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It’s the season of optimism in Alaska politics.
The last election is a recent memory, and it’s time for the elected to begin the jobs to which they were elected.
The second session of the 31st Alaska Legislature is set to begin Jan. 21.
At this point, the potential is great. Alaska’s lawmakers have a clean slate on which they will begin to write the next chapter in state history.
Some of Alaskans’ hopes and dreams are reflected in the pre-filing of bills for the session. Others, of course, will be forthcoming.
But, at present, lawmakers pre-filed about 32 bills and resolutions.
The first bill filed on the House side pertains to the University of Alaska Board of Regents. House Bill 180 would add a seat to the board for a tenured, full-time faculty member. It also would authorize the university president to cast a tie-breaking vote at board meetings.
Meanwhile, on the Senate side, the first pre-filed bill, if it makes it through the Legislature, would transfer oversight of state charges, rentals and fees related to aviation from the state Department of Transportation to the Legislature. Senate Bill 128 implies that aircraft travel is of such importance to Alaskans’ well-being and the state economy that lawmakers should be the ultimate deciders on these topics.
Other topics coming out of the House include mental health education in the public schools, Alaska Permanent Fund eligibility, nonresident campaign contributions and the Alaska Performance Scholarship.
In regard to mental health education, HB181 would establish standards for teaching it in schools. HB190 would allow an Alaskan who is eligible for a PFD to exceed the 180-day in-state annual presence requirement if it was necessary to accompany another eligible Alaskan, such as a spouse, minor dependent or disabled dependent, out of state.
HB192 would remove specific limitations on campaign contributions by individual nonresidents.
HB196 would set the top award for a performance scholarship to the average cost of resident tuition at the university ($4,755). The second award is $3,566 and the third is $2,378.
Other topics on the Senate side range from capping salaries of executive department heads and deputy heads to correction facility guidelines, sexual assault examination kits, and Medicaid coverage.
SB132 would require that department heads’ salaries be below the governor’s annual pay.
Similar to a bill also pre-filed in the House, SB138 would necessitate that the state Department of Corrections commissioner considering out-of-state incarcerations for prisoners provide the same custody, care and discipline to that required by Alaska law. Proximity to a prisoner’s family also would be taken into consideration.
Another bill with a companion in the House is SB133, which requires that sexual assault examination kits be tested within six months of being turned in to a laboratory. Currently, the time limit is one year.
And SB134, if approved by the Legislature and signed by the governor, would allow for professional counseling services to become a covered item under Medicaid.
Lawmakers already have work to be done, but, with no decisions yet made, optimism is good. If the Legislature can set aside personal agendas and ideologies and simply do what’s right for Alaska, the outcome won’t be bad.
The elected officials might even be surprised by how good it can be.