This editorial appeared in the Anchorage Daily News:
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In the legislative world of oil taxes, a natural gas pipeline, school funding and construction spending, it isn't a big deal. And for most of Alaska's 660,000 residents, it probably doesn't mean that much; it certainly doesn't affect their lives. But the Legislature's decision to add Peace Corps service back to the list of allowable absences for Permanent Fund dividend eligibility is a welcome piece of good news - and long overdue.
Our compliments to the chef, Anchorage Republican Rep. Lesil McGuire, and all the co-sponsors of the bill, which passed in the final days of the session last month with three dissenting votes out of 60 legislators.
It was a long battle; the bill had been sitting in the Legislature since February 2005. And it wasn't the first attempt to restore Peace Corps service to the dividend eligibility list. This was the fourth try to put the Peace Corps back on the list - where it belongs with college, military and merchant marine service and other absences - since lawmakers dropped it from the dividend program in 1998.
Previous bills to restore the Peace Corps passed the House with near unanimous approval, only to die in the Senate. This year, for whatever reason, senators said yes.
The governor signed the bill June 1.
In addition to restoring dividends for Alaskans who join the Peace Corps, the legislation also restores the allowable absence for Alaskans who are out of state for training or competing as members of the U.S. Olympic Team.
Yes to that, too.
And the bill does even more. It makes it easier for the state to assess administrative penalties against applicants who lie to get a dividend.
The law always allowed for criminal penalties for false claims, but it often wasn't worth the time and expense for the state to bring criminal charges for a few thousand dollars. The legislation will now allow the Permanent Fund Dividend Division to impose a civil fine of up to $3,000 for willfully filing a false application. In addition, the applicant could lose not only that year's check but the dividend for the next five years.
This is good legislation that covers a lot of ground.