Senator Berta Gardner

April 19, 2014


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Final Countdown – Day 88 of 90... Or is it?

Dear Friends and Neighbors,

Senator Gardner addresses the press on education issues.
Senator Gardner addresses the press on education issues.

          On Friday the Senate passed several innocuous bills and agreed with some House changes to bills we already passed.  Here is a synopsis.

Concurrence Votes:

          We unanimously concurred with House in the changes to Electronic Bullying (HB128) and to Vehicle Registration Reports (SB 206)

          HB 128 says that electronic messages that insult, taunt, or intimidate a person under 18 years of age in a way that places the person in reasonable fear of personal injury is criminal harassment. I am a co-sponsor.  The bill heads to the Governor’s desk for signature or veto.

          SB 208 is increases efficiency for the Department of Motor Vehicles.  With passage, the DMV would accept electronic accident reports from police officers and the public, and puts the $10 fee waiver for online vehicle registration into statute.  I think these are good changes for Alaskans and supported the bill.

Voting for Passage:

          We took up two House Bills on the daily calendar. HB116, PRS credit for military services, and HB 127, relating to the Ombudsman’s statutes.

          HB 116 allows members of the military, who are now police officers or firemen, to credit their time in the service towards retirement with the state. The bill affects only a small number of Alaskans, about 230, as it only applies to Tier 2 and Tier 3 state employees. I did have a worry about the cost impact, but have been assured by the sponsor, and other Senate members, that the bill is truly cost neutral.

          HB 127 modernizes the language of the Ombudsman, increasesthe pay range to conform with similar positions, and adjusts language to clarify that the ombudsman is like an attorney and cannot be forced to testify about privileged matters.  The Ombudsman is an agency of last resort when an Alaskan has a complaint about a state agency.  Normally the Attorney General investigates complaints about illegal behavior but has a conflict of interest when the alleged illegal behavior is done by a state agency.

Things to Watch:

          HB 278, the Governor’s omnibus education bill, is still in Senate Finance. A new version was released today, but the bill hasn’t made it to the floor yet. Changes are happening as I write this but my biggest concerns are that the funding is inadequate and not in the BSA, and that there are some provisions for use of state funds for private schools which are clearly unconstitutional.

          The House passed the proposed $3 billion cash infusion for the unfunded retirement liability.  The proposal is now under consideration in Senate Finance.  I expect it to come to the Floor and I will support it.

          The very complicated gas pipeline bill is on the House Floor today.  I have serious reservations about this proposal which I will detail when we know the final version.

          That’s the most immediate update for now. We’ve entered into an interesting time during session in which minority/majority divides become less pronounced, and tensions between the bodies, the House and Senate, begin to simmer. The House and Senate have different leadership and, hence, different end goals. How those tensions play out will determine what will ultimately pass this session.

          Thanks for reading. I’ll be back again tomorrow after we vote to give you and update, day 2. This morning’s 10am session start has been moved back to 1:30pm.  It can be viewed live at www.360north.org

          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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