Committee Considers Issues Raised By Recent Court Cases

Monday, legislators revived what once was a regular step in preparing for upcoming legislative sessions – the House Judiciary Committee discussed recent court cases that might need action next year.

Anchorage Democrat Max Gruenberg said the annual meetings were routine when he was first elected to the House in the 1980s.

“This is the first meeting in 10 years of this committee dealing with this report. So what we’re doing today is setting the precedent I hope the way the House Judiciary Committee and maybe the Senate Judiciary Committee, too, will look at these reports,” Gruenberg said.

The committee considered five cases from a report by legislative attorneys – and selected by committee chairman Carl Gatto – and three cases from the Department of Law. Of those, only two were referred for further consideration next year.

The Labor and Commerce committee will look for statutory changes to address a decision that leaves in question the liability for workers’ compensation claims.  Legislative Attorney Dennis Bailey said in its decision the court pointed to legal openings that could lead to consequences the legislature did not expect when the law was written.

“If a subcontractor doesn’t provide workers’ comp coverage, then the contractor’s liable. And if the contractor doesn’t provide coverage, the project owner is liable,” Bailey said.

Bailey said the court pointed to a property owner hiring a snow plow contractor who doesn’t insure his sub-contractors for injuries.  The property or homeowner could be held responsible for a worker’s claims.

The Health and Social Services Committee will take up a frequent problem for law makers – Certificates of Need.  They are now required to prevent unnecessary competition among medical services.  The case involved a private clinic offering competing services that opened near the Matsu Valley Medical Center. The individual case is not the point of the committee referral, however. Anchorage Republican Bob Lynn said he wants to eliminate certificates of need altogether.

“The whole thing’s rather confusing – language can be. Can anybody explain to me if a Certificate of Need is actually a more politically correct way of saying Certificate of Monopoly?,” Lynn said.

He mentioned public utilities as an example of monopolies that are allowed – but regulated – by the state.

Among other cases the committee discussed were those involving distribution of pornography,  ballot initiatives under the election laws,  and predator control.   However, members decided that House Committees do not need to introduce bills relating to the other cases that were discussed Monday.

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