As session breaks deadline, Senate passes bill to allow cellphone fee

Sen. Mia Costello, R-Anchorage, during a Senate Labor & Commerce Committee meeting in March. She sponsored a bill that would allow regulators to charge a cellphone fee to support services for people who are deaf. (Photo by Skip Gray/360 North)

The Legislature has gone past the deadline set under state law to finish the annual session – and there are few signs that they’ll be finishing their work soon.

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Monday was the 91st day of the session, which is scheduled to last 90 days, although the state constitution allows for 121 days.

The Senate and House haven’t yet named the six members of conference committees to resolve differences over the operating budget and a plan to draw money from Permanent Fund earnings to pay for state government.

Instead of making announcements on major bills, the two chambers passed smaller legislation.

One example is Senate Bill 80, which allows state regulators to charge cellphone owners a new monthly fee.

The money would be used to pay for communication devices and software for people who are deaf or hard of hearing, or who have a speech disability.

Anchorage Sen. Mia Costello said the bill is a consequence of many residents moving to mobile phones, including her own family.

“We hardly use our landline, and many families in Alaska now solely use a cellphone,” Costello said.

Currently, residents’ landlines are charged 9 cents per month to fund services for those with disabilities, while business lines are charged 18 cents per month.

The Regulatory Commission of Alaska expects to charge cellphone users 5 cents a month if the bill is enacted, Costello said.

Costello said the number of Alaskans who have landlines is only 47 percent of what it was when the fees were started. She said the bill expands the number of people who will benefit from the program, while costing cellphone users only 60 cents a year.

“This is an important bill because it looks to the 21st century, and updating the type of the type of technology that hearing impaired Alaskans will be able to use,” Costello said.

All 19 senators who were present on Monday voted for the bill. It now heads to the House.