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Legislature confirms fish board incumbents

Southeast Alaska News - Fri, 2014-04-18 00:03

Three incumbent members of Alaska’s Board of Fisheries were unanimously confirmed after a Chugiak representative withdraw his objection to the two commercial fishers on the board.

Rep. Bill Stoltze, R-Chugiak, said he objected to the confirmation of Sue Jeffrey, board member from Kodiak, and John Jensen, of Petersburg, because he had heard that someone was going to object to the third appointee — sportfishing guide Reed Morisky of Fairbanks.

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Born With HIV, Building A Future

NPR News - Thu, 2014-04-17 23:34

In high school, Cristina Peña was afraid to tell her boyfriend, Chris Ondaatje, that she was HIV-positive. She needn't have worried. More than a decade later, they're still together.

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Sunni Discontent Fuels Growing Violence In Iraq's Anbar Province

NPR News - Thu, 2014-04-17 23:33

Fed up with what they say is years of discrimination by the Shiite-led government, ordinary Sunnis have joined Islamist fighters. There are echoes of past conflicts, with a few important distinctions.

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Six Words: 'Segregation Should Not Determine Our Future'

NPR News - Thu, 2014-04-17 23:31

Central High School in Tuscaloosa, Ala., was once considered a model of desegregation. Today, the school's population is 99 percent black. One family's story underscores three generations of change.

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Suspect Arrested In Kansas City Highway Shootings

NPR News - Thu, 2014-04-17 23:23

Police in Grandview, Mo., arrested a suspect Thursday in a string of random vehicle shootings on Kansas City-area highways over the past few weeks. Three motorists have been wounded.

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6 Killed, 9 Missing In Avalanche On Everest

NPR News - Thu, 2014-04-17 23:17

An avalanche swept the slopes of Mount Everest on Friday along a route used to climb the world's highest peak. As soon as the avalanche hit, rescuers and fellow climbers rushed to help.

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Transcript Shows Ferry Captain Delayed Evacuation

NPR News - Thu, 2014-04-17 22:50

Fresh questions arose about whether quicker action by the captain of a doomed ferry could have saved lives. Rescuers scrambled to find hundreds of passengers still missing Friday and feared dead.

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Photos: Steelhead already running in Yakutat's Situk River

Alaska and Yukon Headlines - Thu, 2014-04-17 22:25
Photos: Steelhead already running in Yakutat's Situk River

During peak steelhead fishing season in April and May, angling can be so productive that anglers have bragged to Miller that they’ve landed 10 to 20 fish in a day.

April 17, 2014

Spectacular steelhead fishery in Yakutat good way to kick off the season for anglers

Alaska and Yukon Headlines - Thu, 2014-04-17 22:24
Spectacular steelhead fishery in Yakutat good way to kick off the season for anglers During peak steelhead fishing season in April and May, angling can be so productive that anglers have bragged to Miller that they’ve landed 10 to 20 fish in a day.April 17, 2014

Alaska film tax credits would expire in 2016 under House-passed bill

Alaska and Yukon Headlines - Thu, 2014-04-17 22:22
Alaska film tax credits would expire in 2016 under House-passed bill Under a bill approved by the state House Thursday, the film tax credit program would disappear unless the Legislature renews it in 2016. The bill also provides for a review of other examples of the state's indirect spending through credits and fee waivers -- except for credits related to non-renewable resources.April 17, 2014

House backs refinery subsidies as supporters warn of hardships

Alaska and Yukon Headlines - Thu, 2014-04-17 20:37
House backs refinery subsidies as supporters warn of hardships As the Legislature nears the final days of its 2014 session, with most major issues unresolved, a plan to subsidize in-state Alaska refineries won House approval Thursday. The first Senate hearing is set for Friday.April 17, 2014

A crowded field for candidates named Dan Sullivan on primary ballot

Alaska and Yukon Headlines - Thu, 2014-04-17 20:08
A crowded field for candidates named Dan Sullivan on primary ballot What's in a name? Potentially everything, if you're running for office in Alaska and your name is Dan Sullivan.April 17, 2014

Unknowns, lack of public review mean Alaska gas line bill should be stopped

Alaska and Yukon Headlines - Thu, 2014-04-17 19:12
Unknowns, lack of public review mean Alaska gas line bill should be stopped OPINION: The Alaska Legislature is poised to commit the state to a path to ownership in a pipeline project we cannot afford, and to paying costs for shipping gas we do not produce. And despite the administration’s assurances, many of the project's waypoints may be signed without public involvement or legislative approval.April 17, 2014

Forget the RINOs. Beware of Democrats running as Alaska Republicans.

Alaska and Yukon Headlines - Thu, 2014-04-17 19:11
Forget the RINOs. Beware of Democrats running as Alaska Republicans. OPINION: I am a registered Republican who's fed up with politicians who do whatever it takes to get into office, and whatever it takes to keep power. I intend to help others like me take the Republican party back.April 17, 2014

Egan and Kito III talk about the final days of session

Southeast Alaska News - Thu, 2014-04-17 17:44

Senator Dennis Egan addressing the Senate earlier this session. Photo/KTOO Public Media

It’s crunch time at the capitol in Juneau. The Alaska legislative session is scheduled to wrap up this Sunday. I spoke with Senator Dennis Egan and Representative Sam Kito III to see how the final days are going.

