Apologies please, for delayed blog entries. Blog updates are important, but other legislative (and yes, personal) business has priority. It would be easy to merely list daily schedules and so on, but that’s available from other sources on the Internet (such as “Alaska Basis” at http://www.legis.state.ak.us/basis/start.asp). I prefer to use blog communications for personal comments about various issues, and to some of my committee and floor talks, letters, and press-releases a wider audience. That takes more time and thought, and I hope readers think it’s worth it.
The following recaps some of what’s happened since my last blog.
FEBRUARY 23 MY BIRTHDAY: I’m 73 today (age, not IQ). I’m in favor of birthdays. It beats the alternative.
FEBRUARY 23 WHERE SHOULD WE INVEST?: This morning in State Affairs Committee, we heard House Resolution 27, which proposes that the Permanent Fund Corporation, the people who provide our yearly dividend, not invest any of its 30 billion dollars in any company that does business with Iran or North Korea - nations that would like to wipe the United States off the map.
Representatives from the Permanent Fund Corporation stated investments are made strictly on the basis of "highest potential financial return" for a prudent investment. Sounds good . . . but the devil made me ask, “Does that include investing for a potential high return from a drug cartel or the Mafia?” The reply, “They aren’t traded on the public market! H’mmmm. The resolution was held in committee for another hearing. Stay tuned.
FEBRUARY 22 A BEVY OF BISHOPS: One of the neat things about being a legislator is the opportunity to do so many things for the first time. Case in point: it was just my wife and I with all the Catholic bishops of Alaska, at the home of their legislative representative in Juneau: Archbishop Emeritus Hurley, Archbishop Schwietz, Bishop Warfel of Juneau, Bishop Kettler of Fairbanks. Just conversation, and no agenda other than enjoying each other’s company, and hors d’oeuvres plus refreshments. That’s a first for Marlene and me.
As a Catholic I have met these gentlemen before, but only in a clerical setting – and then only briefly. Bishops are high-ranking church officials with major responsibilities for the faithful flock they shepherd, but at the same time are just “people” (like all clergy), same as the rest of us. This delightful, fun-filled, evening made the point.
FEBRUARY 15 PROTECTION OF “MAIL ORDER” BRIDES: Marriage by the “mail order bride” process is an old American practice, and many fine unions and good families have resulted from the process. But it is not without hazard (of course, the same could be said from the more usual marriage partner quest). Modern technology has resulted in Internet dating and marriage broker websites. Often, prospective dates and brides fill out questionnaires in an attempt to find compatible matches – and that’s good. Even so, there are some horror stories, especially for brides who come to America based upon serious misrepresentations of the man. Too often the brides come to Alaska from poor third world nations, and have limited or no English.
To help protect vulnerable women, I’ve co-sponsored HB402. With passage of HB402, a written notice must be sent to the prospective bride, in her native language, that includes information on the potential groom’s criminal history, a list of any restraining orders or protective orders, a complete marital history (and how each marriage was terminated), the rights of victims of marital abuse in the United States, and more. In politics, we call it full disclosure, and I’m in favor of it.
The bill was held in the House Labor and Commerce Committee, and s scheduled for another hearing March 1st.
FEBRUARY 13 SAFER CIGARETTES: Cigarettes that burn after they are dropped or discarded in Alaska have resulted in four percent of all residential fires, and 163 wildfires consuming 7,699 acres. This fact prompted the introduction House Bill 413 that reuires the sale in Alaska of “fire safe” cigarettes that feature a special paper thicker paper with “speed bumps" designed to stop them from burning when left unattended, as well as more loosely packed tobacco. Smokers tell me there is no difference in cigarette flavor. I had never before heard of “fire safe” cigarettes. Amazing what we learn here.
This bill would seem like common sense legislation, and the House State Affairs committee members thought so too, so we passed it out of committee with all “do pass” recommendations. Next committee of referral is the House Judiciary Committee.
FEBRUARY 9 HB345 BOWLING BALLS AND WET SPAGHETTI: What I call a “sounds good but isn’t” bill came before our House Special Committee on Education today. HB345 proposed that compulsory school attendance be increased to age seventeen. Currently, when a student turns age 16 they may drop out of school.
The presenter of the bill to our committee claimed that sixteen year old high school drop-outs lose educational opportunities, have lower lifetime incomes, half end up on public welfare, and half our prison population are high school drop-outs. I agree. There’s not very debatable.
But I’m a retired public school teacher, both regular and special education, so I had to speak my mind on this. I said that trying to keep kids in school past age sixteen, when they don’t want to be there, is akin to trying to push a bowling ball up hill with a piece of wet spaghetti. It doesn’t work. I could have said, “Never try to teach a pig to sing, it wastes your time and annoys the pig" – but that would be venturing too far beyond the bounds of political correctness even for me, so I didn’t say that, repeat, didn’t say it.
Problem is, keeping a kid in school by force of law past age sixteen works an educational disservice to the kid, the other classroom students, and certainly the teacher. It’s not practical, and not fair. It’s a recipe for classroom disruption, and no education for anyone. The best way to keep a kid in school, whatever their age, is for the teaching and curricula to be both subject appropriate to the student and taught with excellence. Certainly some of the drop-outs might have stayed in school if a meaningful vocational opportunity were available.
The bill presenter countered that if we let kids drop out of school, they would be out on the street with no supervision and would get into trouble. Probably true. But that’s a problem for parents, or more likely the police. It’s not the job of schools to be babysitters – or wardens for juvenile delinquents. The job of schools is to teach. Having kids in the classroom who want to be there helps the teaching, aqnd makes the world a better place.
Next the presenter told our committee that the earlier we get kids in schools the better off they are. So I asked, what about age 6? She replied yes. Then I asked, what about age 5? Age 4? How about age 3, 2, or 1? How about taking kids away from parents straight out of the maternity ward and putting them into a government school? The point is, children don’t “belong” to Washington DC, to Juneau, or the local school district (See my blog of June 21, 2002 for a fuller exposition of that point)
The sponsor of this bill to keep kids in school means well. I want kids to stay in school also, but this bill is not they way to accomplish the goal.
FEBRUARY 8 HAPPY BIRTHDAY: Happy birthday to my wife Marlene on her birthday!