiring a candidate's position on term limits be listed on the ballot. After the attorney general's office said that was unconstitutional, term limit supporters passed a 1999 initiative making the pledges on ballots voluntary.

Sarah Felix, an assistant attorney general, said although Alaska's 1999 law differed somewhat from the Missouri law, it was almost certainly also unconstitutional.

''I just think the U.S. Supreme Court was pretty much saying, ''Don't clutter up the ballot with this stuff. It doesn't belong on the ballot,''' Felix said.

Another bill signed Monday, Senate Bill 99, will require those convicted of burglary to provide samples for a state DNA registry.

Senate President Rick Halford introduced the bill, saying many of those who commit violent crimes have prior convictions for burglary, and adding their DNA samples to the state's records could help solve violent crimes. The Department of Public Safety backed the bill.

The Alaska Civil Liberties Union called the bill an unwarranted move to collect private information about citizens. The group's executive director, Jennifer Rudinger, said DNA samples could reveal genetic information about close family members, and statistics in Alaska do not demonstrate a strong enough link between burglary and violent crime to justify the law.

Other bills Knowles signed Monday include:

-- Senate Bill 158, sponsored by the Senate Resources Committee, which mandates a study by the state Department of Revenue on whether it makes sense for the state to be a part-owner in a possible natural gas pipeline from the North Slope.

-- House Bill 164, by Rep. Fred Dyson, R-Eagle River, which gives grandparents an opportunity to be heard in custody, abuse and neglect hearings involving their grandchildren.

-- House Bill 99, by Rep. Lesil McGuire, R-Anchorage, which calls for student conflict resolution strategies to be part of state-mandated school safety programs.

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