Initiative backers want to restore dividends to Peace Corps volunteers

Posted: Tuesday, June 26, 2001

JUNEAU (AP) -- A Fairbanks graduate student is proposing a ballot initiative to restore Permanent Fund Dividends to Peace Corps volunteers.

Brian Brubaker said he sees no reason why the Legislature removed Peace Corps volunteers from the list of Alaskans allowed to be absent from the state and still receive dividends.

''I have friends who are currently in the Peace Corps right now in the Philippines and Thailand, and I think this is a way to honor their service and their commitment and to show that we appreciate what they're doing,'' Brubaker said.

Brubaker is one of three primary sponsors of the initiative submitted last week to the state Division of Elections. Other sponsors are Lisa A. Villano and Ian Olson.

Relatively few people -- about 35-50 -- are out of Alaska in Peace Corps service at a given time, Brubaker said.

Generally, people must be physically present in Alaska at least six months of the year to receive the annual dividend from Alaska's oil-wealth savings account, but longer absences are allowed in some instances. Exceptions include attending college, serving in the military, serving in Congress or as staff to a member of Congress, serving as a merchant marine and receiving medical treatment.

Peace Corps service used to be among the exceptions, but the Legislature removed it in 1998.

Nanci Jones, director of the Permanent Fund Dividend Division, said the change occurred when House Bill 2 -- a bill to let spouses of those out of state for allowable reasons continue receiving dividends -- arrived in the Senate Finance Committee.

There someone proposed adding Federal Emergency Management Agency volunteers to the exception list, Jones said. That was rejected, which in turn led lawmakers to decide other volunteers should be deleted, including those in the Peace Corps. Lawmakers also took Olympic team members off the exceptions list.

Elections Division spokeswoman Virginia Breeze said the division is checking the 100 initial signatures on the petition to be sure they are registered voters, and the Department of Law is reviewing whether the issue can legally be addressed through an initiative.

If it passes muster, its sponsors can begin collecting the nearly 29,000 signatures needed to place the initiative on the 2002 election ballot.

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