Posted: Thursday, April 26, 2001

State Senate takes step to ease teacher shortage

JUNEAU - State senators took another step Wednesday toward helping school districts fill teaching vacancies.

The Finance Committee approved Senate Bill 149, allowing teachers with out-of-state teaching certificates to immediately begin working here, as long as they obtain Alaska credentials within three years.

The bill also allows districts to hire retired teachers while they continue to collect retirement benefits. The rehired teachers could not add to their retirement benefits and would not be eligible for tenure.

The bill also sweetens medical benefits at retirement for current Alaska teachers, lowering the age for full retirement medical benefits from 65 to 60 - or immediately for teachers who put in 25 years.

"We are responding to Alaska's teacher shortage with three initiatives - quicker recognition of certified teachers from other states, incentives for the re-employment of retired teachers, and better medical benefits," said bill sponsor Sen. Loren Leman, an Anchorage Republican.

The bill is the second aimed at teacher shortages to move in the Senate this week. On Monday, the Senate passed legislation allowing districts to hire people with specific subject matter expertise to start teaching school without a teaching certificate as long as they were enrolled in an education master's degree program.

Bill would allow legal separation

JUNEAU - Couples in troubled marriages who don't want to take final step of divorce could opt for a legal separation under a bill that passed the House on Wednesday.

Rep. Fred Dyson, an Eagle River Republican, said he sponsored the bill to give couples a way to separate their property and financial affairs and establish child custody without going through a divorce. "For lots of us, divorce is not the most attractive option," Dyson said.

However, the ability to establish some legal distance can be important, particularly in a relationship troubled by substance abuse, crime or domestic violence, Dyson said. If one partner is running up bills, the other can be held liable.

Dyson said about 20 states have legal separation laws. The bill passed the House 39-0 and next goes to the Senate.

Measure charges for police calls

JUNEAU - If the police get called to a house too many times, the property owner could wind up footing the bill under a measure that passed the House on Wednesday.

The bill's sponsor, Rep. Gretchen Guess, an Anchorage Democrat, said the state would not require that fees be collected. The bill would simply allow municipalities to pass an ordinance to do so if they chose.

"For example, if the police have been to your house 10 times, the ordinance might say on the 11th time, you're actually going to pay for it," Guess said.

The Alaska Peace Officers Association, the Alaska Municipal League, several cities and police departments sent letters of support for the bill. The Juneau Assembly passed an ordinance allowing for such fees. Under the bill, fees could not be charged for repeat domestic violence or stalking calls. Also, the municipality would have to notify property owners there was a problem before slapping them with fees and would have to give them a chance to take care of the problem.

The bill passed the House 39-0. It now goes to the Senate.

Court timing bill debated

JUNEAU - A state senator said Wednesday he is backing off a push to require Supreme Court justices to render decisions in a timely manner or face missing their pay checks. Sen. Dave Donley, an Anchorage Republican, said after a hearing he will revise Senate Bill 161 to make timely court decisions state policy, but not state law with penalties.

Donley continued to express concerns over the intent of the measure, originally introduced by the Judiciary Committee. Donley said one case before the Supreme Court is undecided after three years and others are pending after two years.

"That is not acceptable," Donley said. "That's not a reasonable time frame."

A law on the books since statehood already addresses timeliness of Superior Court and District Court decisions. Judges do not get their paychecks until they file affidavits stating that they have no pending opinion or decision that is older than six months.

SB 161, as considered Wednesday, would have made the Supreme Court and the Court of Appeals - courts with multiple judges - subject to one-year time limits on decisions if judges wanted to collect their paychecks on time.

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