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Legislative Wrap-Up: Alaska and Nebraska

April 28, 2010

Two measures, one dealing with improving access to higher education in Alaska, and another focusing on economic growth through renewable energy in Nebraska, recently were approved as part of the 2010 legislative sessions. Lawmakers in Alaska passed a measure establishing a merit-based scholarship program championed by Gov. Sean Parnell, but left funding for the program uncertain. Meanwhile, Nebraska legislators passed a bill to promote economic growth through renewable energy export.

Lawmakers passed a measure creating a merit-based scholarship program for higher education that includes many of the same elements proposed last year by Gov. Sean Parnell, with the exception of a funding mechanism. SB 221 establishes the Alaska Merit Scholarship Program providing grants for students who complete a more rigorous high school curriculum, including four years of math and science. Legislators scrapped a plan proposed by the governor that would have allocated $400 million to initiate the program by tapping into the interest earned on budget reserve funds.

Under the bill, students with a 3.5 grade-point average or above will be eligible for grants of $4,755. Students with a 3.0 grade-point average or above will receive $3,566 and those with a 2.5 grade-average will receive $2,378. A minimum score on college entrance exams also is required. A short-term task force will be created to study a funding mechanism, and if funding is approved in the 2011 legislative session, the scholarships would be available in the fall of 2011, according to the governor's office. The governor's plan would have provided a 100 percent tuition scholarship to students with an A average (see the Oct. 14, 2009 issue of the Digest).

Lawmakers also approved a bill declaring a statewide energy policy promoting renewable energy development. The bill calls for the state to receive 50 percent of its electric generation from renewable sources by 2025 and achieve a 15 percent increase in energy efficiency on a per capita basis between 2010 and 2020. The bill awaits action from Gov. Parnell.

Gov. Dave Heineman signed into law LB 1048 earlier this month, a measure designed to encourage the development, ownership and operation of renewable energy facilities for the export of wind energy from Nebraska. The law creates a mechanism for the Nebraska Power Review Board to consider and approve renewable energy facilities for the purpose of energy exports and provides an exemption from public power's use of eminent domain for export projects. This provision removes what is considered a significant barrier to greater wind energy development, according to the legislation. Gov. Heineman said he expects Nebraska to be a top 10 wind energy producing state by 2020.

Alaska, Nebraskaenergy