House Bill 77, budget likely to be hot topics

With the second year of the 28th Alaska Legislature having started last week, Homer’s legislators are looking at a session missing some of the controversy of last year, particularly with the passage of Senate Bill 21, a bill changing Alaska’s oil tax structure. 

The session started Jan. 21, and will be the last chance for bills introduced last year to pass.

One big bill that already has gained opposition is House Bill 77, a bill introduced at the request of Gov. Sean Parnell that would change permitting for state projects. Rep. Paul Seaton, R-Homer, and Sen. Peter Micciche, R-Soldotna, both oppose the bill. Seaton voted against it, and Micciche recently told The Associated Press he has asked that the bill be sent back to the Senate Resources Committee for further review.

In hearings in Kenai and Homer Micciche held last month, public testimony was overwhelmingly against the bill. Many people said they opposed the bill because it would limit public review and commenting on applications for state permits.

“Everybody agreed with the position I took last year,” Seaton said in an interview with the Homer News before he left for Juneau. “It wasn’t just one segment of the population. It didn’t matter if you’re conservative or liberal. Alaskans don’t think you should be cut out of the process.”

HB 77 could be amended or changed in the Senate and would have to go back to the house if altered. The House could then approve a new version, but if it failed to do so, would go to a joint House-Senate conference committee, Seaton said.

“It just depends on how much time people want to put on a particular issue, if it needs to be tweaked or radically revised,” he said. “Or, if there’s a willingness by the sponsor, in this case the governor, if he’s willing to make enough changes to make it palatable to the Legislature.”

With anticipated lower state revenues, another big topic will be the budget, particularly the capital budget. 

Seaton said he anticipates a reduced capital budget. He also said he doesn’t anticipate any bond issues will be introduced to fund capital projects, particularly if the budget goes into deficit spending compared to previous spending.

“A bond increases the next 20 years of the operational budget,” Seaton said. “Adding to the operating budget that you anticipate will be in deficits is not a good financial move.”

As far as bills Seaton has introduced or supports, he said he hopes his House Bill 190, now in the Senate Education Committee, will pass. That would allow high school students the ability to demonstrate mastery of a topic or course and get credit so they could go on and take more interesting and challenging courses.

“If we can help education and it’s not throwing money at something and moving students forward into an engaging education, that’s what we’re trying to do,” Seaton said.

Seaton also would like to see audit provisions for Alaska nonprofits in the Pick. Click. Give program changed. The $7,000 cost of doing audits can sometimes be more than a small nonprofit might earn from donations Alaskans dedicate through deductions from their Alaska Permanent Fund Dividend checks. 

In another reform, Seaton would like to see a rapid response to invasive species outbreaks made easier. House Bill 89 would make a response to a new localized outbreak a priority. It would allow plans to be developed with public input, but once developed, to be implemented faster. 

On a subject of personal interest to Seaton, vitamin D, he also supports House Bill 190, which would test newborn babies for vitamin D levels. Seaton has been a strong advocate of taking vitamin D supplements to address the deficiency in people living in high latitudes who don’t naturally process vitamin D in the winter months. He cites studies which suggest higher levels of vitamin D can reduce things like inflammation, which is connected not only to tooth loss, but heart disease.

One fisheries bill that Seaton also supports, House Bill 110, would restrict the use of barbed hooks in areas that have catch-and-release fisheries. Fish caught on barbed hooks that are released have double the mortality rate.

“It’s one of the few things we can do to reduce the mortality on fish,” he said. “The idea is if you’re fishing with a barbless hook, you can slacken the line and the fish will throw off the hook on its own.”

Oregon and Washington fishermen have the same kind of restrictions, and Seaton said if they can learn to be better fishermen, so can Alaskans. A similar proposal is before the Board of Fish, meeting starting Friday in Anchorage. That’s an appropriate place to consider fishing regulations, Seaton said, but introducing a bill in the Legislature gets the conversation started.

“We need to be addressing not just allocation issues; we need to be addressing conservation issues,” Seaton said.

Seaton finishes out his 12th year and sixth term representing the lower Kenai Peninsula. In an email sent from his campaign address and before the session started, Seaton announced that he intends to run for re-election. After reapportionment in the last election, Seaton ran in a slightly different house district that included part of the central peninsula up the Funny River Road. 

A court ruling prompted the Reapportionment Board to change legislative districts. The new district will lose the Funny River area as well as Seldovia and Halibut Cove. It keeps the Russian Old Believer villages of Nikolaevsk near Anchor Point and Razdolna, Voznesenka and Kachemak Selo at the end of East End Road. The district also includes Ninilchik and Kasilof up to Kalifornsky Beach Road.

With reapportionment, the Senate districts also changed. Micciche’s district will no longer include Homer and the lower peninsula, and that area will go back to the district now represented by Sen. Gary Stevens, R-Kodiak.

Michael Armstrong can be reached at michael.armstrong@homernews.com.

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