PUBLISHED: 1:48 PM on Wednesday, April 5, 2006
Legislative Roundup
Hobby or addiction?

Alaskans are divided on a bill that would legalize poker playing in bars or other establishments.

In a Wednesday, March 29, Alaska Senate Judiciary Committee meeting, some constituents argued that poker is only a hobby, while others said it's a gateway to a serious gambling addiction.

"The growing popularity of poker is obvious to anyone who has surfed the TV channels and Internet," said Mike O'Hare, staff to Rep. Pete Kott, R-Eagle River, the sponsor of the bill.

Lobbyist Guy Warren, representing Presbyterian churches in Alaska, said cable networks are not showing the rest of the story. The featured players typically look happy on television because they will take home some winnings for being a finalist.

Besides poker, the bill includes pan, rummy, bridge and cribbage.

Alaska allows residents to play poker for cash in homes, but it is illegal to play for money in public establishments. Several bars across the state have poker nights in which contestants play for prizes but do not purchase their chips.

Funds for rural energy revived

After heavy protest from the Democrats, the House passed a "fast track" supplemental spending bill Monday night that included some funding for energy needs in rural Alaska.

Republicans didn't go along with everything Democrats sought to put into the bill, saying they didn't want to sink money into short-term fixes. Instead they will seek a long-term solution to helping communities pay for high-energy costs later this session.

The supplemental bill is approved in the middle of the session to pay for unforeseen costs that are not included in the current budget for the remainder of this fiscal year.

The bill that came to the House floor in the morning contained no funding for four programs that Gov. Frank Murkowski set aside in his original proposal.

Those funds were $8.8 million in state money for the federal Low-Income Energy Assistance Program, $6.4 million for Alaska's Small Municipal Energy Assistance Program, $5.4 million for the Power Cost Equalization Program and $500,000 for bulk fuel loans.

The Senate removed those sources of funding when it passed the bill earlier this month.

Saying they only wanted to support programs that were sustainable if oil prices fall, the Senate cut the funding for energy and trimmed a total $25 million out of the supplemental spending bill.

Lawmakers back cities' use offluoride in water

Alaska should recognize and foster the benefits of community water fluoridation, says the author of a resolution urging communities to get on board the fluoride train.

The Senate Health, Education and Social Services Committee discussed House Concurrent Resolution 5 Monday afternoon. Sponsored by Rep. Paul Seaton, R-Homer, the resolution urges communities to offer their residents fluoridated water and proposes that all new public water systems be designed to allow easy incorporation of fluoridation.

The resolution was first introduced last session and passed the House this month. It does not mandate action, but encourages it, Seaton said.

There is no longer a reasonable argument to be made for adding sodium fluoride to drinking water, Juneau resident Alan Munro said, despite what the American Dental Association and local dentists have been recommending for decades.

Juneau fluoridates its water, but a city commission is tasked with reviewing the health benefits.

The text of Seaton's resolution states that about 45 percent of Alaskans do not have fluoridated water. Dental disease leads to higher insurance premiums, business costs and lost time at work and school.

Alaska is bearing the burden of high Medicaid costs from unfluoridated communities, it adds.

"We strongly support community water fluoridation. There is no question it greatly improves health, and there are no real health tradeoffs," said Troy Ritter, senior environmental health consultant of the Alaska Native Tribe Health Consortium.

"I deal with the health aspects of water fluoridation and other chemicals continually."

About 35 of 220 Alaska Native communities are receiving fluoride, Ritter said. The number appears small because many of the rural communities are unable to support a community fluoridation system, he added.

Juneau Public Works Director Joe Buck said the trained city staff is careful in administering fluoride to industry standards.

A recent report by the National Academy of Sciences' National Research Council found that people exposed to the maximum allowed level of fluoride in tap water may be at greater risk for tooth decay and bone fractures.

Juneau fluoridates at about a quarter of the EPA's limit, city officials say. The study did not discuss the effects of the compound at that level.

The resolution's co-sponsors are Rep. Mary Kapsner, D-Bethel, and Rep. Woodie Salmon, D-Chalkyitsik.

Reported by the Juneau Empire