By BECKY BOHRER
The Associated Press
12:08 PM AKDT, April 14, 2012
JUNEAU, Alaska (AP)
An in-depth look at some of the key bills remaining as the legislative session ends Sunday.
House Speaker Mike Chenault opposes a rewritten version of his bill to advance an in-state natural gas pipeline project.
Chenault told the Senate Community and Regional Affairs Committee its rewrite of HB9 "neutered" the ability of the Alaska Gasline Development Corp., or AGDC, to advance a project.
Earlier this week, Gov. Sean Parnell called on the Senate to pass some version of HB9. At the very minimum, he said the Legislature should provide AGDC with adequate funding to continue its work and pass a bill that would allow AGDC to enter into confidentiality agreements to share information.
The rewrite was introduced by an aide to the committee's chair as the "bare minimum" to get AGDC to an open season, or the process in which it would pursue shipping agreements.
Alaska House leaders plan a news conference Saturday to discuss their education funding plans.
House Finance Co-Chair Bill Thomas said Friday a boost in education dollars would likely go to transportation costs. After a hearing Friday, the Haines Republican said legislators are still working out the details.
The chamber is crafting its plan based on a Senate measure to increase funding that passed earlier this month. As currently written, the bill would guarantee increases of transportation funding that matches the inflation rate in Anchorage.
The increase would be around $10.5 million next year and an estimated $22.8 million by 2018.
Education leaders support the increase in transportation funding but have called for a multi-year increase of funding that goes directly into the classroom.
The Senate Finance Committee has moved a bill that would let public employees opt-in to a traditional pension program.
The Parnell administration has voiced opposition to SB121, though sponsor Dennis Egan has said the goal was to make the bill cost-neutral.
Deputy Commissioner of Administration Mike Barnhill has said no defined benefit bill can guarantee it won't have creeping unfunded liabilities.
Alaska moved from a defined benefit, or pension, program to a defined contribution, or 401(k)-style, benefit in 2005. Union leaders have said this hurt employee retention.
Alaska faces $11 billion in unfunded pension liabilities due to things like actuarial mistakes, a stock market dive, health care costs and longer-living retirees.
If SB121 passes the Senate, it would go to the House next. The Legislature is scheduled to adjourn Sunday.
Rep. Wes Keller still sees flaws in a bill that guarantees insurance coverage for treatment of autism, but the Wasilla Republican says he plans to let the proposal through his committee.
Keller, chairman of the House Health and Social Services Committee, says SB74 will move on Saturday morning. The bill requires private health insurance companies to cover top-notch treatment of autism for people they insure. Keller takes issue with the fact that the bill only applies to private companies, which makes up a small portion of the market.
The proposal cleared the Senate, 14-5, in February but has been stuck in Keller's committee since even with 29 cross sponsors in the House.
Keller says he now realizes his position on the matter leaves him in a "pretty severe minority."
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