- Associated Press - Monday, April 18, 2016

JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) - The Latest on the extended Alaska legislative session (all times local):

6:15 p.m.

Legislation was introduced in the Alaska House seeking to suspend merit pay increases for state employees until the price of North Slope crude more than doubles from its current level.

The House Rules Committee bill was introduced on the first day of an extended session after lawmakers failed to reach agreement on a fiscal plan within the 90-day session. It includes some exceptions.

The measure would bar the state from entering into collective bargaining agreements with employee unions unless the agreement includes no such pay increases.

The intent is to suspend the increases until after North Slope crude averages at least $90 a barrel for a full fiscal year. Rep. Craig Johnson, the committee chair, called that a placeholder. Friday’s price was about $42.

Johnson questioned the wisdom of such raises when the state is running a multibillion-dollar budget deficit.

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4 p.m.

Gov. Bill Walker says he’d like for lawmakers to continue their work in Juneau, even if that means relocating from the Capitol while it undergoes renovation work.

Walker says he wants legislators to keep up the momentum they showed in clearing a backlog of bills as they moved into an extended session Monday where the focus is expected to be on budget- and revenue-related bills.

He says one thing about Juneau is that legislators are here for one reason - to do their legislative work. He says he also noted that a public affairs channel that broadcasts legislative goings-on is based in Juneau.

Renovation work began on the Capitol Monday, closing the front entrance and cordoning off the street in front of the building.

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12:55 p.m.

The majority leader of the Alaska Senate says two bills that faltered on the House and Senate floors this weekend will have to wait until next year.

Sen. John Coghill says House and Senate leaders wanted to clear the decks of pending bills so they could focus during the extended session that began Monday on budget- and revenue-related measures. But two bills - dealing with parental rights and student testing and with alcohol - faltered, with the House and Senate unhappy with amendments added to versions of their bills.

Coghill says there was an agreement that there wouldn’t be conference committees to allow for a “clean break” heading into extended session.

Lawmakers worked past the scheduled end of the 90-day session Sunday, unable to reach agreement on key issues like oil and gas tax credits

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3:05 a.m.

Alaska lawmakers are going into overtime after they were unable to reach agreement on a state fiscal plan within the voter-approved 90-day session.

Sunday marked the scheduled end of the 90-day session. But critical issues, including state spending plans and decisions on how to fund them, remained unsettled. A stumbling block has been how far to push changes to Alaska’s oil and gas tax credit system.

The state Constitution allows for regular legislative sessions of up to 121 days, but potentially disruptive renovation work on the Capitol is set to begin Monday.

Both the House and Senate held marathon floor sessions that ended early Monday morning.

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2:45 a.m.

The Alaska House has rejected a Senate rewrite of a parental rights and student testing bill that also limits who can teach sex education in public schools.

Senate changes to HB 156 included requiring that a person who teaches sex education be a licensed teacher under contract with the school or someone supervised by a licensed teacher and approved by the school board. Parents also would be able to review the person’s credentials.

The Senate, meanwhile, rejected House changes to an alcohol-related bill that included provisions sought by marijuana regulators to allow for national criminal background checks for applicants for legal marijuana business licenses. The bill had been amended on the House floor to include language related to membership of the Board of Barbers and Hairdressers.

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1:10 a.m.

The Alaska Legislature has approved updating the state’s Uniform Code of Military Justice.

Alaska’s code was established in 1955 and has been largely unchanged. Lawmakers advanced the bill intended to strengthen the state’s military code after a scathing report in 2014 found that favoritism, ethical misconduct and fear of reprisal were eroding trust and confidence in the leadership of the Alaska National Guard.

The changes empower the guard to prosecute more crimes committed by service members than currently allowed. However, the guard’s prosecution process is limited to crimes civilian courts do not pursue, eliminating double jeopardy. The guard would also not be able to impose a death sentence.

The House agreed to Senate changes to the bill early Monday morning. The bill next goes to the governor.

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1:05 a.m.

The Alaska Legislature has passed a measure aimed at boosting the enforcement of the state’s ban on texting while driving.

The House voted twice on the bill Sunday - with the bill winning easy passage both times - but the second vote was later voided. The bill next goes to the governor.

The bill would make texting while driving in cases that do not involve physical injury or death to another person a violation subject to a $500 fine, rather than a misdemeanor. Stiffer penalties would remain for the more severe cases.

Senate President Kevin Meyer, who sponsored the bill, has said the intent of the reduced penalty is to ease prosecution of distracted drivers by allowing officers to issue tickets on site rather than pursue a case through the court system.

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10:45 p.m.

The Alaska Senate has voted unanimously to update the state’s Uniform Code of Military Justice.

Alaska’s code was established in 1955 and has been largely unchanged. Lawmakers advanced the bill intended to strengthen the state’s military code after a scathing report found favoritism, ethical misconduct and fear of reprisal were eroding trust and confidence in the leadership of the Alaska National Guard.

The changes empower the guard to prosecute more crimes committed by service members than currently allowed. However, the guard’s prosecution process is limited to crimes civilian courts do not pursue, eliminating double jeopardy. The guard would also not be able to impose a death sentence. The House will need to decide whether to support Senate changes to the bill.

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10:35 p.m.

The Alaska House has voted again on a measure aimed at boosting the enforcement of the state’s ban on texting while driving.

The vote the second time was 33-6. The bill passed the Senate last month and next goes to the governor.

The bill would make texting while driving in cases that do not involve physical injury or death to another person a violation subject to a $500 fine, rather than a misdemeanor. Stiffer penalties would remain for the more severe cases.

