Northwest Digest

Posted: Monday, June 06, 2005

Legislators push for shorter sessions

KENAI - Three state lawmakers have launched a bipartisan effort to limit regular legislative sessions to 90 days.

Sens. Thomas Wagoner, R-Kenai, and Gretchen Guess, D-Anchorage, and Rep. Jay Ramras, R-Fairbanks, have applied to petition for a 2006 ballot initiative seeking the shortened sessions. The application documents include a proposed bill to amend state law to require adjournment 90 consecutive calendar days after convening and a list of at least 100 sponsors required to launch the initiative petition process.

"This initiative effort has two purposes," Wagoner said. "One is to spur passage of a 90-day session bill by the Legislature. If that doesn't happen, then we'd have an initiative ready for the ballot."

The initiative and the associated bill would not amount to amending the Alaska Constitution, which would continue to allow for a session of 121 days. State lawmakers, however, could opt for a ballot measure to do that. The last time the session length was changed in the Constitution was 1984. Prior to that, there was no limit, according to the state Department of Law.

Wagoner said he believes eight out of 10 Alaska voters would support shortening sessions to 90 days.

Past legislatures have often exceeded the current 121-day session either in extended or special sessions because they failed to finish important business. The just-completed first session of the 24th Legislature extended into a special session and kept lawmakers in Juneau an extra 15 days.

Asked how he thought a future Legislature limited to a 90-day session could accomplish its work in less time, Wagoner said it might take some changes in procedure.

"Instead of a four- or five-day workweek, maybe we'd have to work six or seven days," he said.

Feds seek comment on gas line loan

ANCHORAGE - The federal government is seeking public comment on an $18 billion loan guarantee program to encourage construction of a natural gas pipeline from Alaska to the Lower 48.

The U.S. Department of Energy's comment period closes July 26, according to a notice of inquiry published May 27 in the Federal Register.

According to the agency, the pipeline would provide access to Alaska's 35 trillion cubic feet of proven natural gas reserves and would be a major step toward meeting domestic energy needs and reducing U.S. dependence on foreign energy sources. It also would fulfill the Bush administration's policy to bring Alaska's natural gas reserves to market.

"When the Alaska pipeline is fully operational, it will have the potential to add nearly 2 trillion cubic feet of natural gas each year to our supply, which would help to further stabilize prices," Secretary of Energy Samuel Bodman said in announcing the notice.

Natural gas serves six of every 10 American households, about 62 million homes, and is used to generate about 16 percent of the nation's electric power. It also is used as a feedstock for fertilizer and chemical manufacturers.

Resurfacing program deemed a success

FAIRBANKS - A trial project to reduce maintenance costs on gravel roads is a success, despite numerous potholes on one Fairbanks road, state transportation officials said.

The Alaska Department of Transportation just completed a study of seven gravel roads in the Fairbanks area that were given a hard surface last year under the "Gravel to Pavement" program. The goal is to resurface gravel roads with a more permanent covering not as expensive as asphalt paving to reduce maintenance costs.

"There were some failures, but for the most part, it was very successful," said DOT spokeswoman Shannon McCarthy.

The agency is conducting the program because maintaining a gravel road costs up to 30 percent more than a paved road, McCarthy said. Also, gravel and lesser-traveled roads still need care but often don't have the amount of traffic that would require spending more money to build a better road.

The resurfacing project was a fraction of the cost of building a regular road, McCarthy said. The department spent about $1.4 million to resurface 12.06 miles of Ester Dome, Spinach Creek, Steele Creek, Alberta, Crossman, Lakloey and Ludecker roads. It would have cost about $12 million to build long-lasting road beds and use hot asphalt applications.

High-end vehicles race to Las Vegas

VANCOUVER, Wash. - Washington State Patrol troopers pulled over Porsches, Ferraris and a Lamborghini on Interstate 5 this weekend to cite drivers in the first leg of the 2005 Seattle-to-Las Vegas Players Run.

More than 50 cars that included $200,000, 200-mph exotics left Seattle on Saturday, with some clocked going 120 mph.

Racers veered between lanes, followed too close and otherwise drove aggressively, forcing troopers to stop all traffic on the freeway with a rolling road block necessary to pull over the vehicles.

Reckless driving citations - with fines up to $1,000 - were issued to 12 drivers, including residents from Bellevue, Salem and Lake Oswego, Ore., Finksburg, Md., Plantation, Fla., and San Antonio.

One driver cited in Lewis County drove a Porsche outfitted with a police scanner and video equipment.

"We are just a bunch of wealthy guys that have money to spend on gadgets. We are enthusiasts," a driver told authorities.

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