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Back from break, Legislature passes bills

Posted: March 11, 2013 - 11:00pm  |  Updated: March 12, 2013 - 12:08am
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Sen. Johnny Ellis, D-Anchorage, gives praise to Sen. Bert Stedman, R-Sitka, for his leadership during last week's energy conference in Washington, D.C., during Monday's Senate session.  Michael Penn / Juneau Empire
Michael Penn / Juneau Empire
Sen. Johnny Ellis, D-Anchorage, gives praise to Sen. Bert Stedman, R-Sitka, for his leadership during last week's energy conference in Washington, D.C., during Monday's Senate session.

The Alaska State Legislature returned to its usual business on Monday, after a short break last week to allow more than one-third of the state’s legislators to travel to Washington, D.C., for meetings.

The Legislature takes a few days off every March for the annual Washington, D.C., meeting of the Energy Council, which brings together lawmakers from energy-producing states and provinces, as well as from other energy-producing countries.

This year, Alaska’s Sen. Bert Stedman, R-Sitka, is chairman of the Energy Council.

Stedman did not speak during the Senate floor session Monday afternoon, but Senate Minority Leader Johnny Ellis, D-Anchorage, one of the legislators who attended the Energy Council meeting, praised him for his work in steering the meeting.

“I just wanted to say that I’m ‘Alaska proud’ for the leadership role that our state is taking in the Energy Council and the performance of the senator from Sitka in particular,” said Ellis. “That organization is in good hands, and Alaska made a good showing, and for that we can all be proud.”

Ellis also acknowledged Sen. Lesil McGuire, R-Anchorage, and Rep. Bob Herron, D-Bethel, who co-chaired last week’s Pacific Northwest Economic Region Arctic Caucus roundtable, also held in Washington, D.C.

The Senate also passed a pair of bills with broad support in the chamber.

The first, Senate Bill 2, authorizes Alaska to upgrade its associate membership in the Interstate Mining Compact Commission to full membership. It would be the 20th full member of the organization, which serves as a forum for discussion and collaboration between member states on mining issues.

“Alaska has a long history in mining, Mr. President, and has been recognized for advances in best practices for mining in our unique environment,” said bill sponsor Sen. Cathy Giessel, R-Anchorage, addressing Senate President Charlie Huggins, R-Wasilla. “This would allow Alaska to add our voice to the discussion on the national level.”

Before the vote, several senators raised their hands to ask to be listed as sponsors of S.B. 2.

The bill passed with all 17 senators present in favor.

Giessel also spoke on behalf of Senate Bill 27, introduced at the request of Republican Gov. Sean Parnell. That bill would see Alaska take steps toward assuming primacy over dredge and fill operations from the federal government, which Giessel suggested may speed up an often lengthy permitting process.

Sen. Bill Wielechowski, D-Anchorage, argued that the bill would foist additional annual costs on the state government without relaxing current restrictions on project permitting. He and Ellis voted against its passage, but they were outvoted by Giessel and 14 other senators.

There was also action on the floor of the House of Representatives Monday, as legislators met in the morning to pass House Concurrent Resolution 1, which calls on Gov. Sean Parnell to create a “state food resource development working group” with the goal of encouraging local food.

H.C.R. 1 is sponsored by Rep. Bill Stoltze, R-Chugiak, who has famously promoted the resolution by distributing Alaska-grown carrots in the Capitol.

The resolution passed without objection and will now move to the Senate.

• Contact reporter Mark D. Miller at 586-1821 or at mark.d.miller@juneauempire.com.

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