Lawmakers file 83 bills, amendments

Cruise ship taxation, a new capitol among legislation slated for session

Posted: Friday, December 31, 2004

Education funding, cruise ship taxation and construction of a new capitol are among the slew of new bills filed before the Alaska Legislature's session.

One proposed law prohibits tobacco use for those under the age of 21. Another would allow a court to charge a person with murder for intentionally killing a fetus.

Lawmakers submitted 80 bills and three constitutional amendments Wednesday in preparation for the first year of the 24th legislative session, which begins Jan. 10.

Cruise ship companies would be charged a $50-per-passenger tax under a proposal by Rep. Carl Gatto, R-Palmer. Gatto introduced a similar bill two years ago that would have instituted a $100 head tax, but the proposal did not make it through a single committee.

"They know I'm not going to let up on this," Gatto said.

A similar bill by Rep. Paul Seaton, R-Homer, would charge $75 per passenger.

Representatives of the industry have argued that taxing cruise ship companies would hurt business and result in fewer visitors to the state. But Gatto said the cruise ship passengers he's talked to said a $50 tax wouldn't have kept them visiting. He said the cruise ship industry gets "some of the finest scenery in the known universe and they get it for nothing."

"They just don't want to pay a tax," Gatto said. "Well, who does?"

Several bills filed in the House of Representatives and the Senate would increase the base allocation per student in public schools. Rep. Peggy Wilson, R-Wrangell, would increase per-student spending from $4,576 to $4,700. Sen. Gary Wilken, R-Fairbanks, introduced a bill to increase funding to $4,880 per student.

Rep. Bruce Weyhrauch, R-Juneau, introduced three bills mirroring a citizen initiative that would limit campaign contributions to candidates and require lobbyists to register with the state after spending 10 hours in a 30-day period working to influence lawmakers. Lobbyists now must register after spending 40 hours in one month.

"The definition of lobbyist does need to be tightened up," he said.

Another proposal by Weyhrauch would allow courts to clear the record for those convicted of some crimes who fulfill their probation requirements.

"This would apply to things like minor offenses," Weyhrauch said. "People with serious crimes against humanity should not have their records expunged."

Closed primary elections that do not allow voters outside a particular party to participate would have to be paid for by the political party instead of the state under a bill filed by Sen. Kim Elton, D-Juneau.

"The basis of the bill is the state will conduct a primary election and pay for it, but it's going to be an open primary," Elton said. "It's a statement of my frustration with the closed primary we've had for the last several elections. They can pay for it themselves or pick their candidates at a convention."

Another Elton bill would allow the state to rehire retired state employees and allow them to continue collecting retirement benefits. "The benefit for the state is they get to hire an experienced person," Elton said.

Senate President-elect Ben Stevens, R-Anchorage, filed a bill Wednesday to transfer money from the Alaska Permanent Fund into the state's savings account, the Constitutional Budget Reserve, after dividends are paid and the fund is protected against inflation. Stevens could not be reached for comment, but a fact sheet released from his office said the proposal would enable future legislatures to cover the cost of core government services.

Rep. Norm Rokeberg, R-Anchorage, said Juneau Mayor Bruce Botelho's plan to build a new capitol in Juneau is "doomed to failure." He introduced a plan to allow municipalities across the state to submit capitol proposals to the Alaska Legislative Council, which will pick among them.

He said the difference between his plan and Botelho's is that Botelho would rent the facility to the state to pay off bond debt from construction. Rokeberg would have the municipality pay the cost itself. Rokeberg has long advocated moving the Legislature to Anchorage or the Matanuska-Susitna Borough.

"My fundamental position is we do need a new capitol building," he said. "It's a matter of where we put it."

• Timothy Inklebarger can be reached at timothy.inklebarger@juneauempire.com.



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