- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 12, 2008


Senate bills expand heating subsidies

JUNEAU | All Alaskans should get heating help, along with $500, whether they use oil, electricity or natural gas, under a bill passed by the Senate last week.

For Juneau, the key parts of the bill are likely to be subsidies for heating oil and propane, as well as a power subsidy for those who have electric heat.

Under the Senate’s plan, the state would pay the cost of heating fuel above $3 per gallon, up to 850 gallons for the winter.

The bill’s goal is to help with a variety of energy costs, at a time when many of those costs are rising.

“So Alaskans can keep their homes warm this winter, and the next,” said Sen. Hollis French, Anchorage Democrat.

The program covers two years, offering up to 850 gallons each winter. The other energy sources are based on the heating equivalent of that much fuel oil in propane, natural gas or electricity.

Anchorage, which already has some of the lowest heating bills in the state, will get a subsidy to ensure the bill’s passage because that’s where half the Legislature calls home, senators said.


No disaster aid may stall session

DES MOINES | A decision by congressional leaders to recess without approving a disaster aid package could delay plans for a special legislative session to craft the state’s response to this year’s flooding, a key legislative leader said.

“I do think that’s a challenge,” said Senate Majority Leader Michael Gronstal, Council Bluffs Democrat. Mr. Gronstal said the delay makes planning “kind of messy.”

Gov. Chet Culver has said it’s likely that he’ll summon lawmakers into special session after a commission he named issues a report on flood damages Sept. 2. The bulk of any disaster-recovery effort will be financed with federal dollars, though it’s likely the state will have to offer matching money - a topic certain to be on a special session agenda.

Planning is more difficult, Mr. Gronstal said, because neither the governor nor legislative leaders know the details of the federal response.

“I do think it would be kind of messy if we agreed up front that we’re going to come up with the resources to cover a 25 percent match, when it’s possible the feds will do 90 percent,” Mr. Gronstal said. “Whether we can have the answer by the middle of September remains to be seen.”

Mr. Gronstal said he’s not worried about keeping the agenda of a special session focused on flood relief, but he wants to negotiate details in advance to ensure a quick session that likely would only last one day.


Lawmaker argues for suit against God

LINCOLN | State Sen. Ernie Chambers of Omaha appeared before a judge to explain why his lawsuit against God should be allowed to continue.

Douglas County District Court has notified Mr. Chambers that because he has failed to serve notice to God, it plans to dismiss his lawsuit.

But Mr. Chambers filed more legal papers last week, saying that because God knows everything, he “must be deemed to have actual notice of the proceedings.”

Mr. Chambers, a self-proclaimed agnostic who is being pushed out of the Legislature because of term limits, filed suit against God about a year ago. He said he’s trying to makes the point that anybody can sue anybody.

The judge in the case said he understood the issues Mr. Chambers had raised, but he needed time to think about it before making a decision.


Mother, son vie for House seats

CONCORD | A mother and son from Concord, N.H., are running against each other for the New Hampshire House, but they say that if either gets elected, it will be a victory.

Pamela Ean, 55, and her 19-year-old son, Garrett, are running for two of the four House seats that represent Concord’s wards 5, 6 and 7. They’re among five Republicans running in the Sept. 9 primary; only four will advance to the general election.


Corporate tax a state priority

SALEM | The Oregon House Democrats named their list of priorities for the 2009 Legislature last week, the Oregonian reports.

It includes a commitment to raising the state’s $10 corporate minimum tax and help for college students.

Majority Leader Dave Hunt, the Gladstone Democrat who hopes to be speaker in 2009, was also quick to say that Democrats took a conservative approach in compiling their to-do list.

“We’re not going to overpromise,” Mr. Hunt told reporters attending a Capitol press conference.

Oregon’s $10 corporate minimum tax is the only tax change mentioned in the Democrats’ list.

Under improving “health care access and affordability,” Democrats pledge to fund in-home and assisted-living care programs for seniors and people with disabilities. Notably absent was specific mention of a Healthy Kids plan to make sure more Oregonian children are insured or raising the state’s cigarette tax to pay for it.


Committee reviews gambling bills

HARRISBURG | A House committee played a real balancing act last week as it dealt with two separate gambling bills, the Daily Review reports.

The Gaming Oversight Committee drew criticism earlier this year for not meeting very often, but panel members were in the spotlight for two days of hearings during the middle of the legislative recess.

The first day focused on a bill to expand legalized gambling. The measure by Rep. Tom Caltagirone, Berks Democrat, would allow nonprofit charitable groups such as the Veterans of Foreign Wars and American Legion to install up to five video poker machines for fundraising purposes.

The second day focused on a bill sought by gambling opponents. The measure by Rep. Paul Clymer, Bucks Republican, would require casinos to provide frequent gamblers with a statement of their wins and losses each month.

The hearings are just a first step for two bills that have to be considered long shots for passage at this stage. But the testimony served to draw attention to issues that have been percolating since Pennsylvania legalized slots casinos in 2004.


Perry security records to be released

AUSTIN | The Department of Public Safety must release travel information about Gov. Rick Perry’s security detail that had been requested under the state’s open records law, state District Judge Scott Jenkins ruled Friday, the Austin American Statesman reports.

DPS spokeswoman Tela Mange said Friday afternoon that the agency had not decided whether to appeal.

Two newspaper companies sued DPS over the agency’s refusal to release vouchers that detail the travel expenses for the troopers who accompany Mr. Perry and his family on trips, including trips that are not official state business.

The documents were requested last year under the state’s Public Information Act by reporters from the Austin American-Statesman, owned by Cox Enterprises, as well as the Houston Chronicle and San Antonio Express-News, both of which are owned by Hearst Newspapers LLC.

DPS argued that releasing the documents would compromise the safety of the governor, his family and others who travel with them because it could provide details to someone trying to harm them.

Judge Jenkins’ final judgment did not include any further explanation for his ruling.

The newspapers said the ruling protected the public’s access to important information.


Stalled guard bill gains popularity

MONTPELIER | A bill barring the Vermont National Guard from being sent to Iraq may not have gotten far in the Legislature, but it seems to have spawned a national movement.

More than a half-dozen state legislatures will consider similar bills in the coming months, said Ben Manski, a Wisconsin man who was in Montpelier on Monday as part of his work supporting such initiatives.

The Vermont bill was introduced in January by Rep. Michael Fisher, Lincoln Democrat, who said that the legal authorization for the use of National Guard troops in Iraq had expired. The conditions that were the basis for the war - including United Nations’ resolutions and the ousting of Saddam Hussein - no longer exist, Mr. Fisher said. Another authorization allowing the overseas use of National Guard troops is needed, or they should return home, supporters of the bill argue.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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