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by Senator Loren Leman
April 13, 2001

PROGRESS WITH PRIORITIES: As we head into the last weeks of the first session of the 22nd Alaska Legislature I’d like to take stock of how we are doing at reaching the Republican Majority priorities we announced at the beginning of the year.

Education: We have examined the High School Competency Exam and crafted a plan that will maintain standards and accountability, but will allow two additional years to align what is being taught with what students need to know to succeed. We have funded additional Learning Opportunity Grants so schools can give special help to those who need it. The Operating Budget provides increased funding for both K-12 education and the University of Alaska. I believe with accountability and additional targeted funding we have made solid progress improving education.

Gas Commercialization: Several bills to help with commercializing North Slope gas are well on their way to becoming law. My SB 121, Clarification of the Right-of-Way Leasing Act, passed the Senate this week and is being considered in the House. Senate Bill 76 by Sen. Therriault will extend the term of right-of-way leases from 10 to 30 years. It passed the House Thursday and will go to the Governor for his signature. Other bills that have passed the Senate are SB 143, Right-of-Way Application Costs; SB 164, No “Over the Top” Routing of Gas Pipeline; and SB 158, possible State participation in funding a gas project. We have appropriated more than $1 million for programs related to the evaluation and permitting for a natural gas pipeline. Together, these initiatives give direction and make important improvements in the process of building a viable gas project.

Budget Discipline: As a member of the Senate Finance Committee I have worked on the Operating, Capital, Supplemental and Mental Health budgets. Differences between the House and Senate versions of the Operating budget will be resolved by a conference committee. General Fund spending will rise slightly (about 2.5%), with the increases coming in the areas of education, health (Medicaid funding driven by formulas) and safety (Troopers and Fish and Wildlife officers). Overall, I believe we have produced a budget that is efficient and effective in the areas that are important to all Alaskans.

PROTECTING OUR STATE: It was especially poignant to have a bill adding an assistant adjutant general for space and missile defense before the Senate Finance Committee yesterday. At a time when the whole world was watching America’s response to China’s detainment of American service people, the missile defense strategy looms in importance. I recommended “Do Pass.”

Senate Bill 149, Teacher/Health Care Provider Incentives, will likely be modified by the Senate HESS Committee to apply to teachers only and be limited to recognition of other state’s teacher certifications, reemployment incentives for retired teachers and better medical benefits to improve the quality and quantity of teachers in Alaska. I expect the bill to move from HESS next week. To keep up on legislative action go here.

VISITORS: Senator Stevens and Congressman Young were both in Juneau this week. Congressman Young briefed us on a number of federal issues, especially transportation projects. Senator Stevens gave his annual address to the Legislature on Wednesday, in which he emphasized the opportunity Alaska has with George W. Bush in the White House. He noted that our delegation is working hard to open ANWR, but it will continue to be a hard battle in this Congress, even with energy crises in parts of the country.

One of my most enjoyable visits of the week, however, was with Linda and Maggie Dunham (see photograph). The Dunham’s were high bidders for a donated trip to benefit Sonrise Christian School in Anchorage. Linda and Maggie spent two days in Juneau, were introduced from the House and Senate floors and then had lunch with me in my office on Thursday. Maggie, a 5th grader, learned about the legislative process and how our office works.

EASTER BREAK: The Legislature will take a four-day “break” during the Good Friday-Easter weekend. We meet again on Tuesday, April 17 and will likely work continuously from then through session adjournment.

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.

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