Overdose-fighting bill heads to governor's desk

Sen. Johnny Ellis, D-Anchorage, speaks before the Senate votes on his bill to allow a medication that stops overdoses, Naloxone, to be distributed at pharmacies over the counter and by trained agencies. The bill is scheduled to be signed by Gov. Bill Walker next Monday.

The Alaska Senate voted unanimously, 20-0, on Wednesday to approve a bill to increase the availability of the overdose-prevention drug Naloxone.

Senate Bill 23 now heads to Gov. Bill Walker, who is expected to sign it at 9 a.m. Monday in the Capitol.

SB 23 provides legal protection for those providing and administering the drug, which stops the physical effect of a heroin or opiate painkiller overdose.

With legal protection in place, the drug is expected to be easier to obtain. Opioid overdoses have become a significant problem in Alaska, with seven people in Juneau dying of heroin-related overdoses in 2015.

The bill previously passed the Senate and House unanimously but had to return to the Senate so lawmakers there could agree with the changes the House made in the bill.

“The changes that took place in the other body made a good bill better,” said Sen. Johnny Ellis, D-Anchorage and the bill’s prime sponsor.

In other business Wednesday, the Senate also approved a bill that allows insurance companies to automatically use a customer’s credit history when setting that customer’s rates. Under existing state law, a company can use credit history when the customer first signs up, but not when the insurance policy is renewed each year.

Sen. Bill Wielechowski, D-Anchorage, was among the five votes against Senate Bill 127, which was approved 15-5 but held in the Senate after the vote for reconsideration.

Wielechowski said people can already give permission for automobile insurance companies to use their credit histories — it just takes a waiver. This bill would expose people with poor credit histories to higher insurance rates, he said.

“People who can least afford it will see increases,” he said.

Sen. Charlie Huggins, R-Wasilla and the bill’s prime sponsor, said customers can simply switch to another company if their rates rise.

“You can go to Company B if you don’t like what they’re offering you,” he said.

Sen. Click Bishop, R-Fairbanks, said all 49 other states already have laws allowing insurers to use credit history, and Alaska will now be “one of 50 states that allows this ... instead of the one state that doesn’t.”

SB 127 now goes to the House of Representatives for consideration.

On Wednesday, the Senate also declined to reconsider its 19-1 Monday vote on Senate Bill 18, which would exempt church health ministries from regulation as health insurance. That bill also heads to the House for consideration.

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