Alcohol, ships, schools in early bills

Local legislators seek tougher drunk driving law, cruise pollution monitoring

Posted: Sunday, December 31, 2000

Alcohol would be more expensive and drunken driving laws more strict under a flurry of bills filed by lawmakers gearing up for the next legislative session.

Other measures seek to increase funding for education and require the cruise ship industry to report discharges of pollutants.

Three lawmakers, including Sen. Kim Elton, a Juneau Democrat, have filed bills to toughen liquor laws by dropping the legal blood alcohol level for drivers from 0.10 percent to 0.08 percent. Elton has pushed the measure unsuccessfully before, but a new federal law has put pressure on states to adopt the 0.08 standard by 2005 or lose federal highway funding.

Rep. Norm Rokeberg, an Anchorage Republican, said the federal mandate prompted him to push the 0.08 requirement in his bill.

"I felt it was necessary to put that in," Rokeberg said.

Elton also resurrected a measure to increase the tax on alcohol. The bill mirrors a failed ballot initiative shot down in March by an Anchorage judge who said the wording made it unclear how high the tax would be.

Under Elton's bill, the alcohol tax would increase from about 3 cents per drink to approximately 28 cents per drink, depending on the type of liquor. Per gallon, the tax on beer would increase from 35 cents to $3.02 per gallon, the tax on wine and other drinks would go from 85 cents per gallon to $7.25 per gallon, and the tax on high-alcohol beverages would rise from $5.60 per gallon to $37.60 per gallon.

Although the Republican majorities usually shy away from tax proposals, Elton's bill or one similar might have a chance next year. House Finance co-chair Rep. Eldon Mulder, an Anchorage Republican, has said he expects the House will seriously discuss increasing the alcohol tax as a way to raise revenue for state government.

Rep. Beth Kerttula, a Juneau Democrat, filed a bill that would require the cruise ship industry to monitor and report wastewater discharges and emissions. The measure would mandate that large cruise ships register with the state and file pollutant reports with the state Department of Environmental Conservation every month during the tourism season. Kerttula last session proposed the measure, but it died in committee.

Another bill, filed by Fairbanks Republican Sen. Gary Wilken, would pump an extra $20 million into education. Under Wilken's proposal, the amount of state dollars would increase from $3,940 per student to $4,085 - or $145 more per pupil. Wilken said it's the first phase of his proposed five-year plan to restore education dollars lost to inflation.

"The purchasing power of the student dollar has eroded about 14 percent since 1988," Wilken said. "This bill is an attempt to restore purchasing power and reflect increased costs of providing education in the state."

Two top-ranking leaders in the House, both Anchorage Republicans, also filed a bill in support of a natural gasline project to tap vast gas reserves on the North Slope.

A measure sponsored by House Speaker Brian Porter and co-chair of the House Finance Committee, Rep. Eldon Mulder, would support construction of a gasline along a southern route through Alaska instead of a northern route, thought more feasible by some in the oil industry.

The proposed northern route has proved unpopular here because the pipeline would leave Alaska soil almost immediately and run through Canada. According to the Mulder-Porter bill, a pipeline built along a southern route is in the best interest of the state because it would provide jobs and cleaner energy for Alaskans and generate more tax dollars for government.

Rokeberg also resurrected a bill to move legislative sessions from Juneau to Anchorage, although some legislative leaders have said any proposal to move the sessions probably would not be a priority next year. Similar measures have failed several times in recent years.

Four lawmakers filed measures to shorten the 120-day regular legislative sessions. Three favored 90 days; one proposed 60 days. The Legislature is scheduled to convene Jan. 8 in Juneau.

Kathy Dye may be reached at kdye@juneauempire.com.



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