As the Alaska State Legislature approached its scheduled adjournment Sunday, several low-profile bills with implications for Southeast Alaska passed Friday.
The House of Representatives and Senate approved several bills on unanimous votes, some of which will head to Gov. Sean Parnell’s desk for signature and some of which will require the other body to concur with changes made during the legislative process before they can become law.
Rep. Cathy Muñoz, R-Juneau, carried Senate Bill 2, which authorizes Alaska to assume full membership in the Interstate Mining Compact Commission, on the House floor for the bill’s Senate sponsor, Sen. Cathy Giessel, R-Anchorage.
“Alaska, as you know, has a long history of mining and has developed the best practices suitable for our unique environment,” said Muñoz. “It makes sense that we have a seat at the table in this national organization … and that we can share our own experiences and learn from the fellow members of this organization.”
In a press release from Giessel’s office Friday, Muñoz was quoted invoking the memory of David G. Stone, a mining advocate and former deputy mayor of Juneau who died last year, in backing the bill.
“Juneau’s David Stone was a strong advocate for Alaska’s full membership in the Mining Compact Commission,” said Muñoz in the statement. “He recognized how important it was for Alaska to be engaged with member states to encourage a robust and trustworthy industry. S.B. 2 honors his wisdom and legacy.”
Mining is a major industry in Southeast Alaska, with the Kensington and Greens Creek gold mines operating in Juneau and more mines planned for Prince of Wales Island in the southern part of the region.
S.B. 2 faced no opposition in the vote Friday, passing the House unanimously.
Later in the day, Kodiak Republican Rep. Alan Austerman spoke for Senate Bill 24, which creates a new seat for communities on Kodiak Island and the western Kenai Peninsula on the Marine Transportation Advisory Board. The volunteer board advises the governor and the commissioner of the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities on policies related to the Alaska Marine Highway System.
The bill was introduced in the Senate by Austerman’s state senator and fellow Kodiak Republican, Sen. Gary Stevens.
“The community of Kodiak for quite some time has been trying to get their own position on the board so that they could have a better input into it, so they joined up with the city of Homer, and they have come together with the Senate Bill 24 to create a new seat that would take care of Kodiak, Old Harbor, Port Lions, Ouzinkie, Seldovia and Homer, which is the main run of the (M/V) Tustumena,” said Austerman, referring to the aging mainline ferry that serves Southcentral Alaska.
The bill also adds Gustavus, a community which recently began receiving ferry service, to the communities represented by the member from northern Southeast Alaska, currently MTAB Chairman Robert Venables of Juneau.
S.B. 24 was amended in the House to require the member representing the seat for marine captains or engineers unaffiliated with the AMHS to have 20 years of experience, instead of requiring the member to be retired. The Senate concurred with the House’s change Saturday.
Minutes after the passage of S.B. 24 by the House, Rep. Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins, D-Sitka, successfully advocated the passage of Senate Bill 37, which extends the expiration date for the Statewide Suicide Prevention Council until 2019. He said it is unfortunate that the Suicide Prevention Council is necessary, but that he believes it “addresses a solemn issue with verve and vigor and determination.”
“If you go to communities and villages, every suicide casts a dark shadow across the community, and that’s felt for years and years and years,” said Kreiss-Tomkins, who sits on the council. “And I felt that last summer when I returned to the villages. It’s sobering and impactful.”
Like many other bills Friday, S.B. 37 passed the House unanimously.
Meanwhile, the Senate gave its approval to House Bill 131, which gives municipalities authority to remove or destroy vessels abandoned in Alaskan waters.
Juneau Port Director Carl Uchytil has been among the chief advocates of H.B. 131, testifying at bill hearings on the problems posed by derelict ships.
Sen. Peter Micciche, R-Soldotna, carried the bill — which was introduced by Homer Republican Rep. Paul Seaton — on the Senate floor.
“The cost of dealing with an abandoned or derelict vessel is multitudes less expensive while the vessel’s still afloat,” said Micciche, suggesting municipalities would be able to respond faster than the DOT&PF in many instances. “So this is incredibly important for the harbor regions and districts in the state.”
H.B. 131 passed the Senate on a unanimous vote.
The Senate passed House Bill 30, Nikiski Republican House Speaker Mike Chenault’s bill to establish a new schedule for state agency performance audits, on Friday as well. The bill passed without opposition.
The House also passed Senate Bill 22, Parnell’s omnibus crime bill, in a 37-1 vote. That bill strengthens criminal penalties for people convicted of sex crimes and expands the definition of certain crimes. The Senate concurred with changes made to the bill, which will now head to Parnell's desk for final approval.
• Contact reporter Mark D. Miller at 586-1821 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.