Bills begin the queue — Legislative work progressing in Juneau, D.C.

By Naomi Klouda

Homer Tribune

Alaska disaster funding stripped

U.S. Sen. Mark Begich, D-Alaska, announced that the House of Representatives stripped funding for the federal- and state-declared chinook fishery disaster and tsunami debris cleanup in Alaska from the natural-disaster funding bill that passed the House last week.

“Needless to say, I am extremely disappointed in this action,” he wrote.

Begich believes the Senate will most likely vote on the House version of the Hurricane Sandy disaster relief bill this week.

“Though the House may have forgotten natural disaster victims in Alaska, I have no plans to hold up funding for the victims of Hurricane Sandy when the bill comes back before the Senate. I assure you that I am fighting for disaster funding and plan to seek funding for the chinook fishery disaster and tsunami debris clean up in the next available legislative vehicle,” he wrote.

Micciche assigned to eight committees

No time was wasted assigning freshman Alaska Sen. Peter Micciche to eight committees as soon as he was sworn into office Jan. 15. Perhaps the biggest assignment is on the Trans Alaska Pipeline Service TAPS Throughput Decline Committee, as co-chair with Sen. Mike Dunleavy.

He is now a member of the standing committees of Health and Social Services, Resources, Community and Regional Affairs and Labor and Commerce.

Micciche also was assigned to the joint committees of World Trade and will vice chair the Legislative Council. He also is on the Senate Special Committee on In-State Energy. This committee and TAPS were both created this session.

Seaton lands 9 assignments

The southern Kenai Peninsula’s House District 30 Rep. Paul Seaton is sitting on Resources, Health and Human Services and Education committees this year. He is chair of the Fisheries Special Committee.  Seaton also has been assigned to three Finance subcommittees — Environmental Conservation, Fish and Game, and Transportation and Public Facilities.

Bill to help with gas conversion

Keep an eye on House Bill 35, a measure that, if passed, will help homeowners who improve or replace their home heating systems, such as Homer residents converting to natural gas. It offers a low-interest loan on a 10 year-payoff. The bill is sponsored by Rep. Peggy Wilson, of Wrangell; Rep. Steve Thompson, of Fairbanks; Rep. Pete Higgins, of Southeast Islands; Rep. Doug Isaacson, of Ketchikan; and Rep. Scott Kawasaki, of Fairbanks. Introduced on Jan. 16, it is now referred to the Energy Committee.

Governor’s submits unemployment bill

Gov. Sean Parnell introduced legislation to allow for the suspension of Unemployment Insurance tax contributions when the UI fund is deemed solvent. Existing UI laws allow no flexibility and mandates increased tax collections from employers and employees, even when the trust fund is healthy.

“Given the federal government’s decision to escalate payroll taxes on lower and middle class workers and increase taxes on small business owners, it makes no sense to require Alaskans to pay more and more for unemployment insurance when the UI fund is financially sound,” Parnell said Friday.

The governor believes that by allowing Alaskans to keep more of their dollars, more consumer spending will be created and greater investment will be made by local businesses, spurring job creation throughout the state.

The UI tax rate for Alaska employees and employers is determined by a formula in state law. The three determining factors in the formula are: the UI trust fund balance, the amount paid out in regular state unemployment benefits, and the amount of wages paid to employees of taxable employers. The Alaska UI Trust Fund had a balance of $263 million on Sept. 30, and remains solvent.

Governor wants permits streamlined

Gov. Sean Parnell transmitted legislation to streamline procedures for obtaining, issuing and appealing permits, leases and other authorizations issued by the Department of Natural Resources.

“Alaska is open for business and Alaskan job creation,” Parnell said. “This legislation encourages responsible development of our land and water resources so Alaskans can have greater economic opportunity while protecting our environment. An efficient permitting process is a significant factor in making business viable in Alaska and creating jobs for our families.”

Certain leases would be issued general permits, allowing for extensions of leases during consideration of applications for renewals, and allowing online public bidding procedures.

The legislation also reforms the current land exchange statutes to simplify the procedures. This time-saving measure could reduce the processing time from years to months, he said. It also would modify the procedures for appeals of DNR decisions. Last year, Parnell introduced and signed HB 361, allowing DNR to simplify rules and condense the time it takes to process certain permits and authorizations. Since that time, the permitting backlog has decreased 34 percent.

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