By Naomi Klouda
The legislative session continues on, with several bills of interest to the Kenai Peninsula now receiving attention.
The Health and Social Services Committee was to discuss House Bill 16, an act relating to citizenship requirements and an alcohol impairment and drug-testing program for applicants and recipients of welfare services. But the bill was pulled from the hearing schedule.
The bill gives the Department of Social Services discretionary tools for substance-abuse screening. Sponsor Wes Keller, R-Wasilla, justifies the bill because “the cost of substance abuse in Alaska is staggering. Crime, child abuse, broken homes, domestic violence, cost of business, auto and industrial accidents, poor productivity, chronic health problems all have a causal relationship with substance abuse.”
People applying for jobs often submit to drug and alcohol testing, he writes.
The bill hasn’t had a hearing yet, but is receiving positive feedback, a Keller aide said.
Streamline permitting chugging through House
House Bill 77 is making progress in multiple hearings, ending up in the Rules Committee for vetting Thursday.
The bill proposes to streamline permitting activities, like mining and drilling, a piece of legislation Cook Inlet’s small new producers say would help them get to natural gas faster than if they are held up in the regulatory process. Opponents believe it does not adequately protect the environment, decreases public participation in the permitting and water reservation process, and that there are other ways to reduce the state’s permitting backlogs, such as prescreening applications.
Rep. Paul Seaton proposed three amendments to the bill. The first would require “significant damage” instead of “significant and irreparable damage” to disqualify an activity for a general permit under this legislation.
“There was not enough support to pass this amendment. I put forward an amendment that would allow people with water reservations to submit them to authorized agencies for consideration and possible continuation,” Seaton wrote in his weekly newsletter.
That amendment had the support of the Division of Mining, Land and Water and passed. An amendment that a fellow representative introduced, which Seaton supported, would allow tribes to continue to have the ability to hold water reservations in accordance with federal subsistence priorities.
But after this amendment failed to pass, public testimony was closed and the bill passed out of committee without objection.
Alaskan Congressman Don Young introduced legislation that would prohibit the Secretary of Interior and the Secretary of Commerce from authorizing commercial finfish aquaculture operations in the federal Exclusive Economic Zone unless specifically authorized by Congress.
“If not properly managed, farmed fish can be a significant threat to the health of Alaska’s wild stocks and the health of our oceans,” Rep. Young said. “Alaska’s seafood industry is one of the largest employers in the state, and today’s legislation will preserve Congress’ prerogative to determine what type of aquaculture programs should and should not be conducted in our waters and those adjacent to our waters.”
This legislation has not yet been assigned a bill number.
Invasives and derelict boats
Feb. 12, Rep. Paul Seaton’s aquatic invasive species rapid-response bill, HB 89, was opened for public testimony at the Fisheries Committee. The primary concern of people uncertain about the bill is the possible impact of invasive species treatment on private property, especially mariculture operations, he said.
Yet overall, the bill received significant support from people concerned about damage caused by unmitigated invasive species.
Thursday the committee heard a presentation on derelict vessels in Alaska. Such vessels cause problems that are difficult and expensive to deal with. Wyn Menefee of the Department of Natural Resources gave a presentation about the challenges. Not only are they expensive to deal with, but there is little authority for the state to get involved until there is an acute problem, like the vessel sinking. Harbormasters from Homer and Juneau also spoke to this problem. No legislation is yet proposed.
Home appliance HB 35
On Thursday, public testimony will be taken on HB 35, the bill proposing low-interest loans for homeowners interested in converting their appliances for energy purposes, such as natural gas. The hearing is in House Finance at 1:30 p.m. and can be sat in on at the Kenai and the Homer Legislative Information Offices.