Senate President Kevin Meyer, who sponsored the bill, has said the intent of the reduced penalty is to ease prosecution of distracted drivers by allowing officers to issue tickets on site rather than pursue a case through the court system.

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9:40 p.m.

The Alaska Legislature has voted to offer a tax credit to Agrium, designed to lure it back to its closed plant on the Kenai Peninsula.

The bill was sponsored by House Speaker Mike Chenault, a Nikiski Republican. The House agreed to Senate changes to the bill late Sunday.

The bill establishes a credit equal to the amount of royalty paid on natural gas produced from state leases for companies that produce ammonia and urea. Agrium’s Nikiski plant has been the only plant of that kind in the state.

In a release, Chenault said efforts are being made to get capital and jobs back to the Kenai Peninsula, and new revenue to the state. The credits would sunset in 2024.

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9:25 p.m.

The Alaska House has passed an update of state alcohol laws that includes provisions allowing for national criminal history checks for applicants for legal marijuana businesses in Alaska.

Marijuana regulators had sought provisions to allow for the checks. State law prohibits the issuance of licenses to individuals who have had felony convictions within five years of their application or are on probation or parole for that felony. Regulators have begun accepting applications.

The alcohol bill was amended on the House floor to include language related to membership of the Board of Barbers and Hairdressers. The Senate needed to decide whether to agree with the House changes.

Background check provisions also are included in a marijuana-related bill that had yet to be resolved Sunday.

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6:25 p.m.

A parental rights and student testing bill has passed the Alaska Senate.

The bill was headed back to the House for approval of language requiring that school boards preapprove sex education curriculum. Boards also would have to approve a person who teaches sex ed if that person isn’t a licensed teacher.

The bill would let parents withdraw students from activities or standardized tests and repeal a requirement that state school districts spend 70 percent of their operating budgets on instruction.

The bill would allow school districts to opt-out of statewide assessments, which the state education department says could jeopardize up to $99.3 million in federal funds during the next school year. The bill was amended requiring reinstatement of the assessments if the federal education department notifies the state that it will withhold funding.

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5:25 p.m.

The Alaska Legislature has voted to expand legal protections for pets caught up in messy divorces and domestic violence situations.

The bill spells out a definition for pet abuse, lays out requirements for owners to pay for the cost of care for seized animals and includes pets in domestic violence protection orders.

The bill was co-sponsored by the late Democratic Rep. Max Gruenberg, who died in February.

As his widow sat in the gallery watching, the bill cleared its final hurdle with a unanimous vote in the Senate and will next head to Gov. Bill Walker’s desk.

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5:20 p.m.

The Alaska Senate has voted to offer a tax credit to Agrium, designed to lure it back to its closed plant on the Kenai Peninsula.

The bill was championed by Nikiski Republican Rep. Mike Chenault.

It establishes a credit equal to the amount of royalty paid on natural gas produced from state leases for companies that produce ammonia and urea. Agrium’s Nikiski plant has been the only plant of that kind in the state.

The Department of Revenue estimates the credit could cause the state to forgo revenue up to nearly $15 million annually. The credit sunsets in 2024.

Sen. Bill Wielechowski unsuccessfully attempted to add language capping the amount of credit the company could take and allow the Kenai Peninsula Borough to offer property tax credits to the company

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4:50 p.m.

A bill aimed at curbing and containing costs within Alaska’s Medicaid program has passed the state Legislature.

It was one of the major reform bills targeted by legislators this session. Others, aimed at oil and gas tax credits and the criminal justice system, were pending.

The sprawling bill includes provisions geared toward ferreting out fraud and waste and bringing down state costs. Among other things, it calls for a primary care case management system to increase use of appropriate primary and preventative care and decrease unnecessary use of specialty care and emergency services.

In a release, Sen. Pete Kelly says the bill he sponsored isn’t about restricting access to patients who need care but reforming a broken system and offering better care at a lower cost.

The Senate agreed to House changes Sunday.

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3:40 p.m.

House Speaker Mike Chenault says legislators plan to keep working past Sunday in an effort to reach a compromise on outstanding issues like oil and gas tax credits.

He says he hopes that can be done in a few days - the sooner, he says, the better.

Sunday marked the scheduled end of the voter-approved 90-day session. But the state Constitution allows for regular sessions of up to 121 days.

Chenault says legislative leaders want to limit consideration to bills they see as important, such as those related to the budget and revenue measures.

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1:10 p.m.

The Alaska Legislature has passed a measure aimed at boosting the enforcement of the state’s ban on texting while driving.

The bill would make texting while driving in cases that do not involve physical injury or death to another person a violation subject to a $500 fine, rather than a misdemeanor. Stiffer penalties would remain for the more severe cases.

Senate President Kevin Meyer, who sponsored the bill, has said the intent of the reduced penalty is to ease prosecution of distracted drivers by allowing officers to issue tickets on site rather than pursue a case through the court system.

The bill passed the House 34-3 on Sunday. It passed the Senate last month.

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11:45 a.m.

Alaska legislators face overtime, with major bills unresolved on the session’s last scheduled day.

A question was whether lawmakers would keep working past the voter-approved 90-day session limit or go into a special session to finish their work.

Lawmakers have faced weighty decisions as they look to confront an estimated $4 billion budget deficit exacerbated by low oil prices. A stumbling block has been how far to push oil and gas tax credit changes.

Work continued at the Capitol Sunday. The House Finance Committee unveiled a draft rewrite of a bill allowing for structured, annual draws from Alaska Permanent Fund earnings. It also released a working draft of Gov. Bill Walker’s income tax bill with an effective date of Jan. 1, 2019, two years later than Walker initially proposed.

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