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New texting ban among 30 bills filed for legislative session

Becky Bohrer

JUNEAU -- An explicit ban on texting while driving and a proposed constitutional amendment that would cap state spending and force saving were among the 30 measures filed Friday in advance of this month's legislative session.

Another wave of prefiled bills is expected Jan. 13. The session starts Jan. 17.

The ban on texting or typing while driving is from Reps. Les Gara and Bill Thomas. It comes as the state's intended ban, passed in 2008, faces a legal challenge, with a magistrate in Kenai recently saying the Legislature should have been explicit if it truly meant to prohibit the activity.

The law refers to driving with a "screen device operating" but doesn't mention text messaging and does not apply to cellphones used for verbal communication or displaying caller ID information. However, it was seen by many as banning texting while driving.

Gara, D-Anchorage, said in a statement that rather than wait for appeals in the Kenai case, "we want to send a clear message to the public, now, that texting and typing on personal and computer devices can cause death and serious injury."

Thomas, R-Haines, said in a statement that texting is a public safety issue.

"When people type or text while they're driving, they are endangering people's lives," he said. "That's not acceptable."

Sen. Bill Wielechowski, D-Anchorage, is proposing the constitutional amendment that would cap at $6 billion the amount of unrestricted oil revenue spent in a year, with adjustments allowed for inflation and population growth, and require at least two-thirds of the money above the cap be put into savings. The state Revenue Department recently projected $8.9 billion in unrestricted revenues for this fiscal year, mainly due to high oil prices, and $8.3 billion next year.

Wielechowski said he expects the question of savings to be a big issue this session, "because we've got a lot of money and want to make sure we don't blow it all."

While Alaska's coffers are flush now, the state is experiencing declining oil production, and federal funding is also apt to drop with Congress facing a massive deficit.

The measure would need a two-thirds vote of each chamber to be put on the November ballot, Wielechowski's office said.

Alaska's Constitutional Budget Reserve, into which savings would be put, is valued at about $10 billion.

Among the other bills introduced is a measure that would provide tax credits for oil and gas exploration in the Nenana Basin. It is sponsored by Sens. Tom Wagoner, R-Kenai, and John Coghill, R-North Pole.

Wagoner, who was a vocal advocate for tax credits to stimulate activity in Cook Inlet, said there's good potential for gas in the Nenana Basin. But he said drilling so far has been limited, and commercial quantities have not been found.

If they are, it would be possible to get gas to Fairbanks and a lot less expensive than other options such as a pipeline from the North Slope, he said.

Credits would apply to certain wells deeper than 5,000 feet. Wagoner said there are already companies looking at the area, and a goal is to ensure they're successful.

Rep. Mia Costello, R-Anchorage, has proposed legislation that would exempt certain small businesses from the state's corporate income tax. The idea is to help attract startups and get entrepreneurs to base their ventures in Alaska.


By BECKY BOHRER
Associated Press