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REPORT FROM JUNEAU: 2ND 2002 SPECIAL SESSION WRAP-UP

Senator Loren Leman
Senate Majority Leader
Anchorage AK
June 27, 2002

RCA EXTENDED:
Early today the Senate passed SB3001, which extended the life of the Regulatory Commission of Alaska for another year, by a 20-0 vote. The House concurred with the Senate version of the bill a short while later. The legislation also makes a few corrective changes to improve the operation of the RCA to make it more responsive to regulated utilities and their customers. I supported passage of this bill and worked for a constructive resolution of this issue.

This was a special session that didnít need to be. The Senate Labor & Commerce Committee, on which I sit, reported a bill to deal with the RCA on February 20, leaving plenty of time for additional work to be done on it by the next committee, if necessary. But the Senate Judiciary Committee did not conduct any hearings until after our regular session had already adjourned. The responsible thing would have been to do the work in regular session -- and indeed the resultant product of this second special session is essentially what was agreed to by at least 58 legislators in discussions at the end of the regular session in May.

VETERANS IN PIONEER HOMES:
During the regular session and the first special session in May the Senate passed two bills authorizing a priority for placement of additional Alaska veterans in the Pioneer Homes. We made this contingent on funding for a portion of the costs to come through the federal Veterans Administration, as it does in other states that have Veterans Homes. The Knowles Administration agreed with our approach and the Governor is expected to sign the legislation. Senator Frank Murkowski has since advanced a proposal in Congress to provide $16 million in federal funds to make this happen. The Legislature did not pass an additional appropriation bill now, as requested by Governor Knowles, because we believe that when the agreement is reached with the VA later this year there will be ample time to provide the matching funds.

GATED PARKS?
After hearing that the Knowles/Ulmer Administration had decided to close state parks, when money is available to keep them open through March of next year, I held a hearing on the issue Tuesday while we were here in special session. The bottom line is that Parks says it is short $81,000 in a $5,800,000 budget. The Commissioner and I see differently on this issue. He has chosen to close parks now and keep them closed throughout this summer, despite having the money to keep them open from now through Labor Day of this year. I believe the right course is to keep them open now and then work to see if local governments, volunteers, or private contractors could take over some of the responsibilities.

VETO OVERRIDDEN:
Winston Churchill said, "The perfect is the enemy of the good." Gov. Knowles vetoed SB 363, a campaign finance reform bill, because he thought it didn't go far enough. Sen. Gene Therriault (R-North Pole), who carried the bill, said, "Many of these people and groups who anonymously finance these politically charged ads actually represent out-of-state special interest groups. I believe the people of Alaska have a right to know who is trying to influence their voting decision process." SB 363 was a good step in this direction, and the veto was overridden on Tuesday. The bill originally passed the House 27-9 and the Senate 20-0. It is interesting to note that all of the Democrats who originally voted for the bill changed their votes on the veto override.

SALMON TASK FORCE MEMBERS NAMED:
Yesterday Senate President Rick Halford and House Speaker Brian Porter announced the members named to the Salmon Task Force created by the Legislature to recommend improvements to Alaska's salmon industry. They are Sue Aspelund, Duncan Fields, Don Giles, Sam Cotten, John Lowrance, Gary Slaven and Robin Samuelson. Chris Moss and Stephanie Madsen are alternates. The legislators appointed are Senators Ben Stevens and Kim Elton and Representatives Gary Stevens and Bill Williams. Senator Alan Austerman and Representative Drew Scalzi are alternates.

ONE NATION UNDER GOD:
Yesterday the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals again showed how out of step it is when it ruled the Pledge of Allegiance unconstitutional. Perhaps we shouldn't be surprised--this is the most overridden circuit court in the U.S. I am confident this decision will be overturned. I note that our nation's currency is stamped with "In God We Trust." Additionally, our Declaration of Independence, one of our country's most important founding documents, makes three references to reliance on God. Even the Preamble to the Alaska Constitution acknowledges, "We the people of Alaska, grateful to God..." Using the Court's logic, our currency and these documents must also be unconstitutional.

Rather than ignore or deny God as an integral part of our country's heritage, we should celebrate His provision of life and order. On June 26, in special session, the Alaska Senate passed Senate Resolution 301 by a 20-0 vote, expressing our objection to this ruling and request for judicial remedy. On June 27 the House passed a similar resolution.

ALWAYS READY:
I serve on the Joint Armed Services Committee and listened intently to new Commandant of the 17th Coast Guard Rear Admiral James Underwood brief us on the role of the U.S. Coast Guard in Homeland Security. He discussed how that might impact Alaska operations. Our Congressional delegation is ensuring the Coast Guard's role and mission are maintained.


If you know of others who would like to receive my report by email, please contact me at Senator_Loren_Leman@legis.state.ak.us or 269-0240.

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