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Things to watch this week in Alaska Legislature

Published on NewsOK Modified: February 2, 2014 at 12:06 pm •  Published: February 2, 2014

JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) — While legislators continue to dig into details of the budget and plans to advance a liquefied natural gas project, this week's calendar also features a spate of proposed constitutional amendments.

The amendments, public hearings on referenda and, yes, pipeline legislation are three things to watch for this week.

— CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENTS: At least five proposed changes to the state constitution — two of which deal with education funding — are scheduled to be heard this week.

SJR9, from Sen. Mike Dunleavy, R-Wasilla, proposes striking a provision in Alaska's Constitution that prohibits the state from using public funds for the direct benefit of private and religious schools. The proposal, which roiled some lawmakers when it was introduced last year, seemed to gain new momentum after Gov. Sean Parnell, in his State of the State address last month, called on lawmakers to debate the measure and send to it voters, to let them decide.

Supporters contend the effort could allow for more choice in where parents send their kids to school. But critics fear it could take money away from public schools.

The Senate Finance Committee is scheduled to hear and take public comment on SJR9 this week. Besides Dunleavy, at least two other members of the panel — Sens. Pete Kelly and Anna Fairclough — have signed onto the proposal.

A similar proposal, pending in the House, is scheduled to be heard by the House Education Committee on Friday.

Other proposed constitutional amendments include: HJR18, from Rep. Bill Stoltze, R-Chugiak, which would make the attorney general an elected, rather than an appointed, job; HJR10, from Rep. Peggy Wilson, R-Wrangell, which would set up a transportation infrastructure fund; and HJR17, from Rep. Les Gara, D-Anchorage, aimed at protecting Permanent Fund dividends.

HEARING REFERENDA: HB274, from the House Rules Committee, would require the lieutenant governor, at least 30 days before an election, to hold at least two public hearings in each of the state's four judicial districts on a referendum appearing on the ballot. The hearings would have to include testimony from at least one supporter and one opponent. The bill, if passed as proposed, would apply to the oil tax referendum scheduled to appear on the August primary ballot.

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