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Alaska Legislature

Permanent Fund lottery and youth vaping ban among Alaska laws taking effect with the new year

  • Author: James Brooks
  • Updated: January 4
  • Published January 3

JUNEAU — Kids are banned from possessing e-cigarettes and adults can gamble under a new statewide raffle as 2019 begins in Alaska.

Seventeen new laws become partially or wholly effective with the start of the new year, according to a count provided by the nonpartisan legal services division of the Alaska Legislature.

Among the most significant is Senate Bill 15, which bans Alaskans under 19 from possessing e-cigarettes and vaporizers. The bill also prohibits retailers from selling those products to youths. Previously, teens were banned only from buying them if they contained nicotine. Now, that ban extends across all types of devices.

“It’ll be illegal for someone under 19 to possess, which will be a great tool for the schools,” said Joe Darnell, chief investigator for tobacco enforcement and youth education in the state division of behavioral health. “This way, when they confiscate them from the kids, they won’t be required to give them back, so that’s a big thing that’s going to be really good for the schools to have as a tool.”

Someone under 19 who has a vaporizer can also be fined $50 — the same penalty as for possessing tobacco, Darnell said. Any retailer who sells a vaporizer or cartridge to a youth will be fined the same as if they were selling tobacco to someone underage, Darnell said.

A study funded by the National Institutes for Health and released last week showed a surge in teen vaping nationwide in 2018, with 37.3 percent of 12th-graders saying they had used a vaporizer in the past 12 months. The figure was 27.8 percent in 2017.

The long-term health effects of vaping are not known, and doctors and public health experts fear vaping could act as a gateway to traditional smoking, reversing long-term declines in that practice.

As the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services implements that ban, the state’s Permanent Fund Dividend Division is opening a new statewide raffle intended to benefit education.

“We’ve got it all ready to roll,” said Anne Weske, director of the division, on Friday.

Residents 18 or older applying for their Permanent Fund dividend will be asked if they want to buy one or more entries into the raffle. Raffle entries are $100 apiece, and may only be purchased using money from an entrant’s PFD.

The first drawing will be in January 2020. First prize is 8 percent of the raffle fund; second prize is 4 percent; third prize is 2 percent; and fourth prize is 1 percent. Fifty percent of the raffle fund is available for the state schools budget each year; 25 percent goes into a schools endowment fund, and the remaining 10 percent is carried over into the next year’s raffle fund.

Here’s a look at the bills that took effect Jan. 1:

Administration and regulations

• Hair braiders and non-chemical barbers are under the same licensing and regulatory framework as hairdressers due to Senate Bill 4, by Sen. Peter Micciche, R-Soldotna. Also, the state can’t take away someone’s occupational license for defaulting on their state-backed student loans. (That part was from House Bill 86, by Rep. Matt Claman, D-Anchorage, which was rolled into SB 4.)

• In an effort to reduce the number of derelict boats with unknown owners, boats longer than 24 feet must have a vehicle title and be registered under Senate Bill 92, by Micciche. A title costs $20 and lasts for life; registration would cost $24 and last for three years for a motorized boat. Some boats are already registered. For a barge, registration would be $75 and also last three years. The bill also creates a fund for addressing the problem of abandoned boats. Division of Motor Vehicles deputy director Jenna Wamsganz said Wednesday that some of the regulations for this law are still being drafted.

• Real estate appraisal management companies are now regulated by the state under Senate Bill 155, by Sen. Kevin Meyer, R-Anchorage (now lieutenant governor). According to documentation provided by the Department of Commerce, Community and Economic Development, this was the only aspect of real estate valuation process left unregulated by the state. The regulations and associated staff member are expected to cost about $97,500 per year after a first-year cost of $111,900.

• The DMV will create special license plates upon request for Alaskans who have been awarded a Bronze Star, Silver Star, Navy Cross, Distinguished Service Cross, Air Force Cross or Coast Guard Cross; and the DMV can create a special plate for another military award in consultation with the Department of Military and Veterans Affairs under Senate Bill 204, by Sen. Dennis Egan, D-Juneau. Other sections of this law will take effect later.