Lawmakers have had to stay on their toes this week. They’ve been working in the 24 hour rule meaning that bills only need a 24 hour notice to be heard in a committee. Normally, it has to be scheduled the week earlier. When I talked with Senator Dennis Egan of Juneau, he said they had been dealing with another sort of challenge.

Egan: “Our Internet just went down. I mean for the whole Legislature.”
Angela: “How can you function?”
Egan: “Yeah. Seriously, Angela. Everything we have is on computer.”

Well, that problem came and went. But there are a lot of issues that still need to be worked out before the Legislature adjourns.

Egan: “Days are pretty long right now just because of the complexity of this session here. We have the gas line legislation and education is a big issue this year and neither of those bills are complete. And of course, we haven’t completed finalized the operating or capitol budgets yet.”
Angela: “Now, you’re mandated to come up with a budget. The budgets are something that you have to do but the bills you don’t have….
Egan: “We don’t have to do. But if we don’t do anything for education, um, school districts from just unorganized school districts too, municipalities are really going to suffer. We have to get an education bill passed this year.”
Angela: “So, what’s the hang up right now?”
Egan: “Well, the hang up right now is BSA.”
Angela: “Base Student Allocation.”
Egan: “Yes. And how we fund that. You know, the governor has a modest increase in the base student allocation. I think it’s the will of most members of the Legislature to increase the base student allocation. Problem is now there are certain members and House members that don’t want to put it in the formula, they want to keep it out and just give communities more education money…but it would be one time money. It wouldn’t set the level of the base student allocation any higher. I have trouble with that because we haven’t increased the BSA now going on five years and it’s about time that we add some more money in there just to keep up with inflation.”
Angela: “Okay, now in terms of the budget, how do you feel about it at this point?”
Egan: “I think it’s looking pretty good for District P. You have almost a million-8 ($1.8 million)…I can’t look it up. (laughs) You have almost a million-8 ($1.8 million) for waste water treatment. And then of course, the three million fed and state match for the airport apron and taxiway. And then we got a million dollars for the public safety building. And there are words in there that Crystal Lake Hatchery will be rebuilt right now out of Fish and Game funds and SRF funds and things like that, but the state has guaranteed that they will rebuild the Crystal Lake Hatchery.”
Angela: “So that could happen this building season then.”
Egan: “Yes it will. Or, we hope it will, yes.”
Angela: “Do you feel like there are any other last minute changes that might happen with the budget or is it pretty sealed?”
Egan: “Well, this is the horrible part: it changes on a daily basis. And, I think we’re in good shape right now. And it’s not a done deal.”
Angela: “Just in general, how would you say this session is turning out to be compared to others in the past?”
Egan: “Well, it’s been difficult, I think there are too many issues and a lot of other issues that don’t really pertain, at least, as far as I’m concerned, in running a good state system. You know, we have minimum wage on the ballot this year. The House, as you know, passed Legislation to usurp the initiative and do it legislatively. Well, that happened in 2002 and the next year the Legislature came back and gutted it. And I don’t think there’s a lot of interest in the Senate to do minimum wage this year. I think we’re of the ilk that we just let the voters vote.”
Angela: “So that’s still a possibility anyway.”
Egan: “Yeah, and then we have the other cool issues like marijuana and (laughs) and so that will be interesting.”
Angela: “It will be an interesting election this year.”
Egan: “And then repeal of the gas line legislation from last year, Senate Bill 21. That’s an initiative and that will be on the ballot. If we continue the legislature beyond the normal end date, beyond normal adjournment, then that would force the “No on 21 Initiative” to go on the general election ballot instead of the primary ballot.”
Angela: “How do you feel that might affect the outcome?”
Egan: “I don’t like the idea. I think that we can get out of here by Sunday. I mean there’s a lot of legislation that can wait a year. We should get the big stuff done.”

I also spoke with Representative Sam Kito III, a Democrat from Juneau. He said a big issue the last few days has been education, particularly putting $3 Billion dollars into the PERS-TERS trust. That’s the public employees and teachers retirement trust.

Representative Sam Kito III of Junea. Photo/KTOO Public Media

Kito: “It goes into the trust fund so it’s not really spent yet but it pays down our future liability to a certain degree which means we’re saving money on interest that we would be paying on in the future. And we are also decreasing our annual payment that the state will have to put in to try and try to match our actuarial…the amount that we’re under funded. So, that’s going to be a really big spend for the state and that’s going to be coming out of the constitutional budget reserve, I believe, which is basically one of the state’s savings accounts. So, we’re already spending a little bit out of savings. There are some possibilities that maybe we spent a little bit out of savings for capitol projects as well but we won’t really know until we see a CS come out of the finance committee.
Angela: “And that reserves savings account, if I remember correctly, is well over ten Billion dollars?”
Kito: “There are two accounts. The two accounts total up to somewhere around 17 Billion dollars. There’s the constitutional budget reserve account and then the earnings reserve account. There are tax credits in there for private non-profit schools that give me some concern about public money going into schools where the state doesn’t have adequate oversight. We don’t actually get to identify curriculum for private schools or measure results from private schools. So, I have a concern about that. And that was in the House bill when it left the House and I don’t know what the Senate’s going to do with that but we’re watching closely.”

