Senator Berta Gardner

April 14, 2013

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Serving Midtown, Spenard, and UMed

State Capitol Bldg. Rm 417
Juneau, AK 99801
Call Me: 1-800-331-4930

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It's Been the Greatest Session Ever

Juneau from my office on the last day of session.
Juneau from my office on the last day of session.

...for the oil industry. What about Alaskans? (Quote from Senator Hollis French)

Here are a few of my quick takeaways from this session:

Governor’s Giveaway: Early Sunday morning, around 2 am, the House passed SB 21, the Governor’s oil tax bill. This bill gives away billions of dollars to the oil industry. Already we are tightening our belts and it will get progressively tighter in the years to come. (How is that for “progressivity”?) Passage of SB21 takes the state from a fiscal surplus to an immediate $800 million deficit this year alone. Alaskans should anticipate a robust discussion in the near future of dramatic cuts to service and of state income taxes, a state sales tax and even perhaps the loss of the Permanent Fund Dividend.

Small Gasline for Conoco Phillips?: The legislation gave immense, unprecedented power to the Alaska Gasline Development Authority to create a small gasline from the North Slope to Cook Inlet. The enabling legislation removes consumer protection by not requiring “just and reasonable rates” in setting the shipping cost for gas used in Alaska by Alaskans and makes no requirement for exporters to meet the gas needs of Alaskan utilities first in the event of disruption of services or reduction of gas flow. This is an $8 BILLION pipeline (plus or minus 30%) which generates no revenue for the state and may well kill our hopes for the big gas line.

Defining Medically Necessary Abortions: In Alaska abortions are legal as a constitutional privacy issue. State paid abortions, however, are available only in cases of rape, incest or medically necessary and in each case, the medical provider needs to sign off on this. This year legislation to define “medically necessary” was introduced. It requires the medically necessary be for physical reasons and lists the options without including customary language of “including but not limited to…” Setting aside the whole argument about abortion, and the argument about whether the proposal is constitutional, I wanted to focus on efforts to reduce abortions by reducing the number of unplanned and unwanted pregnancies in the state.

About 53% of pregnancies in Alaska are unplanned and of those, something around 26% end in abortion. Increasing access to family planning services will very effectively reduce abortions and save the state a lot of money. My amendment to instruct the Department of Health to participate in the Medicaid Women’s Health Program, reimbursed 90% by the federal government passed the Senate when Senator Coghill withdrew his objection, agreeing that family planning services will achieve the goal of reducing abortions. Currently, the House is divided on that issue and we don’t know if the amendment will be stripped, the bill will pass as is, or will be held until next year.

Governor’s Permitting Initiative: House Bill 77 would have limited Alaskans’ right to participate in the public process on permitting issues relating to land and water rights. I have never seen such a well-focused statewide outcry on an issue. We have all received hundreds of emails from individuals throughout the state asking for opposition to this bill. It looks like the effort has been successful and the bill is not moving forward this year.

School Vouchers: The legislature heard a lot of testimony this year regarding school vouchers. Some were for it, but the vast majority were opposed. For now, at least, the proposed constitutional amendment to allow state funding for private schools, both secular and religious, is being held.

KABATA: Late session maneuvering in the House eliminate the Board of the Knik Arm Bridge and Toll Authority, known as KABATA and move the entire bridge project under the Alaska Housing Finance Corporation, which seems to now be the go-to state agency for big projects. The proposal passed the House and is currently being held in the Senate for more detailed review after session. I think this is a very good move, although I cannot imagine how the state can possibly move forward on a project this size when we are dramatically reducing our state income by giving billions of oil revenue to the producers.

Within hours, the Legislature will adjourn for the session. I am eager to go home to my family and my district.

We are planning a couple of summer BBQ’s for constituents. Please watch for further information and consider joining us.

I would like to hear from you!

I’m Berta and I’m still listening,

If you have any questions, please feel free to contact my office.

signed: Berta

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