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For 'Lent Madness,' Reverend Pits Saints Against Each Other

NPR News - Tue, 2014-04-01 23:56

Rev. Tim Schenck created the March Madness-type bracket in the true spirit of the season. People learn about, then vote for their favorite saints to advance to the Golden Halo.

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So You Think You're Smarter Than A CIA Agent

NPR News - Tue, 2014-04-01 23:55

When 3,000 average citizens were asked to forecast global events, some consistently made predictions that turned out to be more accurate than those made with classified intelligence.

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Changing The Face Of Astronomy Research

NPR News - Tue, 2014-04-01 23:55

An apprenticeship program in New York City helps lower-income and minority students break into advanced sciences. For one, the love of the stars was motivation to tackle the tough field of astronomy.

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In Arkansas, Voters May Get Chance To Raise Minimum Wage

NPR News - Tue, 2014-04-01 23:54

Arkansas has some of the lowest wages in the country. It's also home to one of the most vulnerable Senate Democrats, raising the stakes for a possible ballot measure to increase the minimum wage.

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Small Health Insurance Co-Ops Seeing Early Success

NPR News - Tue, 2014-04-01 23:53

Karl Sutton belongs to a farmers co-op in Montana where member-owners share costs and revenue. A health insurance co-op appeals to him, too — but can the model grow beyond its niche market?

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Did election tip balance of power on Anchorage Assembly?

Alaska and Yukon Headlines - Tue, 2014-04-01 23:00
Did election tip balance of power on Anchorage Assembly? With thousands of absentee and challenged ballots outstanding and less than 20 percent of Anchorage turning out to vote, key results were uncertain Tuesday night.April 1, 2014

2014 Municipal Election Results

Alaska and Yukon Headlines - Tue, 2014-04-01 22:44

Pete Petersen. Photo by Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Anchorage.

Updated on Tuesday, April 1, 2014 at 10:35 p.m.

With 85 percent of the precincts reporting in, Patrick Flynn leads challenger Mark Martinson by 950 votes in the race for Assembly Seat 1B.

Bill Starr holds around a 1,000 vote lead over Sharon Gibbons in the battle for Assembly Seat 2C, with 84 percent of precincts reporting in.

Kameron Perez-Verdia. Photo by Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Anchorage.

Tim Steele has rounded up a 2,200 vote lead over opponent Phil Isley, with 84 percent of the precincts reporting in for Assembly Seat 3E.

The race for Assembly Seat 5I remains close, as Pete Petersen has about a 300 vote lead over Adam Trombley.

Bill Evans holds a narrow lead over Bruce Dougherty in the race for Assembly Seat 6K.

In the races for the two Anchorage School Board, Pat Higgins leads with 52 percent of the vote for Seat C; and for Seat D, Kameron Perez-Verdia holds a 5,000 vote lead over challenger Don Smith. Just under 92 percent of the precincts have reported in.

All but one of the Ballot Propositions are on track to pass. Proposition 3 remains close, with 49.78 percent of voters saying YES and 50.22 percent voting NO.

Final Four Set In NCAA Women's Basketball Tournament

NPR News - Tue, 2014-04-01 21:32

Maryland, Stanford, the University of Connecticut and Notre Dame will play this weekend in Nashville. Notre Dame and UConn are undefeated.

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Washington Mudslide Death Toll Climbs To 28

NPR News - Tue, 2014-04-01 21:13

The official death toll from Washington state's mudslide has increased to 28. The Snohomish County medical examiner's office says 22 of those victims have been identified.

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Savings And Loan Figure Charles Keating Dies At 90

NPR News - Tue, 2014-04-01 21:04

Charles H. Keating Jr., the notorious financier who served prison time and was disgraced for his role in the costliest savings and loan failure of the 1980s, has died. He was 90.

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Bowser Wins Democratic Primary Over Embattled D.C. Mayor Gray

NPR News - Tue, 2014-04-01 20:59

Muriel Bowser won the District of Columbia's Democratic mayoral primary on Tuesday. She defeated incumbent Vincent Gray in a race defined by a scandal involving Gray's campaign four years ago.

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President Bachelet Cautious As 8.2 Quake Kills 5 In Chile

NPR News - Tue, 2014-04-01 20:47

Authorities kept hundreds of thousands of people out of their beds early Wednesday after the quake struck off Chile's northern coast. Five people were crushed to death or suffered fatal heart attacks.

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100-mile backcountry ride on a unicycle? No problem.