Ferry Workers Considering Strike If Contract Negotiations Don’t Move Forward

Alaska and Yukon Headlines - Thu, 2014-04-17 17:15

Contract talks between the state and Alaska’s ferry workers are heating up as each side disagrees on how to make up the gap between revenues and the cost of operating the ferry system. Workers are now considering whether to authorize a strike if negotiations remain stalled.

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Texan Confirmed to Alaska Gasline Board

Alaska and Yukon Headlines - Thu, 2014-04-17 17:14

Sen. Hollis French, who argued against controversial appointments.

Gov. Sean Parnell’s choice of Richard Rabinow drew criticism on two fronts: That he’s not Alaskan and that he spent a career at Exxon.  Sen. Hollis French, an Anchorage Democrat, questioned his allegiances.

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“Exxon already’s got 25 percent of the line. I don’t think they should get 20 percent of the public board positions on the Alaska gas Line Development Corp.,” French argued. “Mr. Rabinow’s work history is nearly exclusively with Exxon. Indeed, 34 years with the company. Thirty-four years.”

Rabinow, a Texan, is a former president of Exxon’s pipeline subsidiary, and he now works as a consultant on pipeline projects. The AGDC board is positioned to oversee a multi-billion-dollar natural gas project, and service on the board is unpaid. Underlying the debate over the appointment is the larger question of how closely aligned the state should be to its dominant industry. Rep. Charisse Millett, an Anchorage Republican, says it’s time to get closer.

Richard Rabinow

“They’re partners. We are partnering with Exxon in the pipeline,” she reminded legislators, gathered in a joint session for a series of confirmation votes. “The adversarial role that we have with them, we have to get rid of that. We have to stop that.”

Like other proponents, Millett says Rabinow’s expertise is invaluable to the board.

“It’s tough to feel we’re hiring an Outsider to come in and help us, but I want the best,” she said. “If I’m going to have brain surgery, I’m not going to go to the guy who maybe has done it once or twice. I’m going to go to the guy whose done it 120 times, 130 times.”

Lawmakers voted 43-17 to confirm him. Sen. Bert Stedman of Sitka and Rep. Tammie Wilson of North Pole were among the few Republicans who voted no.

The Legislature also voted 45-15 to confirm former Conoco Philips executive Bernie Washington to the board that sets the value of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline for tax purposes.

The critics, mostly Democrats, said Washington’s previous work winning favorable tariffs for the oil company left him with divided loyalties. Washington is now the chief financial officer of APRN’s parent company, Alaska Public Media.

Journalists within Alaska Public Media objected to his service on the state board, too, due to concern it creates the appearance of a conflict of interest for the news organization.

Parnell Signs Abortion Bill

Alaska and Yukon Headlines - Thu, 2014-04-17 17:13

(Photo distributed by Alaska Senate Majority)

Gov. Sean Parnell has signed a bill that restricts state Medicaid payments for abortions.

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The new law puts a set of recently adopted regulations into statute, and takes them a step further. It specifies that the state will not pay for elective abortions. It also limits the term “medically necessary” to cases where a woman’s life or physical health is at risk. The regulations had included a mental health exception.

The new law is expected to be challenged in court. Planned Parenthood and the American Civil Liberties Union are already suing the state over the existing regulations, arguing that they violate the Constitution’s equal protection clause.

Last year, the state’s Medicaid program covered about a third of the 1,500 abortions performed in Alaska.

State House OKs Refinery Subsidy Plan

Alaska and Yukon Headlines - Thu, 2014-04-17 17:12

The Alaska State House has a approved a deal to give the state’s refineries – and one fertilizer plant — up to $200 million in subsidies spread out over five years.

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The plan was introduced by Gov. Sean Parnell, and it comes in response to the closure of the Flint Hills oil refinery. It originally applied to the Petro Star refineries in Valdez and North Pole and the Tesoro refinery in Kenai, but was amended yesterday to include the shuttered Agrium fertilizer plant in Nikiski.

The bill allows each of those facilities to secure an tax credit or payment of $10 million a year if they spend $25 million on tangible assets.

Supporters of the bill argue it’s necessary to keep the refineries running because of the jobs they provide and their importance to the state’s military bases. But some Democrats have characterized the bill as a bailout, and they unsuccessfully tried amending the bill so that the money would be given out as loans instead.

The bill passed today on a 35-5 vote. Anchorage Democrats Les Gara, Harriet Drummond, and Andy Josephson opposed the bill, along with Juneau Democrat Sam Kito III and Eagle River Republican Lora Reinbold. It still needs to be approved by the Senate.

High Mercury Levels Found In Lake Trout From Lake Clark

Alaska and Yukon Headlines - Thu, 2014-04-17 17:11

A new study shows that lake trout in the Lake Clark National Park and Preserve have mercury levels that exceed the state and national standards for consumption by women and children.

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