PUBLISHED: 11:35 AM on Wednesday, March 22, 2006
Legislative Roundup
House introduces bully prevention bill

It may be the school bullies who have to watch their backs in 2007.

House Bill 482, "An act relating to harassment, intimidation, and bullying in schools," was introduced to the House Special Committee on Education on Thursday, March 16. Sponsored by Rep. Tom Anderson, R-Anchorage, the bill allows schools to create anti-bullying policies to create safe and healthy learning environments in classrooms from Alaska.

"It's a very good thing for our students and I just hope they can learn in a very safe learning environment," legislative aide Crystal Novotney, who introduced the bill on behalf of Anderson, told the committee.

Some districts have acted already. Juneau School District's harassment policy covers bullying.

The bill would give schools the option of adopting a policy by July 1, 2007, to curb violence and intimidation in schools. It also would suggest that schools report any bullying activity to the Department of Education and Early Development by each January 31 beginning with the 2007-2008 school year. It also shields students, school employees and volunteers from reprisals or from lawsuits if they report such activity.

The bill defines harassment, intimidation or bullying as an "intentional written, oral, or physical act" that causes physical harm, interferes with education, creates a threatening environment, or disrupts school operations.

Rep. Bob Lynn, R-Anchorage, said there are laws on the books that already protect students.

National Education Association-Alaska Executive Director Tom Harvey testified before the committee, saying the bill provides a mechanism by which a school can produce a better climate for students to learn and teachers to teach. He said the bill would help because some schools in Alaska are getting failing grades under the federal No Child Left Behind Act, unable to meet the attendance requirements.

Sara Vitaska, a policy associate for the National Conference of State Legislatures, told the committee that 21 states have enacted anti-bullying legislation and at least 24 states introduced similar legislation in 2005-2006.

Committee to stray from governor's oil tax plan

New version of sliding scale instead of straight percentage

An outline of a committee substitute bill released Tuesday, March 14, by the House Resources Committee showed that members plan to make significant changes to the oil tax bill, amounting to several hundred million dollars more than the governor's plan.

But the new version stops short of entirely increasing the 20 percent tax rate that Gov. Frank Murkowski and oil producers insisted on keeping in the bill.

Instead, they will add a provision referred to as a "sliding scale" that collects more of oil companies' profits starting at $50 a barrel.

"We feel that this keeps investment opportunity in Alaska very strong, but balances it out by taking advantage of windfalls in high spikes of oil prices," said House Resources Committee Co-chairman Ralph Samuels, R-Anchorage.

Samuels and the committee's other co-chairman, Jay Ramras, R-Fairbanks, have said during the past four weeks of testimony on House Bill 488 that they wanted to make changes to the governor's plan.

Using the West Texas Intermediate pricing system as its gauge, at $50 a barrel the tax rate will increase by 0.30 percent for every $1 increase in the price. For example, at $60 a barrel the tax rate would be 23 percent and at $70 a barrel it would be 26.5 percent.

In the case of a global oil shock, the rate caps at 50 percent at about $150 a barrel.

Among the total 11 key changes, three others will mean even more money for the state treasury if implemented. Samuels said the changes would at least amount to $500 million annually more than the governor's proposal.

Murkowski spokeswoman Becky Hultberg said the committee activity on the governor's bill is a step in the process toward passing the bill.

"Right now, the governor continues to support his original proposal," she said.

In a written statement issued Tuesday, Murkowski said the oil tax bill is key to getting the three major producers to sign a contract to build a $25 billion pipeline.

'Sliding scale' to be introduced to bill that revamps state oil taxes

An amended version of the governor's proposal for a new oil tax regime may include a so-called "sliding scale" that would collect more tax on oil producers' profits when prices are high, says House Resources Committee Co-Chairman Ralph Samuels, R-Anchorage.

Samuels said a committee substitute will be available today for members to discuss. For more than three weeks, lawmakers have picked at key issues of the bill: the tax rate, incentives for exploration, a $73 million daily tax-free allowance, payment for investments made over the last five years and an option to add the sliding scale.

Samuels did not give specifics, but said he wanted to make the bill "progressive" by including a provision designed to collect more taxes when oil prices are high.

"There will be some element of progressivity put into it," Samuels said.

The sliding scale kicks in when oil prices reach a certain level by increasing the tax rate for every additional dollar that the price of a barrel rises.

For example, once oil reaches $45 per barrel, a 20 percent tax rate could be increased by 0.25 percent for every additional dollar it rises. So if the price of oil reached $49 per barrel, the tax rate would rise to 21 percent of a company's profits.

Even a 1 percent tax rate increase could bump revenue to the state by $50 million or more per year, according to legislative economic consultants with Econ One Research Inc., who testified on the bill Monday.

Econ One recommended several options for the sliding scale, beginning as low as $35 a barrel and as high as $50 a barrel. The tax increases in their examples ranged between 0.20 percent and 0.35 percent.

Reported by the Juneau Empire