SitNews - Stories in the News - Ketchikan, Alaska


Senate Passes Operating Budget, Privacy and Public Safety Bills


March 30, 2008

Juneau, Alaska - More legislation to save, protect and build came out of the Alaska Senate last week. The operating budget bill moved out of the Senate and the Legislature is on track to meeting its adjournment date of April 13th.

Operating Budget ­ The Alaska Senate passed the state's FY 09 operating budget, House Bill 310, after a thorough and complete review of all the spending increases proposed by the Palin administration.

The Senate started its review by applying the following three principals to the FY 09 spending plan:

  • No new state positions unless absolutely necessary
  • Refrain from backfilling the loss of federal funds with state general funds
  • Curb expansion of existing programs without sound justification

By applying these principals the Senate crafted a spending plan that curbs the growth of state government by $208 million and saves as much of the budget surplus as possible and:

  • Reduces Governor Palin's proposed operating budget increase from 17 percent to 11.5 percent
  • Slashes the number of new state government positions in the Palin administration's proposed budget by half from 305 to 157
  • Turned away the expansion of state programs proposed by the Palin administration for a savings of $40 million

The FY 09 operating budget uses $4.2 billion in general fund revenue. The operating budget now goes back to the House for concurrence. If the House declines to concur with the Senate's changes a joint conference committee will be appointed to come up with compromise legislation.

Education Funding ­ Leadership of the House and Senate Saturday expressed appreciation that House Bill 273 has been signed into law, making comprehensive changes to K-12 education funding the state provides to local school districts.

The bill addresses the following categories:

Pupil transportation: Recalibrates the funding for pupil transportation based on the most recent audits by the Department of Education & Early Development.

Declining enrollment: A New statute that provides for a step-down for declining enrollment over the three years.

Intensive Needs Students: The bill increases that amount to nine times the BSA in FY09, 11 times the BSA in FY10 and 13 times the BSA in FY11.

District Cost Factors: The bill will phase in 50-percent of the Institute of Social & Economic Research report's recommendation for cost factors in FY09, with the remaining 50 percent implemented over the next four years. District Cost Factors are the adjustments based on the dollar value needed to provide an Anchorage-area level of service.

Base Student Allocation: The bill will increase the BSA, which is currently $5,380 per student, by $100 per year from FY2008 levels for the next three fiscal years, from $5,480 in FY2009 to $5,580 in FY2010 and $5,680 in FY2011.

Alaska Open Government Act
- Alaskans will become budget watchdogs under legislation passed by the Alaska Senate on Wednesday. Senate Bill 201, the Alaska Open Government Act, is sponsored by Senator Bill Wielechowski. It requires the state to post detailed information on state expenditures on a free, searchable website.

SB 201 was introduced last January. Since then, the Palin administration has started posting information about state spending online. It also puts the requirement for a comprehensive and searchable website in statute so future administrations will continue the practice. SB 201 passed the Senate unanimously and now goes to the House for its consideration.

Protecting Children ­ The Senate passed two bills designed to protect children and others from sexual predators and child kidnappers.

Senate Bill 265 prevents convicted sex offenders from receiving a Permanent Fund Dividend check if they fail to register or to keep their information current on the State Sex Offender Registry. It passed unanimously on Friday and is sponsored by Senator Lesil McGuire.

The state estimates that around ten percent of convicted sex offenders are out of compliance with the registry. Tracking them down is a significant drain to the state's time, money and resources.

All 20 Senators also voted for Senate Bill 185, a bill requiring convicted sex offenders to register their e-mail addresses, instant messaging addresses and any other internet communication identifiers with the Alaska Department of Public Safety. Senator Bill Wielechowski is its prime sponsor.

Sex offenders pose a unique threat to society. The state has a legal and moral obligation to take additional measures to stop them from repeating their crimes. Alaska has the highest rate of internet usage per capita., the popular social networking site, supports this kind of legislation.

Both bills now move over to the House.

Real ID Act - Senator Wielechowski is also fighting to preserve the right to privacy for all Alaskans. Last week, the Alaska Senate passed Senate Bill 202, the Real ID Act. The bill blocks state funding for implementation of the federal Real ID program that essentially turns a driver's license or state issued ID card into a national ID card.

The federal Real ID law was passed by Congress in May 2005 as part of a "must pass" federal appropriations bill. The law requires driver's licenses and state ID cards to carry what is known as "common machine readable technology," and that means the government can swipe your card every time you use it. The information can be accessed by all other states and will be maintained by a private corporation. The information could even be used by Canada and Mexico due to treaties the United States has with those nations.

Eighteen other states have passed legislation similar to SB 202 and another eighteen are considering them. SB 202 now goes to the House.

Protecting Native Artists - The Silver Hand program was created to help promote the creation, appreciation, and sale of Alaska Native art of the highest quality.

Senate Bill 97, sponsored by Senator Gary Stevens, makes several targeted changes to the law under which the Alaska State Council on the Arts administers the Silver Hand program. Among the changes it seeks to effect, it will delete obsolete references to agents, refers to the creations of Alaska Native artists with the term art instead of handicraft, clarifies the penalty for violating the Silver Hand laws and that sale and purchase of Silver Hand seals is prohibited, and sets out clearly the conduct related to Silver Hand seals that is not allowed.

The House and Senate passed SB 97 Friday. It now goes to the Governor's office to be signed into law.


Source of News:

Alaska Legislature
Senate Bipartisan Working Group


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Stories In The News
Ketchikan, Alaska