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Powerful Narcotic Painkiller Up For FDA Approval

NPR News - Mon, 2014-04-21 23:29

The FDA is weighing the pros and cons of a drug that would, for the first time, combine morphine and oxycodone in a single pill. Critics warn that it could launch a new wave of abuse.

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'Ready For Hillary': Clinton's Campaign-In-Waiting

NPR News - Mon, 2014-04-21 23:28

A shadow campaign is underway, raising small donations by selling T-shirts and baby onesies and holding fundraisers, all just waiting for Clinton to say that, yes, she is running for president.

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British Marine's New Mission: Save All Of Kabul's Street Animals

NPR News - Mon, 2014-04-21 23:27

Street dogs and cats find treatment and get linked up with foreign adopters at a clinic that's helping lower the rabies threat in Kabul.

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Fields And Farm Jobs Dry Up With California's Worsening Drought

NPR News - Mon, 2014-04-21 23:26

For the first time in six years, many California farmers have been told they'll get little or no federal irrigation water. And as farms run dry, workers are deciding to pack up and move away.

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Miller makes Senate campaign official with 'Liberty Launch' in Wasilla

Alaska and Yukon Headlines - Mon, 2014-04-21 23:07
Miller makes Senate campaign official with 'Liberty Launch' in Wasilla Joe Miller officially announced his candidacy for the Alaska Republican Party's 2014 U.S. Senate nomination in front of approximately 200 energetic supporters in Wasilla on Monday night.April 21, 2014

Death Count In Ferry Sinking Tops 100

NPR News - Mon, 2014-04-21 23:06

Officials in South Korea said Tuesday that confirmed fatalities had reached 104, with nearly 200 people still missing.

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Alaska Legislature blows past 90-day limit towing education bill

Alaska and Yukon Headlines - Mon, 2014-04-21 22:56
Alaska Legislature blows past 90-day limit towing education bill The Alaska Legislature will go at least into a 92nd day as debate continues over HB 278, the omnibus education bill and centerpiece to a legislative session that has come to be called at Gov. Parnell's suggestion, the "education session."April 21, 2014

House lawmakers vote to keep Knik Arm bridge, Susitna dam money in budget

Alaska and Yukon Headlines - Mon, 2014-04-21 22:34
House lawmakers vote to keep Knik Arm bridge, Susitna dam money in budget On Monday, a day after the legislative session was supposed to end, the House began debating amendments to its capital budget, which didn't see the light of day until late Saturday.April 21, 2014

JKT: “I’m all of 25, but I’ve never seen anything like it”

Southeast Alaska News - Mon, 2014-04-21 20:50

Sitka Rep. Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins (third from left) joined HB 216 supporters  as senators debated the fate of the bill. The legislation, which passed moments later, makes 20 Alaska Native languages official state languages alongside English. (Photo by Skip Gray/Gavel Alaska)

This story follows KTOO’s Alaska becomes second state to officially recognize indigenous languages. 

When the Alaska Senate passed House Bill 216 just after 3 a.m. Monday (3-21-14), nobody was more thrilled than its primary sponsor: Sitka Representative Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins.

“I’m all of 25 years old, but I have never seen anything like it,” he said.

Kreiss-Tomkins introduced HB 216, which makes 20 Alaska Native languages official state languages. On Easter Sunday, when it appeared the Senate might shelve the bill, supporters staged a 15-hour sit-in at the Capitol to demand it get a vote.

It was just one of four separate points during this legislative session, he said, when he thought the bill was dead. But each time, it was revived.

“They say not to fall in love with or get married with your legislation,” he said. “But I was hopelessly in love and star-crossed with House Bill 216. And I think if anything it was a good thing, because we never gave up.”

Asked if he had expected the kind of attention the bill has received, Kreiss-Tomkins said yes. The revival of Native languages, he said, is one of the most important issues in Alaska.

“This is recognition of Alaska Native languages as Alaska’s languages,” Kreiss-Tomkins said. “These Native languages mean the world, I mean, they are who people are. If you talk with Selena Everson, who’s a Tlingit elder here in Juneau, who speaks Tlingit, she grew up having her mouth washed out with soap for speaking Tlingit at BIA schools. The Tlingit language is, as much as anything else, who she is.”

The bill passed the Senate, 18-2. It now goes to Governor Sean Parnell for his signature.

Cook Inlet oil and gas proves boon to Southcentral Alaska

Alaska and Yukon Headlines - Mon, 2014-04-21 20:29
Cook Inlet oil and gas proves boon to Southcentral Alaska Cook Inlet natural gas has had its ups and downs over the years, but the Anchorage Chamber of Commerce is optimistic -- especially after looking at the industry's economic benefits to the region.April 21, 2014

Blue Lake loan authorization in limbo

Southeast Alaska News - Mon, 2014-04-21 20:24

As state lawmakers extended their session past its Sunday (4-20-14) deadline, one issue of particular importance to Sitka remained in limbo: a loan to complete the Blue Lake dam expansion.

