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Intern credited for only bill to become law this session

Posted: Tuesday, March 29, 2011

With the 2011 legislative session already three-quarters done, only a single bill has yet passed the Alaska Legislature and been signed into law by Gov. Sean Parnell.

MICHAEL PENN / Michael Penn
MICHAEL PENN / Michael Penn

Now, thanks to Sen. Bill Wielechowski, D-Anchorage, Alaska service members, including reservists and guard members, will be able to designate who handles their remains should they pay the ultimate sacrifice.

Wielechowski credits one of his staff members, intern Michael Caulfield, with “carrying” the bill. That’s the process of researching the issue, coordinating the bill’s drafting, lining up support and doing all the other work needed for a bill to become law.

Caulfield, son of University of Alaska Provost Rick Caulfield, was a political science major at the University of Alaska Fairbanks when he sought the legislative internship.

With his dad’s new job, Caulfield had a place to stay while working at the Capitol and avoid he expense of renting while interning.

Now, after being introduced to Juneau, he thinks he’d like to work here in the future.

“I’ve definitely fallen in love with the place,” he said.

To Caulfield, Juneau may be the big city. He’s lived in some remote places with his family while Dr. Caulfield conducted research, including seven months in Greenland.

He’s also lived in Norway, New Zealand and Denmark.

In Juneau, Caulfield was given the remains disposition bill by Wielechowski, co-chair of the Senate’s Armed Services Committee. It’s something that the Department of Defense wanted to see the state adopt, he said.

“I got to work with the deputy undersecretary of defense to help solve this,“ he said.

The bill, Senate Bill 33, has backing from a host of supporters and attracted two respected senators as co-prime sponsors, Sens. John Coghill, R-North Pole and Joe Paskvan, D-Fairbanks.

It allows members of the military to designate who should handle their remains if they’re killed in Alaskan. The military’s formalized “next of kin” designation process doesn’t always adapt well to changing family relationships, the Legislature was told.

Caulfield said the Legislature and the Department of Defense hoped to head-off conflicts by allowing the personal designations.

“It’s a very small focus bill, but it will definitely help a group of people,” he said.

The bill passed unanimously in both Houses, and was signed into law by Gov. Parnell earlier this month without a ceremony.

“They sent along the pen that he used to sign it, and it was pretty cool to have that,” he said.

Caulfield’s new task from Wielechowski: Senate Bill 98, protecting the privacy of biometric information.

That bill looks like it might have more opposition, or business interests who might not be in agreement. But the staff member Wielechowski has on the job is now experienced.

He’s the only staffer to have a bill signed into law so far this year.

• Contact reporter Pat Forgey at 586-4816 or Patrick.forgey@juneauempire.com.



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