The Valdez Star - Serving Prince William Sound and Copper River Basin

By BECKY BOHRER
Associated Press 

A look at pre-filed bills coming before lawmakers this week

State legislature gavels in, digs into meaty issues facing Alaska

 

Valdez Star file photo

Rep. Jim Colver towards the end of the 2015 legislative session, listening to budget concerns of Valdez constituents.

While the state budget crisis is dominating headlines - a number of bills were pre-filed before the legislature opened Tuesday.

Rep. Jim Colver filed a bill that will effectively eliminate the controversial AMP testing that is currently mandated for Alaska's school children. AMP, short for Alaska Measures of Progress, was widely panned by school officials across the state as a test that did not adequately meet the needs of students and educators.

Colver had announced he would file the bill at the end of the last legislative session.

A Democratic state representative has proposed a constitutional amendment to limit regular legislative sessions to 90 days.

The proposal, from Anchorage Rep. Matt Claman, was released Friday in the last batch of bills filed before the start of the session.

Currently, the constitution allows for the Legislature to meet for up to 121 days, with an option to extend for up to 10 days.

But state law limits regular sessions to 90 days - the product of a voter initiative. Claman's proposal, which includes a 10-day option to extend, would have to be approved by two-thirds of each the House and Senate to go before voters.

Legislators in recent years have tried to honor the 90-day limit but in some cases have blown past it to finish their work or been called into special sessions. A bill has been introduced for this session by another Democrat, Rep. Sam Kito III, to abolish the 90-day limit.

Other bills released Friday include:

-A proposal from Rep. Bob Lynn, R-Anchorage, related to Alaska Permanent Fund dividends for those with overturned convictions.

-A proposal from Rep. Adam Wool, D-Fairbanks, intended to better inform the public about proposed health insurance rate increases.

HB 243, from Lynn, would allow someone who was ineligible for a dividend due to a conviction to receive one for each year of ineligibility if the conviction is overturned and the charges are later dismissed; the person is found not guilty at a retrial or the person is pardoned. The dividend payment would include interest.

In a release, Lynn said the bill is about "righting wrongs."

No one should lose a dividend because the state made a mistake and sent an innocent person to jail, he said.

"That would be unconscionable," he added.

Dividends are expected to be a hot topic this session. Gov. Bill Walker has proposed changes to how the dividend is calculated as part of his budget proposal.

HB 239, from Wool, calls for public investigatory hearings if an insurer seeks to increase the premium rate for health insurance plans by 10 percent or more.

Wool, in a release, said the first time that most Alaskans heard that insurance companies planned to raise rates by more than 30 percent was in the news, after the rates were approved.

Last year, the Division of Insurance approved average rate increases of nearly 40 percent for two companies offering individual health insurance policies in Alaska. One of the companies, Premera Blue Cross Blue Shield, has reported losses and cited a small pool for spreading costs of members with significant medical needs.

Division director Lori Wing-Heier said the division is as transparent as it can be but by law can't release or discuss a rate filing until it becomes effective.

The division has provided average increases for all filings before the rates become effective but never an exact figure for each tier, age group or locations because that's in the rate filing, she said.

 

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