Alaska and Yukon Headlines - Tue, 2014-04-01 20:23
100-mile backcountry ride on a unicycle? No problem. Looking for a challenge, Fairbanks resident Elliot Wilson decided to learn to ride a unicycle, then signed up for and completed a 100-mile endurance race on it, proving the naysayers wrong along the way.April 1, 2014

They ripped out our tongues: Language loss, historic trauma and HB 216

Alaska and Yukon Headlines - Tue, 2014-04-01 20:07
They ripped out our tongues: Language loss, historic trauma and HB 216 OPINION: It is a miracle Alaska Native languages have survived as long as they have, and are as strong as they are, given the abuses our peoples have suffered to preserve them. That alone demonstrates how important our languages have been to us.April 1, 2014

Lawmakers turn cold on buying Anchorage legislative office building for $28 million

Alaska and Yukon Headlines - Tue, 2014-04-01 19:58
Lawmakers turn cold on buying Anchorage legislative office building for $28 million The election-year attempt to buy an Anchorage office building for $28 million and lease the land underneath it doesn't have the votes in Juneau. Senate President Charlie Huggins says the Legislature should learn more about it and vote next year. April 1, 2014

State wants Seldovia turkeys killed to eliminate flight risk

Alaska and Yukon Headlines - Tue, 2014-04-01 19:48
State wants Seldovia turkeys killed to eliminate flight risk Local residents are frustrated after a DOT letter to the city of Seldovia requested a lethal take of local turkeys​.April 1, 2014

Alaska’s Health Insurers Call Marketplace Enrollment Figures Disappointing

Alaska and Yukon Headlines - Tue, 2014-04-01 17:25

The Obama administration announced today more than 7 million Americans signed up for health insurance on government run marketplaces by Monday’s enrollment deadline. In Alaska, the final numbers aren’t in yet. The two insurers on the state’s federally run marketplace are reporting they had 7,500 enrollees by mid March.

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Jeff Davis knew the health care roll out would be rough. But looking back on the six month enrollment period that began Oct. 1, the President of Premera Alaska says he failed to anticipate just how rough.

“We didn’t expect it to be smooth, but we didn’t expect it to be quite this exciting shall we say,” Davis said.

Part of that excitement was a last minute Obama Administration change that allowed some Premera Alaska members to keep plans that were supposed to be canceled. Davis supported the move, but he says it forced the company to scramble. And then there was the bungled Healthcare.gov roll out in October.  Davis thinks that gave a lot of people a good reason to put off enrolling indefinitely.

“Everyone was waiting for that October 1st date and when it came and went and no one was enrolled, we really lost a lot of momentum,” Davis said.

By mid March, Premera had 4300 new Alaska enrollees, on and off the exchange. Before healthcare.gov launched, the company had conservatively estimated more than double that number – about 10,000 people would sign up. Davis says the numbers are disappointing.

“That’s not what we were hoping for, we were hoping more Alaskans would find a way to get covered, I think we’ll see eventually we’ll end up where we expect it to be, but it’s just not going to happen in ’14,” he said.

The other insurer on Alaska’s marketplace is Oregon based Moda Health. Jason Gootee is the company’s regional manager in the state. As of mid-March, Moda had 5200 new enrollees in Alaska. He says that number seems low given how many Alaskans are uninsured.

“It’s actually a pretty small number compared to what might be out there, so I think that part of it is a little bit disappointing, but in terms of market share we’ve been able to bring on, I think we’ve been happy with what we’ve gotten,” Gootee said.

Gootee says after the slow start to enrollment, December was a big month. The company, which also insures customers in Oregon and Washington, wasn’t prepared for the enormous spike in enrollments toward the end of the year.

“Just to give you an example as a company, not just in Alaska, on December 30th we took just over 50,000 calls in one day,” Gootee said. “And for us, historically a busy call day would have been about 5,000 calls.”

Gootee says Moda learned a lot of lessons it will apply during the next open enrollment period, which begins November 15th. Until that date, there are other issues to work out. Neither Moda or Premera has received any money from the federal government for the subsidies many customers qualified for. Premera’s Jeff Davis says the company is prepared to cover the subsidy amounts, but hopes the payments will be made soon.

“As far as I know there’s still no mechanism for us to receive subsidies from the federal government… there’s just a lot of work still on the back end that wasn’t done as part of open enrollment that still needs to be completed,” Davis said.

Both companies will have to file their health insurance rates for next year before they have much information on how new customers are using their insurance. Those rates are due at the end of May.

This story is part of a reporting partnership between APRN, NPR and Kaiser Health News.

Feds Ask King Cove to Weigh In on Road Alternatives

Alaska and Yukon Headlines - Tue, 2014-04-01 17:24

A group of tribal and government officials from King Cove are back from a week of lobbying in Washington, D.C. — and they’ve come home with a new assignment.

