Senators target voting law for revision

Posted: Sunday, January 09, 2011

ANCHORAGE — A pair of Democratic state senators has prefiled a bill aimed at addressing issues raised in the 2010 Alaska U.S. Senate race, including minor misspellings on write-in ballots.

U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski lost to Joe Miller in the Republican Primary but won the general election with a write-in ballots that Miller unsuccessfully disputed in court.

State Sen. Joe Thomas, of Fairbanks, said in a statement that lawmakers have a duty to clear up uncertainties and ensure that no Alaskan is disenfranchised in voting.

“The intent of the voter must be paramount when counting ballots,” he said. “Technicalities, such as minor misspellings or extra marks, cannot override an Alaskan’s ability to take part in our democracy.”

Language in the bill was taken directly from Alaska Supreme Court’s findings and mirrors how the U.S. military judges their write-in ballots, Thomas said. He prefiled the bill with Sen. Hollis French, of Anchorage.

The bill is one of 32 measures in the Senate and 79 in the House that will be put into the legislative hopper on the first day of the session Jan. 18.

Banning cell phone use by drivers was a popular subject in the House. Separate bills by Rep. Cathy Munoz, R-Juneau, and Anchorage Democrats Mike Doogan and Max Gruenberg would ban hand-held cell phones while driving, with some exceptions.

A bill by Rep. Wes Keller, R-Wasilla, would add a requirement to Alaska’s high school exit exam — a section on “history of American constitutionalism” — to earn a diploma. The bill includes a finding that “an early understanding of American constitutionalism empowers students to make rational, evidence-based decisions regarding their civic judgments, rights, and duties.”

A second bill by Gruenberg would authorize state agencies to pay private legal fees and costs for people exonerated of executive branch ethics violations. Another bill by Gruenberg would authorize the governor to remove or suspend a member of the University of Alaska Board of Regents for good cause.

A bill by Anchorage Democratic Reps. Pete Petersen, Lindsey Holmes and Gruenberg would outlaw installation of a “keystroke logger” on a person’s computer that could track what they’re writing or accessing. Such loggers could be installed remotely by clicking on the wrong website.

House Speaker Mike Chenault, R-Nikiski, filed a measure that would require the Joint In-State Gasline Development Team to recommend law changes that could aid construction on an in-state natural gas pipeline.

House members prefiled a half-dozen resolutions that could change the Alaska Constitution.

Rep. Mike Hawker, the former Finance Committee co-chairman, proposed creating a “natural gas revenue endowment fund” into which future North Slope natural gas earnings could be dedicated. Appropriations from the fund annually could not exceed 5 percent of the average of its market value.

An appropriation from the fund could be made for almost any public purpose but not be used to pay dividends.

Rep. Charisse Millett, R-Anchorage, and Sen. Linda Menard, R-Wasilla, in separate measures proposed legislative term limits — no more than four terms in the House or two in the Senate without sitting out a full term.

Bills on the Senate side include a measure by Republicans Menard and Charlie Huggins of Wasilla for license plates commemorating the National Rifle Association. The NRA, according to the measure, would be consulted regarding the design and color of the plates.

Sen. Kevin Meyer, R-Anchorage, proposed special license plates for “choose life” advocates. A state official could be required to consult with Alaska Choose Life on the design and color.

Sen. Bettye Davis, D-Anchorage, is the prime sponsor of bills expanding the pool of low-income children and pregnant women eligible for medical assistance and providing pre-kindergarten programs in school districts.

Republican Sens. Fred Dyson, of Eagle River, and John Coghill, of North Pole, filed a bill providing for “protection and reasonable accommodation” of a health care provider’s express of conscience pertaining to a health care service. Providers could not refuse to services if a patient’s life was threatened.

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