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State gun bill raises questions about legislators’ priorities

By Bonney Bowman 8:29 PM July 31, 2014

It’s bill-signing season for Alaska Gov. Sean Parnell.

But as the legislation becomes law, it’s raising questions about how the lawmakers spend their time.

Earlier this week, Parnell signed a bill designating an official state bolt-action rifle.

The law itself isn’t what’s raising ire. It’s that lawmakers took the time to debate and vote on the state gun, rather than other bills some say are more important to Alaska and its residents.

Lawmakers passed a little more than 100 bills this session.

“I think our legislators do a good job with paring it down and passing what’s essential,” Parnell said.

Not everyone agrees with him.

The state gun bill went through several committees.

The bill’s sponsor, Senate President Charlie Huggins, says each committee spent 30 minutes to an hour asking questions about the bill before passing it.

“I think symbols of our past and remembrances of our history are important,” Parnell said.

But another piece of legislation, House Bill 54, never even got a hearing.

It would have required social workers to look for relatives within 30 days of a child entering foster care, quickly placing them with family instead of bouncing them from place to place.

“The bill was heard in a few committees, but it didn’t make it out of the house,” said Amanda Metivier, executive director for Facing Foster Care in Alaska.

Current and former foster kids talked to lawmakers in Juneau about why the bill mattered.

“We got a lot of, ‘oh yeah, that’s really interesting, we want to help’ but no movement,” Metivier said.

KTVA 11 News wanted to know what you thought, so we asked you about the issue on Facebook.

Deb Patrick said simply: “are you kidding me?!!”

Robert Haus said he agrees with the choice of state gun, but says the bill was a waste of time. Dennis Frank agreed, saying there are more important issues.

None of the commenters on Facebook thought the state gun law was a good use of the lawmakers’ time.

But the governor says the state gun matters because it’s part of Alaska’s heritage, saying, “it all ties together with the Alaska life and who we are as a people.”

Metivier says it’s unlikely the foster care bill will be brought up again.

“It’s kind of disheartening when those things don’t pass, but you know there were some good things that did pass the session in the way of children’s services,” she said. “But it’s just frustrating. You never know what’s going to happen but it’s really about what people’s priorities are.”

Metivier says one of the bills passed provides funds to increase the number of social workers in the state.

She says this will help speed up the family search process by easing the workers’ burden, but still doesn’t put a time limit on when those searches happen.

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