Energy Voucher Bill Introduced

Recently, I joined in the effort by the bipartisan group of state senators from across Alaska and introduced legislation to utilize a small portion of the state’s $3.7 billion surplus to provide Alaskans with relief from high energy costs.

Senate Bill 203 provides Alaskans with immediate energy relief through fuel vouchers, and develops a program to help residents deal with high heating costs during the transition to more affordable energy supplies.

The bill’s sponsors include Senators Joe Thomas and Joe Paskvan of Fairbanks, Senator Lyman Hoffman (Bethel), Senator Tom Wagoner (Kenai), Senator Johnny Ellis (Anchorage) and myself.

SB 203 directs the Alaska Department of Revenue to send a voucher to every adult Permanent Fund Dividend recipient in the fall of 2012, which can be redeemed at the fuel distributor of their choice for either 250 gallons of heating oil, an equivalent amount of natural gas, or 1,500 KWH of electricity.

The bill then calls for the state to evaluate several options for on-going energy relief and recommend a program that can be put into effect for 2013 and beyond.  The analysis and recommendation are due back to the legislature by October 1, 2012.  The program designed by the state must provide energy relief to Alaskans based on the local cost of home heating, taking into consideration the price of fuel and average temperature of the community.

Senator Joe Thomas, the prime sponsor of SB 203, explained, “High energy prices fill the state’s treasury, but hit Alaska’s working families hard. We intend to use a portion of the State of Alaska’s $3.7 billion surplus – about 9 cents of every surplus dollar – to deliver real energy relief to Alaskans this year.”

Senator Lyman Hoffman added, “Our intention is to craft a program that helps all Alaskans and treats equitably those hit hardest by the high cost of energy.  This year’s record cold winter and rising fuel prices have created a hardship for many Alaskans.  This proposal will provide relief this year, and develop a program to help families in the future.”

Senate Bill 203 was referred to the Senate Finance Committee where it is scheduled to have its first hearing on Thursday, February 23.

Alaska Coastal Management Program Initiative Update

            As I’ve stated before, I’m fully supportive of the Statewide Ballot Initiative to bring back the Alaska Coastal Management Program (ACMP).  According to the Lieutenant Governor’s Office, the citizen initiative to establish an ACMP appears to have gathered more than the minimum number of qualified signatures required for a determination of proper filing, Lt. Governor Mead Treadwell announced earlier this month. The Division of Elections has determined that at least 25,875 qualified subscribers, from at least 30 out of 40 legislative districts, signed the initiative petition.

For legal reasons, all signatures that were submitted by petition sponsors on January 17, 2012 are still being reviewed by the Division of Elections.  The lieutenant governor has 60 days from the date the sponsors filed their petition to make a final determination of proper or improper filing.  In addition, all signatures on a petition for a ballot measure must be examined for purposes of voter registration list maintenance.  To my knowledge, the state election officials recently announced that sufficient signatures were qualified to put this initiative on this year’s ballot.

Upon a determination of proper filing, the initiative may appear on the next statewide general, special, or primary election that is held 120 days after a legislative session has convened and adjourned and a period of 120 days has expired since the adjournment of the legislative session.

According to the Juneau Empire, the House Majority Leader, Representative Alan Austerman recently introduced legislation, HB 285 to re-establish the coastal management plan which is substantially similar to the initiative.  However, it is still too early to predict the outcome of this particular piece of legislation.

Northern Waters Task Force releases Final Report

The NWTF Final Report is now complete and available. If you would like to view it, the website is www.anwtf.com.

I am privileged to be a part of the Northern Waters Task Force and the important work that has been done to address issues in our northern coastal waters. To date, this Final Report is most detailed statement of Alaska’s Arctic Policy. I am grateful to the Chairman Representative Reggie Joule and his staff for all their hard work. I’d also like to coommend all the Task Force members and to those who participated in the public hearings across the state.

The 3 priority recommendations highlighted in the report are:

1. Providing Alaskans with opportunities to be involved in Arctic policy. This is an ongoing state, federal, and local process.

2. Creating an Alaskan Arctic Commission, which will enable Alaska to be better prepared for changes and development plans and to create a state strategy for the Arctic. It is expected that legislation establishing such a commission will be introduced soon.

3. Urging the United States Senate to ratify the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.
Ratification is critical for several reasons, primarily for allowing for the U.S. to claim sovereignty of the Arctic seafloor more than 200 miles north off Alaska’s coast and for our state to claim the economic benefits from this ownership.

Senate Bill 130 Alaska Native Language Preservation & Advisory Council

photo taken at the beginning of the 2nd session of the 27th State Legislature

Senate Bill 130 will be having it’s 2nd hearing tomorrow morning, February 2nd, in the Senate State Affairs Committtee. I expect the bill to pass out of this committee. I sincerely appreciated those who are ardent in preserving and restoring native languages in their testimonies and all the letters of support and resoulutions that we received in support of this important piece of legislation.

Here are a couple of links to some articles that have been published regarding this particular committee hearing:

Senator Olson wants council on Alaska Native languages

Senate State Affairs committee hears testimony on Native Languages bill