'Silver Alert' bill gets through

Wrapping up the legislative session

The 28th Alaska State Legislative session wrapped up on April 15 with many bills passing on to Governor Sean Parnell for signature and others that were stuck in the various committees or did not get a hearing.

During the final Alaska Commission on Aging legislative teleconference, guest Speaker Rep. Cathy Munoz, R-Juneau, expressed to the group how grueling the session was.

“It was physically taxing on the members,” she said.

She explained that HB 4, an act relating to the Alaska Gasline Development Corporation to continue progressing toward building its Alaska Stand Alone Pipeline (ASAP) project, received legislative approval. The corporation plans a 500 million cubic feet per day buried natural gas pipeline from the North Slope to Southcentral Alaska.

According to a press release, HB 4 was co-sponsored by Rep. Mike Hawker, R-Anchorage, and House Speaker Mike Chenault, R- Nikiski, and empowers AGDC to connect Alaskans with clean, secure, reasonably priced natural gas. HB 4 also directs AGDC to consider ways to get gas and propane to even more Alaskans using other transportation mechanisms. The bill establishes AGDC as an independent state corporation; provides clear, strong regulatory framework; and calls on the state to assist AGDC in getting gas to Alaskans at the lowest possible rates. The legislature created AGDC through passage of HB 369 in 2010.

“It is fair to say that passing House Bill 4 is the farthest we’ve come during my time in the House trying to realize our long-sought goal of turning our North Slope gas into fuel for our homes and businesses,” Chenault said. “It took a lot of courage by our colleagues in the House and Senate to get us here, because we’ve voted to take ourselves out of the process – politics won’t dictate where or how the project progresses, the market will. That is critical. It clears the way for the best market-driven project to go forward, providing the best deal to Alaskans. Let’s turn dirt. I wish it were that easy.”

Munoz also added that $150,000 was approved in the operating budget for the Senior Fall Prevention Project through the Dept. of Health and Social Services. According to an Alaska Commission on Aging fall prevention campaign, falls are the second leading cause of accidental death in the United States and 75 percent of these falls occur in the older adult population.

Other bills that pertain to seniors include:

HB 3, a bill requiring Alaskans to present photo identification before casting a ballot in their polling place received much attention. The bill passed the State Affairs and Judicial committees but did not pass out of the Rules committee.

Lesley Thompson, with ACoA, said there is Alaska Native opposition to the bill’s requirement regarding staffing, since there is not always more than one worker at rural polling places. The bill may need to be changed and reintroduced next session, she said.

HB 35, a home heating conversion bill that would establish a statewide low-interest loan program, passed through the Energy committee and was held in Finance but did not go any further.

HB 50, a bill that would give the Alaska Housing Finance Corporation ability to finance housing with some commercial use, passed and is awaiting the Governor’s signature. The funding would not be available businesses that are not children or family friendly.

HB 59, the “Silver Alert” bill, passed unanimously in early April. Anchorage Democrats Rep. Max Gruenberg and Sen. Johnny Ellis co-sponsored the bill to create a public notification system for missing seniors and vulnerable adults.

“Creating a ‘Silver Alert’ in Alaska has been a top priority for numerous organizations that represent seniors, veterans and the disabled,” Sen. Ellis said. “The only concern I’ve heard about this bill is ‘Why the heck haven’t we done this already?’”

The program will be designed by the Alaska Dept. of Public Safety, in cooperation with the Dept. of Military and Veterans Affairs, to best incorporate the voluntary cooperation of media outlets in notifying the public of a missing vulnerable adult through television, radio and social media.

SB 65, another bill unanimously passed by the House and Senate, was sponsored by Sen. John Coghill, R- North Pole. It updates laws to create jobs within the trust, banking, insurance and legal fields.

“Trust laws are evolving across the country all the time,” said Sen. Coghill. “Like all laws, including our own criminal statutes, you need to periodically update them. People want ‘smart justice’ in the criminal statutes. They should also want ‘smart’ trust provisions.”

Some of the changes under SB 65 include extended protection for retirement plan assets to the beneficiaries of retirement plans. The bill amends the 2003 Alaska Principal and Income Act to conform to IRS regulations and it makes conforming amendments to Alaska’s laws regarding insurable interests to align with changes to the Uniform Trust Code.

“When we first updated our trust laws in 1997, Alaska became a premier place for trust planning,” Coghill said. “Periodically, these laws need to be updated. Senate Bill 65 accomplishes that goal. Senate Bill 65 ensures Alaska remains at the forefront of trust planning and retains its status as a leader in this sector of the economy.”

SB 88, also passed unanimously, was sponsored by the Senate Finance Committee and aimed at saving the state millions in Medicaid funding while providing better medical care for thousands of Alaskans.

The bill acknowledges the critical need for patient housing by authorizing $35 million in state revenue bonds to build a 170-bed residential housing facility with sky bridge access to Alaska Native Medical Center. The project grew out of an effort started two years ago when Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium and the Dept. of Health and Social Services began identifying ways in which working together could result in Medicaid cost savings for the state. One method they identified was making sure that Alaska Natives have better access to tribal facilities, which are federally funded.

“Improving access to care for the people we serve has been the ANTHC Board’s highest priority. Patient housing is critical to ensuring meaningful access to care for pregnant moms, for those receiving cancer treatments, and for those who must receive care far away from their home communities,” said Valerie Davidson, ANTHC Senior Director for Legal and Intergovernmental Affairs. “We applaud the Senate Finance Committee’s leadership and thank the legislature for their unanimous support of the bill.”

HB 67 passed the floor and is off to the governor for signature. The bill will designate March 29 of each year as Vietnam Veterans Day in Alaska.

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