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by Senator Loren Leman
March 30, 2001

BALANCING THE BOOKS, WRITING THE CHECKS: The Senate Finance Committee heard subcommittee presentations on Thursday and Friday. On Saturday, starting at 10:00 a.m. we will hear public testimony. Call your Legislative Information Office to find out what time you can give testimony in your area. The operating budget will be on the Senate floor for a vote next week. Differences between the House and Senate versions will be worked out in a conference committee.

LEGISLATION OF INTEREST: Senate Bill 133, the High School Competency Exam bill, passed the Senate unanimously Wednesday and moved to the House for its consideration. It maintains accountability, ensures that students will take the exam seriously and gives two more years for test revision and curricula alignment. Senate Bill 164 is legislation of note in that all 20 senators have signed on as cosponsors. It prohibits leases on state rights-of-way in the Beaufort Sea for a gas pipeline, effectively closing the "Northern Route" for taking Alaska gas through Canada. Introduced March 23, it has already cleared the Senate Resources Committee and awaits scheduling on the Senate floor.

COMMITTEE REPORT: Committees are where most of the work of the Legislature gets accomplished. For example, in the Senate Labor & Commerce Committee we¹ve been working on SB 66, a rewrite of the State¹s banking laws, since mid-February. After four previous hearings that focused on a number of issues, especially consumer privacy, the bill will move from the committee next Tuesday. Then next Thursday we will take up a rewrite of the State insurance code. On Tuesday the Senate Finance subcommittee for the Department of Natural Resources, which I chair, completed work on the DNR budget for FY 2002. To check on committee schedules and bills in committee go here.

IN SEARCH OF TEACHERS AND NURSES: Senate Bill 149, which I introduced last week, has been expanded and improved. The sponsor substitute for SB 149, now called the Alaska Teacher and Health Care Provider Recruitment and Retention Act of 2001, includes signing bonuses for newly recruited teachers and health care providers, as well as enhanced medical plans and merit pay for teachers. In addition, it will expedite the process of state certification for teachers already certified in other states.

MEET THE NEW CO-CHAIRMAN OF THE FINANCE COMMITTEE have a feeling of deja vu reading this headline it's because three weeks ago I mentioned Judge Sen Tan and his order that the State pay for elective abortions for Medicaid recipients. Move over Judge Tan. Now Judge Reese has warned that he may tell the State how much to spend on school construction and where to spend it. The State should appeal his ruling immediately. In our system of government with separation of powers among co-equal branches these decisions, if allowed to stand, create constitutional crises.

SPECIAL VISITORS: Many friends from across Alaska visited the Capitol this week. My favorites were my son Joseph, home for Spring Break from the Air Force Academy, and daughter Rachel, a high school sophomore enjoying her Spring Break. A delegation from Victims for Justice presented compelling reasons for supporting their organization. I encourage you to support this worthy cause. Visit their website.

If you know of other Alaskans who would like to receive my weekly report by email, please contact me or 465-2095, or visit my website.

(Enhanced for Netscape)

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