Agriculture

• Under House Bill 217, by Rep. Geran Tarr, D-Anchorage, the commissioner of the Department of Natural Resources can license the “Alaska Grown” label; farm tours can’t be civilly liable for customers' injuries; and local governments that use state funds can offer a purchasing preference of up to 15 percent for local fish and agricultural products. The latter section is to encourage school districts to buy local — if local fish costs up to 15 percent more than fish from out of state, the districts can buy it for lunches. There was a limit of 7 percent under old law.

Crime and justice

• When Permanent Fund dividends are garnished from convicted criminals, the number one priority of that collected money is providing services and restitution to crime victims under House Bill 216, by Rep. Chuck Kopp, R-Anchorage. According to Taylor Winston, director of the Office of Victims' Rights, payments are subject to appropriation by the Legislature. The fund now can also pay grants and receive donations from Pick. Click. Give.

• The surcharge levied on people who plead guilty or are convicted of crimes has been doubled by the lone section of House Bill 316, by Kopp, that comes into effect Jan. 1. Those surcharges rise to $200 for felonies, $150 for serious misdemeanors, $100 for lesser misdemeanors and $20 for violations and the lightest misdemeanors.

Finance

The Alaska Securities Act has been updated and overhauled in House Bill 170, by the House Labor and Commerce Committee, including lower filing fees for some types of securities and tougher penalties for most violations. Among the most significant changes is to the enforcement of the Adult Protection Program. That program is intended to prevent the financial manipulation and scamming of elderly Alaskans.

Health and health care

• Alaskans younger than 19 years old are forbidden from buying e-cigarettes and vaporizers, even if they don’t contain nicotine. That change is in Senate Bill 15, by Sen. Gary Stevens, R-Kodiak.

• The executive administrator of the state medical board can issue temporary licenses and issue simple doctor permits, and the board itself shall draft regulations allowing doctors, podiatrists, physician assistants and osteopaths to delegate more duties to staff. (Opioids are still under the control of whomever holds the medical license.) While this is possible under House Bill 280, by Rep. Andy Josephson, D-Anchorage, most of it was taken from Senate Bill 108, by Sen. Cathy Giessel, R-Anchorage.

• If a dentist can’t work, the state dentistry board can issue an emergency license for someone to practice dentistry (and get paid) in their place, according to House Bill 346, by the House Labor and Commerce Committee.

• Alaska pharmacists can prescribe generic versions of “interchangeable biological products,” a specific type of pharmaceutical, as long as they talk to a patient’s doctor first, according to Senate Bill 32, by Sen. Shelley Hughes, R-Palmer.

• As previously covered by the Daily News, Senate Bill 105, by Sen. David Wilson, R-Wasilla (which includes House Bill 123 by Rep. Ivy Spohnholz, D-Anchorage) requires hospitals and other health care facilities to provide cost estimates to patients and post the prices of the most common procedures done at those facilities. As drafted by Wilson, the bill allows more Medicaid reimbursement for licensed family therapists.

Taxes and revenue

• Insurance companies can no longer earn a tax credit by donating money to the Alaska Fire Standards Council, under House Bill 97, by Rep. Steve Thompson, R-Fairbanks.

• A Permanent Fund dividend raffle intended to benefit state education programs was created by the four sections of House Bill 213, by Rep. Justin Parish, D-Juneau, that came into effect with the new year. (The raffle was created by Sen. Click Bishop, R-Fairbanks, in Senate Bill 78, which was rolled into this legislation.)

• Corporations can continue to earn tax credits by donating to schools and certain vocational education, preschool and tribal programs, under House Bill 233 by Rep. Chris Tuck, D-Anchorage. That tax credit was scheduled to expire in 2019 but will now expire in 2025, with stepdowns toward the end of the program. Some small Christian colleges in Alaska are now eligible for the program, too. The Department of Revenue estimates the program will cost the state $7.57 million per year in lost revenue for each of the next three years, with decreasing costs each year as 2025 approaches.

• Public utilities have lost a particular tax strategy under House Bill 398, by the House Finance Committee, an act that generates an estimated $1 million to $5 million per year for the state treasury.

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