House panel OKs tourism funds
JUNEAU - The House Finance Committee approved a supplemental spending plan on Wednesday that includes money for the state's tourism industry and past anti-terrorism expenses.
The committee approved spending $2 million for the Alaska Travel Industry Association to market the state to potential vacationers. It also included about $2.7 million for anti-terrorism costs the state incurred after the Sept. 11. attacks.
The omnibus spending plan is a routine measure the Legislature often takes up to pay for unexpected costs that arise during a year.
In an earlier bill, the House approved $6 million for a marketing campaign to boost the industry after Sept. 11. The Senate never acted on that measure. But Senate Bill 291 passed the House Finance Committee on Wednesday with the tourism funding restored. House Finance Co-Chairman Eldon Mulder said the measure is expected to go the floor today.
Senate looks at new prisons
JUNEAU - A plan to expand the state's already overcrowded prison system garnered support from community leaders and some lawmakers Wednesday.
But its cost may stop lawmakers as they contemplate a $1 billion budget deficit next year.
Senate Bill 231 that would allow the state to enter 20-year lease agreements with 11 cities and boroughs, including Juneau, for new or expanded facilities. Communities would float bonds for the $190 million in construction costs. The state would pay $72 million annually to run the prisons and make lease payments to the towns.
Sen. Lyda Green, a Wasilla Republican, said it would add more than 1,200 new prison beds while spreading the cost over time.
The bill would authorize lease agreements with Juneau, the Fairbanks North Star Borough, Matanuska-Susitna Borough, North Slope Borough, Ketchikan Gateway Borough, Bethel, Seward, Kenai, Dillingham, Kodiak and Kotzebue.
The state's prisons are filled to capacity, and about 800 prisoners are housed in Arizona at a cost of about $18 million annually. Green's bill would cost the state more than the $65 per day it pays to Arizona for each prisoner it houses. But supporters of regional prison plans say they create jobs in Alaska, and put pretrial detainees closer to court facilities, saving the state in transportation costs.
The Senate Judiciary Committee is expected to vote on the measure on Monday.
Snowmachine license bill passes in House
JUNEAU - A bill that would eliminate the need for a license to drive a snowmachine passed the House on Wednesday.
The bill's sponsor, Rep. Vic Kohring, a Wasilla Republican, said current law makes criminals out of people enjoying winter recreation with their families, and Bush residents who depend on snowmachines for basic travel.
Rep. Con Bunde, an Anchorage Republican, objected to the change, saying it would make it legal for a 4-foot-tall child to operate a machine capable of going 100 miles per hour. He said a physician said the fatality rate for operating snowmachines and all-terrain vehicles is about 10 times that of automobiles.
The law has seldom been enforced, and few people knew it existed until a state brochure lprompted news coverage of the issue. The minimum age for a driver's license in Alaska is 16.
Kohring said a driver's license - which tests knowledge of road rules and the ability to operate a car or truck - doesn't necessarily equate to ability to operate a snowmachine safely.
The bill passed 34-3. Rep. Ethan Berkowitz, an Anchorage Democrat, said he may bring up the bill for reconsideration today. If the outcome does not change, the bill will go to the Senate for consideration.
Compiled from wire service reports.