Legislature Enters Final Week of Session

Dave Donaldson, APRN – Juneau

The legislature is now in the final week of this year’s session – with a lot of critical issues still undecided. At the top of the list are the budgets – the only bills required under the constitution. Different versions of the operating budget have passed the House and Senate and they are being combined in a conference committee. However, a capital projects budget has not been seen since lawmakers started work on the version the governor introduced in January. That’s the spending plan that approves construction and other one-time expenditures for the state.

The focus is on the Senate Finance Committee, where the construction budget was expected to be the subject of a hearing on Friday. That meeting and a meeting on Saturday were canceled. Another meeting is scheduled for Monday morning.

The governor’s oil tax bill is being heard in the Senate after being passed by the House last month. The Labor and Commerce Committee considered the bill late Friday and has set another hearing Monday evening.

At Friday’s hearing the Labor Department said the oil industry workforce has increased by 19 percent since the current tax structure went into effect. Fairbanks Democrat Joe Paskvan asked how that justifies cutting oil taxes to increase the workforce.

“I’m having a tough time reconciling increased employment numbers with the statements I am hearing that the employers are hurting,” Paskvan said. “How is it that we can reconcile numbers that are high, but it seems like the boots on the ground aren’t working?”

Commissioner Click Bishop pointed out recent indications that workers in the field are not being used for exploration and production that would result in more oil in the pipeline. And he pointed to a large increase in employment after the North Slope oil spill in 2006.

“I still hold my belief that a lot of these employment numbers here, these increases, are a direct result of maintaining existing, and fixing leaking old pipelines,” Bishop said.

The bill still has to get past the Senate’s Resources and Finance Committees if it is to become law.

The House on Saturday passed a bill that loosens the state’s “self defense” laws. The measure by Big Lake Republican Mark Neuman says deadly force is allowed by a person who feels unsafe or threatened if he is any place he has a right to be. Neuman said there has been a lot of misconception about the changes he wants.

“People think that if we have the ability to protect ourself where we have a right to be, we’re automatically going to go out and start committing murders,” Neuman said. “Nothing could be further from the truth. Nothing. The rights that you have as an Alaskan while you’re in your home or business should follow you where you have a right be. That’s all this says. It does not change the justification part in statute.”

Anchorage Democrat Les Gara, an attorney, argued that what Neuman wants is already covered under state law.

“This bill is not about protecting yourself or protecting others,” Gara said. “If they need your protection, you can use your gun and you can shoot them. That’s the current law.”

“This bill now says that in public places – if your at a mall – if you’re safe and everybody else is completely safe – you can still shoot somebody.”

The Senate still has to pass the bill if it is to become law.

There are several other high level measures pending for this year’s session. With committees now required to give only 24 hours notice before taking action on bills, the process is likely to speed up before adjournment Sunday night.

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