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Legislative roundup: What Alaska lawmakers are up to

Naomi KloudaHomer Tribune

The Alaska Department Health and Social Services Committee will be taking a look at House Bill 16, an act relating to citizenship requirements and an alcohol impairment and drug testing program for applicants and recipients of welfare services. The bill gives the Alaska Department of Social Services discretionary tools for substance abuse screening. 

Sponsor Wes Keller, R-Wasilla, justifies the bill because “the cost of substance abuse in Alaska is staggering. Crime, child abuse, broken homes, domestic violence, cost of business, auto and industrial accidents, poor productivity, chronic health problems all have a causal relationship with substance abuse.” People applying for jobs often submit to drug and alcohol testing, he writes. The bill hasn’t had a hearing yet, but is receiving positive feedback, a Keller aide said.

Streamlining process chugs on

House Bill 77 is making progress in multiple hearings, ending up in the Alaska Legislature's Rules Committee for a vetting on Thursday. The bill proposes to streamline permitting activities like mining and drilling, a piece of legislation Cook Inlet’s small new producers say would help them get to natural gas faster than if they are held up in the regulatory process. Opponents believe it does not adequately protect the environment, decreases public participation in the permitting and water reservation process, and that there are other ways to reduce the state’s permitting backlogs such as pre-screening applications. 

Rep. Paul Seaton, R-Homer, proposed three amendments to the bill. The first would require “significant damage” instead of “significant and irreparable damage” to disqualify an activity for a general permit under this legislation.  “There was not enough support to pass this amendment.  I put forward an amendment that would allow people with water reservations to submit them to authorized agencies for consideration and possible continuation,” Seaton wrote in his weekly newsletter. That amendment had the support of the Alaska Department of Natural Resources Division of Mining, Land, and Water and passed.  An amendment that a fellow representative introduced, which Seaton supported, would allow tribes to continue to have the ability to hold water reservation in accordance with federal subsistence priorities.  But after this amendment failed to pass, public testimony was closed and the bill passed out of committee without objection.

Fighting Frankenfish

Alaskan Congressman Don Young introduced legislation that would prohibit the Secretary of Interior and the Secretary of Commerce from authorizing commercial finfish aquaculture operations in the federal Exclusive Economic Zone unless specifically authorized by Congress. “If not properly managed, farmed fish can be a significant threat to the health of Alaska’s wild stocks and the health of our oceans,” Rep. Young said. 

Invasives and derelict boats

Last Tuesday, Seaton’s aquatic invasive species rapid response bill, House Bill 89, was opened for public testimony at the Fisheries Committee.  The primary concern of people uncertain about the bill is the possible impact of invasive species treatment on private property, especially mariculture operations, he said.

Yet overall, the bill received significant support from people concerned about damage caused by unmitigated invasive species. Thursday the committee heard a presentation on derelict vessels in Alaska.  Such vessels cause problems that are difficult and expensive to deal with.  Wyn Menefee of the Department of Natural Resources gave a presentation about the challenges.  Not only are they expensive to deal with, but there is little authority for the state to get involved until there is an acute problem like the vessel sinking. Harbormasters from Homer and Juneau also spoke to this problem. No legislation is yet proposed.

Naomi Klouda is a reporter for the Homer Tribune. Used with permission.