Legislative briefs

Posted: Tuesday, April 09, 2002

Bill to limit cell phone use receives little support

JUNEAU - The House Judiciary Committee delayed voting on a bill Monday that would require using hands-free technology while driving and using a cell phone.

Soldotna Republican Rep. Ken Lancaster, author of House Bill 295, said every driver in Alaska must share the roads and that requiring the use of hands-free devices would help ensure safety.

But Rep. Albert Kookesh, an Angoon Democrat, asked for statistics showing that cell phone use while driving causes more crashes.

"The sky-is-falling scenario does not work very well with me," Kookesh said.

Department of Motor Vehicles Director Mary Marshburn said other states that have tried to pass similar legislation have found that there is "almost a universal lack of data."

Roger Burns, an amateur radio enthusiast in Fairbanks, opposed the bill.

"I think having a cell phone conversation is just as distracting as having a conversation with a passenger," Burns said.

Time-change plan advances in House

JUNEAU - A proposal to eliminate daylight-saving time was given approval by the House Labor and Commerce Committee on Monday.

Committee Chairwoman Lisa Murkowski limited public testimony to two minutes each because of the volume of people registered to speak.

Author of the bill, Rep. Ken Lancaster, a Soldotna Republican, said his office has received 100 e-mails in support of House Bill 409. He called the biannual time change "outdated" and "an annoyance."

"The modern world no longer starts and stops with the rise and fall of the sun," he said.

But Douglas resident Rich Poor, who testified against the bill, said passing the measure would make it more difficult to do business with the rest of the United States.

"Businesses with suppliers and home offices in the Lower 48 states would lose an additional hour of communication," he said, adding that the loss would extend to phone time with Washington, D.C., and the New York Stock Exchange.

If signed into law, Alaska would join Arizona, Hawaii and the eastern portion of Indiana in non-observance of the time change.

Abortion-reporting bill passes House

JUNEAU - A bill requiring doctors, hospitals and clinics to report all abortions to the state passed the House unanimously Monday.

Rep. John Coghill, a North Pole Republican, sponsored the bill, which calls for the state to use the information collected in an annual report on the number of abortions performed.

The report would include statistics on patients' education and race, the estimated length of pregnancy, method of abortion and whether patients had undergone prior abortions.

The patient's identity would not be sent to the state. The name of the community, the doctor, the hospital or other information that could reveal the identity of patients also would not be part of the annual report.

Those privacy protections led the Alaska Civil Liberties Union and Planned Parenthood to drop their initial opposition to the measure.

Coghill said the statistics could be used in debates over public policy, while the Alaska Civil Liberties Union has said the data would provide a more accurate picture of women's health needs.

Kohring bill would use trail money for roads

ANCHORAGE - Half of the $15 million in federal funds allocated annually to trails would instead go to build new gravel roads in rural areas under a bill sponsored by Rep. Vic Kohring, a Wasilla Republican.

Hearings on House Bill 502 have been under way in the House Transportation Committee, which Kohring chairs.

This comes weeks after the state Department of Transportation and Public Facilities adopted new regulations establishing percentage levels for funding categories of highways, roads and trails.

Mike Downing, assistant DOT commissioner, urged the committee to give the new regulations a chance before placing other categories in the statute.

He warned legislators that the proposed bill could lock the agency into narrow funding categories, reducing flexibility.

Kohring's proposal addresses a long-standing point of conflict between many legislators and Gov. Tony Knowles. They believe the governor is reluctant to tackle construction of new roads to communities that are isolated or into undeveloped areas to stimulate development.

Lawmakers, including Kohring, also say Knowles has placed too much emphasis on recreational trails at the expense of roads, particularly a controversial proposed extension of Anchorage's Coastal Trail that has seen major cost increases.

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