Nearing finish line, workers' comp reform approved, deal reached on education

The state Legislature appears headed, finally, toward an adjournment of its 2014 session.

Agreement was reached Wednesday on an education bill, House Bill 278, that was the main sticking point between the House and Senate. Resolution of that will set the stage for final passage of the state capital budget and other last-minute priority bills.

The capital budget is Senate Bill 199. It is on the floor of the state House Thursday. Agreements have been worked out on final additions, sources in the Legislature say, so the Senate will likely concur in the House changes, and the bill will be on its way to Gov. Sean Parnell.

The capital budget was being held mainly to be vehicle for any last-minute additions to education funding.

One bill important to employers has passed and is now en route to the governor. It is House Bill 316, making changes in the way workers’ compensation medical payments are made.

The bill is expected to lower workers’ compensation medical costs and, therefore, insurance premiums paid by employers for coverage, which is required by law.

One surprise on Wednesday is an apparent snag over a bill reorganizing the financing for a major bridge over Knik Arm. On a 20-18 vote the House failed to concur in changes to House Bill 23 made by the Senate. Twenty-one votes are needed to concur.

Unless positions are changed in the House the bill may fail. It is likely, however, that the vote was part of last-minute maneuvering between the House and Senate on that bill and possibly others. The matter could be brought to a vote again on Thursday.

Another bill of interest to business, Senate Bill 99, is on the House floor Thursday and is expected to pass. The bill makes changes in procedures of the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority, the state development corporation, and also gives AIDEA authority to help finance two mining projects in Southeast Alaska.

One is the Bokan Mountain rare earths project and the other is Niblack, a multi-metals project. Both would be underground mines, and are on Prince of Wales Island near Ketchikan.

Niblack is of particular importance to Ketchikan because the ore processing mill for the mine is proposed to be built at a former lumber mill site on Gravina Island, which is adjacent to the Southeast city. Ore from Niblack would be barged to Gravina Island for processing.

04/24/2014 - 4:25am