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The point of the trip was to convince Interior Secretary Sally Jewell to reconsider their request to build a road to an all-weather airport in Cold Bay. Residents of King Cove say it would provide easier access to commercial medevac flights.

Jewell had rejected the road in December because it would cross through the Izembek National Wildlife Refuge. At the time, Jewell said the refuge ecosystem needs to be protected.

Jewell didn’t budge on the road when it came up during a congressional hearing last week. But she did ask for something from the visiting King Cove group.

“We need suggestions from the people that live in the area on what alternatives would be potentially viable to them if a road does not go through,” Jewell said.

Laura Tanis of the Aleutians East Borough says the alternatives would be a hovercraft or a landing craft — and they both have weather limitations that would prevent them from operating in King Cove year-round.

Regardless, Tanis says that local officials will put together information on road alternatives and send them to the Interior Department within the next two weeks.

In the meantime, the Coast Guard is still helping out with medical emergencies in King Cove.

A Coast Guard helicopter flew to the village Monday afternoon to pick up a fisherman with an eye injury. The 58-year-old man was working aboard the P/V Golden Alaska, when he was sprayed with a high-pressure hose.

The crew took the injured man to King Cove’s clinic. Medical staff referred him for a medevac, but commercial services were grounded because of bad weather.

That meant the Coast Guard had to fly in and transfer the man to Cold Bay’s airport. From there, he made it onto a commercial medevac plane bound for Anchorage.

According to the village of King Cove, that was the fifth time the Coast Guard’s had to help medevac a patient this year.

Panel Proposes More Education Money, Pension Fix

Alaska and Yukon Headlines - Tue, 2014-04-01 17:23

The House Finance Committee has proposed an increase in education funding of about $300 per-student over three years.

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That’s about $100 more over that time than Gov. Sean Parnell proposed in his version of HB278, an omnibus education bill. The committee, in its draft version released Tuesday, also proposed a new approach to dealing with the teachers’ retirement system.

Legislative Finance Division Director David Teal says the plan calls for a $1.5 billion cash infusion and an increase in the employer contribution rate, which Teal says the state would pay.

He says the plan calls for lower annual payments than what Parnell proposed and would extend the payments out over a longer period.

There was no testimony on the draft bill; that was expected later in the day.

Alaska Native Languages Bill Clears Final House Committee

Alaska and Yukon Headlines - Tue, 2014-04-01 17:22

Rep. Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins (in suit coat and blue shirt) and supporters of House Bill 216 gather in a Capitol hallway for a group photo to celebrate passage of the bill through the House State Affairs Committee. The bill would symbolically make 20 Alaska Native languages official state languages alongside English. (Photo by Skip Gray/Gavel Alaska)

A bill that would symbolically make 20 Alaska Native languages official state languages is heading to the House floor for a vote.

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The House State Affairs Committee on Tuesday unanimously passed House Bill 216 from Rep. Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins, D-Sitka, less than a week after some Republicans on the panel raised concerns about the bill’s potential ramifications.

Tlingit elder Selina Everson teared up during public testimony.

“Our language is our very being. It’s our culture,” Everson said. “We were brought up with such respect to each other, to the Tlingit people, the Haida people, the Tsimshian people, the Yup’ik, the whole state of Alaska with all the different languages being spoken. It would be an honor to be recognized.”

Indigenous Peoples and Languages of Alaska map by Michael Krauss. (courtesy of the Alaska Native Language Center)

While English is the only official language of Alaska, the state Supreme Court in 2007 struck down part of a 1998 voter initiativerequiring it to be used for all government business.

Last week, Republican Reps. Doug Isaacson of North Pole, and Lynn Gattis and Wes Keller of Wasilla, raised concerns that HB 216 would be misinterpreted by future legislatures or the courts. They worried that could lead to unintended consequences, such as ballots or legislation having to be printed in every official language.

A new version of the bill adopted at Tuesday’s hearing makes clear that the official designation for Alaska Native languages is only symbolic. But Lance Twitchell, a Native languages professor at the University of Alaska Southeast, said the bill means more than that to supporters.

“This is more than symbolic. This is historic,” Twitchell said.

He went on to reference two bills the state affairs committee passed last week while Isaacson, Gattis and Keller struggled with the idea of making Alaska Native languages official languages.

“History will not remember you for specialized license plates and parking ticket processes,” Twitchell said. “History will remember you for this moment right here. What you say and do when we ask you to help us live, to find a brighter future for our languages, cultures and people.”

HB 216 must still be scheduled for a vote on the House floor. The bill has not been considered by the state Senate.