State Briefs

Posted: Wednesday, February 06, 2002

Federal money to get the bugs out

JUNEAU - Alaska will receive $6.9 million in federal money to prepare for potential biological terrorism events, Gov. Tony Knowles announced Tuesday.

The money is part of $1 billion the federal Health and Human Services Department is sending to states.

The funds are intended to upgrade states' ability to track and investigate infectious diseases, help hospitals get ready to handle large numbers of casualties and improve communications and public health laboratory capacity.

Each state is receiving $5 million, plus an additional amount based on its population.

The money may mean the governor will reduce his request for $46.7 million in state funds for homeland security. However, the governor's office said it's not clear yet how many of the state's needs can be funded by the federal grant.

Driver's license fees may go up $5

JUNEAU - Alaska driver's license fees may go up $5 to help pay for a more secure digital photo ID system.

The House State Affairs Committee is considering a bill that would boost fees for licenses and identification cards from $15 to $20. Fees for learners' permits would increase from $5 to $15.

The increase would pay for a computer system that can produce licenses that are more difficult to forge or alter, Division of Motor Vehicles Director Mary Marshburn said Tuesday.

Alaska is one of only four states that doesn't use a digital system, she said.

The system would create licenses with a number of security features, including machine-readable bar codes that contain the address, birthdate and other information that is on the face of the license.

The licenses of underage drivers would be a different shape than those older than r 21, making it easier for busy clerks, bartenders and waitresses to check identification, she said.

The digital photo information would be stored on a computer server, which law enforcement agencies could access easily, Marshburn said.

Mark Mew, deputy chief of the Anchorage Police Department, said the new system will save officers' and clerical workers' time and reduce mistakes.

When police make traffic stops, instead of manually copying all the information onto a report, they would be able to enter the data into a laptop by swiping the bar code, he said.

But Rep. Harry Crawford, an Anchorage Democrat, worried the new system eventually could erode privacy.

"I have fears that we're moving toward a national passport system within our own country here," he said

The State Affairs Committee put off action on the bill until Thursday.

Rape alleged at Coast Guard housing

KODIAK - Alaska State Troopers and the Coast Guard are investigating a sexual assault at Coast Guard housing in Kodiak.

Troopers said they were called to the home of the woman shortly before 1 a.m. Monday. The woman is an active member of the Coast Guard.

The woman told investigators she was sexually assaulted in her home. She was taken to a hospital for treatment. The Sexual Assault Response Team was working with the woman, said Marsha Delaney, a Coast Guard spokeswoman.

Beauty may pay off

KENAI - The Kenai Peninsula Borough is considering giving a tax break to private property owners who beautify their land or buildings.

Under the ordinance being considered by the borough Assembly, property owners would be exempt from tax increases in assessed value caused by certain improvements. The exemption would last four years.

The aim is to encourage beautification of private property.

Current borough tax law already provides a tax exemption to assessment increases caused by exterior improvements to structures within 150 feet of rivers and streams. The new ordinance would extend eligibility to property owners boroughwide.

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