Legislative roundup: Feb. 2, 2014

Bipartisan bills to promote Arctic infrastructure introduced

Sen. Lesil McGuire, R-Anchorage, and Rep. Bob Herron, D-Bethel, introduced companion legislation to create incentives for developers in the Arctic.

“The Alaskan Arctic is in desperate need of infrastructure development both for those who live there now, and for new opportunities that will come with the opening of the Arctic,” McGuire said in a statement. “Globally, all eyes are on the Arctic because of the changing conditions which will bring new opportunities in shipping, tourism and resource development. In order for Alaskans to capitalize on this emerging situation, we need to think ahead and begin infrastructure development now, since we have lagged behind in the past.”

Senate Bill 140 would authorize the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority to give loan and bond guarantees for infrastructure development in the Arctic.

Herron introduced House Joint Resolution 24 and House Bill 288.

“This resolution makes it clear that Alaska is ready for what the future holds in the Arctic, and that Alaska wants to be considered an important partner during our country’s time as Chair of the Arctic Council,” Herron said in a statement. “We want to be invited to the dance.”


Alaska’s congressional delegation teams up with Hawaii to keep flying costs down

Alaska and Hawaii’s congressional delegations introduced legislation Monday that would exempt residents of America’s two non-continental states from increased air travel fees included in December’s budget deal.

“Flying is an essential part of everyday life for so many Alaskans. With so many communities off the road system, Alaskans rely on flights for critical services like medical care,” Sen. Mark Begich said in a statement. “Student athletes fly to neighboring communities for sport and academic events. The additional fees are an unfair burden for these Alaskans who rely on these flights on a regular basis. My colleagues in Hawaii understand this unique situation and I am grateful for their work to exempt our states from these increased travel fees.”


Rep. Keller introduces bill to amend U.S. Constitution

Rep. Wes Keller, R-Wasilla, introduced House Bill 284 Wednesday. The bill proposes “an interstate compact to amend the Constitution of the United States with a Balanced Budget Amendment via the Constitution’s Article V process,” according to a press release from the House Majority.

“America is on an unsustainable fiscal path,” Keller said in a statement. “The national debt recently surpassed $17 trillion and our debt-to-GDP ratio is well past levels considered to be healthy for long-term economic growth and stability.”


Both parties ready to repeal exit exam

The State Board of Education and Early Development announced Wednesday that it supports the repeal of the High School Graduation Qualifying Examination, also known as the exit exam.

“The resolution said the high school graduation qualifying exam, as a test of basic skills, is not an appropriate way to measure students’ readiness for entry into careers and postsecondary education,” the board wrote in a statement.

There are currently four bills in the legislature that aim to repeal the exit exam. Repealing the exam has support from both Democrats and Republicans.


Gov. introduces legislation to extend contract with Tesoro, extend benefits to veterans

Gov. Sean Parnell introduced legislation Wednesday to extend the state’s contract with Tesoro Refining & Marketing Company, LLC, for the continued sale of royalty oil. Tesoro owns and operates the Kenai refinery.

“Across the state, Alaskans and many of our industries are impacted daily by the production of gasoline and other fuels from the Kenai refinery,” Parnell said in a statement. “This extension will help make sure employment in the Kenai Peninsula region stays strong, while also ensuring a robust economy for all Alaskans.”

The bill would extend Tesoro’s contract by one year from Jan. 31, 2015 to Jan. 31, 2016.

Parnell also introduced legislation Wednesday to update housing and employment preference eligibility statutes to include 1991 Gulf War and Operation Iraqi Freedom veterans. “The bill also contains provisions to include veterans of future conflicts, should they arise,” said a statement from the governor’s press office.

“With more veterans per capita than any other state, our legislation ensures that Alaska veterans, as well as their families, have the resources they need,” Parnell said in a statement.


Rep. Pruitt compares Medicaid expansion to a child’s toy, Dems push back

Rep. Lance Pruitt, R-Anchorage, got Alaska Democrats in a tizzy Thursday after he compared Medicaid expansion to a toy during a House Majority press conference. Pruitt asked a reporter how he would feel if they took the microphone from him midway through a question.

“It’s like a child, when you give them something, you give them a toy, you’re not going to yank it out of their hands, and that’s essentially what this is,” Pruitt said.

That morning Senate and House Democrats introduced legislation to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act.

“Lance Pruitt should apologize and stop demeaning the 41,500 Alaskans who could obtain health care with Medicaid expansion,” said Mike Wenstrup, Chair of the Alaska Democratic Party, in a statement. “If Pruitt thinks health care is no more necessary than a toy, then he is completely out of touch with the economic realities facing Alaskans who are seeking affordable health coverage.”


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