By Rep. Paul Seaton
In Health and Social Services Committee last Tuesday we had our first hearing on House Bill 16, drug and alcohol testing for adult public assistance recipients.
The committee considered a substitute version, which introduced several changes to the bill language. The biggest changes included deleting the section which would define the testing procedure in statute and shifting the testing guidelines from randomized to ‘reasonable suspicion.’
Testimony from the public and the Department indicated that the CS was moving in the right direction, but questions were still raised in regards to the constitutionality of required testing and the practicality of implementing the program, especially in our rural areas. This is a delicate issue which will require careful discussion.
One of my main concerns is insuring that we are not unfairly targeting one specific population. It is unclear how the bill could legally apply to the disabled, family and elderly assistance payments as proposed and not the Senior Benefits cash payments or even the PFD cash payment. I have not seen sufficient justification for this bill yet.
Thursday we held confirmation hearings for two nominees to the State Medical Board. We also received a brief presentation on the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act from the Alaska Health Care Commission and the Department of Health and Social Services. The audio of the meeting and the presentation slides are available on BASIS under March 14, committee code HSS if you wish to hear the overview.
It is a little over a half hour long with another half hour of questions from the Committee. I am concerned that so far all of the considerations and answers brought to us by the Commission and the Department have been focused on health insurance and who will be paying for the access, instead of looking at what changes will help us promote healthier Alaskans. The presenters will return at a later date to answer more questions.
This week we will hear HB 134, concerning Medicaid payment to dispensers of Mediset prescriptions. Thursday will be a presentation by the Kenai Peninsula Borough concerning Medicaid Expansion.
Fisheries: Tuesday the committee heard HB 110, my bill regarding the required usage of barbless hooks in freshwater fisheries. Amendments that defined “freshwater,” “barbless hooks” and laid out the specific penalty for a violation were adopted. HB 110 was held for further consideration at a later date. Next, the committee heard another one of my bills, HB 143 about increasing the cost of short term commercial fishing crewmember license from $30 to $60. The original intent of the short term license was to allow for tourists, friends, and family to briefly try commercial fishing in Alaska.
However, there has been an increasing trend of multiple purchases in order to avoid paying for an annual non-resident license. This has reduced revenue to the state and the Fisherman’s Fund. After a brief introduction and a few questions, the bill was held for further consideration and the committee adjourned.
This week we will take up HB 143 again to discuss potential amendments related to the cost of a resident and non-resident short term license. We will begin discussions on HR 6, a committee resolution requesting that the North Pacific Fishery Management Council take action to reduce the quantity of Chinook salmon bycatch in the Gulf of Alaska and Bering Sea trawl fisheries by setting new limits in the Gulf of Alaska trawl fisheries and lowering the existing limits in the Gulf of Alaska and Bering Sea pollock fisheries to at least half of the current limits. This resolution is in response to the recent Chinook shortfalls which have led to disaster declarations due to fishery closures.
Thursday we will continue discussions on these items.
Resources: Monday, the committee heard HB 158 which would authorize the Department of Natural Resources to create a hunting guide concession program. This would likely result in a program that would limit the number of big game hunting guides operating in any one area of state lands.
The intent of this legislation is to reduce crowding, competition, and user conflicts in popular hunting units. I am concerned that this will not increase the sustainability of the game populations in question because this does not place a limit on the number of hunters that can be brought into an area by a guide. HB 158 was heard and held.
Wednesday HB 89, my legislation regarding rapid response to new invasive species populations, was heard. Two amendments were incorporated into the bill in committee. The first one removes “agents of the state” from the hold harmless clause due to concerns about damage that may be caused by contract workers affiliated with the state in the course of invasive species treatment. The other amendment zeroed the fiscal note so ADF&G would have to justify their proposed cost to the Finance committee. With these changes the bill passed unanimously out of committee.
On Friday, the committee heard HB 129. This Governor’s bill removes the opportunity for public comment on individual oil and gas plans of operation. Instead, the bill would require public comment associated with oil and gas exploration and development to be submitted when the department approves larger geographic areas for oil and gas exploration and development.
I raised the concern that the public would not know where the exploration and development would occur in their initial public comment, and that under the bill there is no spatial definition of the geographic area. As the bill is currently drafted, DNR could offer the entire Cook Inlet area as a geographic area, and ask the public to submit comments on oil and gas development throughout the area before they are aware of a specific development that they may have concerns with. DNR stated that they would clarify the size of the geographic areas in regulation.
I am concerned that issues would have to be anticipated and objected to at the very beginning of the process. Despite my objection and hope for a further hearing and “no” vote, the bill passed from committee in its first and only hearing.
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