Most of the attention on the Alaska Legislature in recent days has focused on the big-ticket items lawmakers either accomplished or left undone -- a $2.9 billion capital budget passed, in-state gas line and oil-tax bills still unresolved.
But while they gaveled out only to be called back in, lawmakers did some good work for Alaskans.
• House Bill 104, Alaska performance scholarships: Gov. Sean Parnell had said in previous years that he had no interest in needs-based financial aid but wanted to reward hardworking high school students and encourage more rigorous secondary-school curriculums. Some lawmakers wanted a needs-based component.
This year, the governor and lawmakers worked out a good compromise. They agreed on $400 million to generate both the performance scholarships and AlaskaAdvantage grant funds. The commissioner of Education and Early Development will take 7 percent of the fund each year and split it, one-third going for grants and two-thirds going for performance scholarships.
High school students with a 3.5 grade point average (GPA) for courses including a core of math, science, language arts and social studies and a very high college entrance exam score (determined by the state) will earn up to $4,755 a year for college or technical schools. A 3.0 GPA and a high college exam score will earn $3,566 per year, and a 2.5 GPA and moderately high college exam score will be worth $2,378 per year.
Compromises on other elements of the bill, like an extended time for students to take required courses that might be limited or unavailable at some schools, helped bring about a program that's been years in the making and will benefit Alaskans for years to come.
• House Bill 255, texting while driving: The Legislature agreed to explicitly -- no doubt, no loopholes -- make it illegal to text while driving in Alaska. This is commonsense legislation that lawmakers thought they already had passed, until a Kenai court case cast doubt on the law. Now it's clear.
• Senate Bill 74, requiring private medical insurers to cover treatment for autistic children: This measure, sponsored by Sen. Johnny Ellis, had overwhelming bipartisan support in both the House and Senate because it was simply the right thing to do -- at modest cost -- for Alaska's autistic children and their families. The benefits are obvious and proven -- early behavioral treatment gives children a far better chance at a better life, helps keep stressed families together and saves the state money in the long run.
• House Health and Social Services chairman Rep. Wes Keller stood against the bill for philosophical reasons but had the sense and grace to relent under pressure and let the bill out of his committee. Some strapped Alaska families are better off for it.
• House Bill 80, the "stand your ground" amendment: Rep. Mark Neuman had wide support for this measure, which amended Alaska self-defense law to strike the duty to retreat from a confrontation anywhere an individual has a right to be. It's an appealing idea to many Alaskans, but here's the rub -- Alaska's current self-defense law requires the duty to retreat but only when an individual or the ones he's defending can do so in "complete" safety.
That's a high bar that gives the benefit of the doubt to the defender, as it should. Alaska doesn't need the law. We're covered. After House passage, the Senate let it die. That was the right course.
BOTTOM LINE: Despite the big items left hanging, lawmakers did some good work in 90 days.