The city is seeking legislative approval for a low-cost loan from the Alaska Energy Authority, to fund the final stage of the Blue Lake project. The loan would be a cheaper way to fund the project than issuing a municipal bond, which is the city’s other option — and could potentially avert another electric rate hike down the road.

Sitka needs about $18.5 million to finish the Blue Lake project. The Energy Authority requires approval from both the House and Senate before the city can enter into negotiations for a loan.

Sitka Senator Bert Stedman added language authorizing the loan to House Bill 297, which passed the Senate on Thursday night. But the language was dropped over the weekend, in wrangling between the two houses.

For now, the loan authorization is not attached to a bill in either house, and the legislative session could end at any time.

The 90-day session was supposed to end on Sunday, but was extended when lawmakers could not reach agreement on several major issues, including education funding.

Smoking Alaska travel deals for thrifty adventurers in April, May

Alaska and Yukon Headlines - Mon, 2014-04-21 19:29
Smoking Alaska travel deals for thrifty adventurers in April, May More special early-season offers to explore the Last Frontier continue to trickle in as the days get longer, the temperature climbs -- and the tourists begin to arrive in droves.April 21, 2014

Quyana for Alaska's new official languages: 'The Words of Earth'

Alaska and Yukon Headlines - Mon, 2014-04-21 19:11
Quyana for Alaska's new official languages: 'The Words of Earth' OPINION: Losing Alaska's first languages would be more than a loss of culture.April 21, 2014

Kodiak defendant's sons say dad never possessed alleged murder weapon

Alaska and Yukon Headlines - Mon, 2014-04-21 18:51
Kodiak defendant's sons say dad never possessed alleged murder weapon The Kodiak murder trial against James Michael Wells saw the testimony of Wells’ two sons -- one a Portland police officer -- as defense witnesses on Monday.April 21, 2014

Three alleged counterfeiters using laptop and printer headed to trial

Alaska and Yukon Headlines - Mon, 2014-04-21 17:37
Three alleged counterfeiters using laptop and printer headed to trial Three alleged counterfeiters in two separate criminal cases based in Southcentral Alaska have been accused of altering actual Federal Reserve notes into larger bills. The two federal defendants allegedly did so using a typical laptop computer and printer.April 21, 2014

Lawmakers Search For Education Bill Solution

Alaska and Yukon Headlines - Mon, 2014-04-21 17:25

Full House: The House of Representatives and the Senate met in a Joint Session in the House Chambers on April 17, 2014. They confirmed all of the governor’s appointees to boards and commissions. (Photo by Skip Gray/Gavel Alaska)

Last night, the Alaska State Legislature failed to meet their 90-day deadline after the House and Senate couldn’t reach an agreement on a major education bill. Lawmakers stayed on the floor until 4am trying to wrap up their work, but it was not enough. Now, they’re back at the Capitol for a 91st day of session trying to hammer out a deal.

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APRN’s Alexandra Gutierrez is there with them right now. Hello, Alexandra.

Hello, Lori.

Has any progress been made on the education bill?

The Senate just finished their debate and passed their version 16-4, with Anchorage Democrats opposing the legislation. The bill before them was introduced by the governor and is a major priority for him. It’s a pretty sprawling piece of legislation, and it includes provisions to that make it easier to establish charters school, gets rid of the high school exit exam, all sorts of things. But the big hang-up has been the education funding question.

The governor started the session with an $85 increase to the base student allocation in it, with future increases promised. That’s the amount of money a school gets for each student, and every $100 increase is worth about $25 million. The House more than doubled that number, with an education package worth about $250 million over three years. The Senate went even higher – up to $330 million — but they offered that money as one-time funding.

That’s where things blew up.

Many education advocates have been screaming for that money to be put into the base student allocation because it gives schools a lot more security. If the money is a one-time thing, there’s no guarantee the school districts won’t have to come back and ask for it again to help make up their budget gaps and avoid teacher layoffs.

The debate that happened in the Senate is kind of a pro forma thing. Democrats offered amendments to the bill, but none were adopted. The real fight will happen when the bill gets sent back to the House, because it could trigger a pretty unusual negotiating process called a free conference committee.

Can you explain what that does?

Last night, as everyone was kind of slaphappy and it was clear that the Senate and House just did not see eye to eye on education funding, I heard one legislator describe it as a committee with super powers. The House will send a few of their people, the Senate will send theirs, and then they hammer out their differences in a way that hopefully works for both bodies. In a normal conference committee, you pick and choose the bits that each side like. But in free conference, you have the power to add completely new stuff and dramatically change the bill. 

It’s something that’s really only used when there’s a major impasse. But because the committee has the power to add entirely new language to the bill, there’s a risk for things to get messy.

Are there any other hang ups beyond funding?

There are a few. The House doesn’t like that the Senate took out language that lengthens the probationary period from three years to five years before  urban teachers can get tenure. They also don’t like that the Senate version requires municipalities to take on a bigger burden in funding education. That provision could result increased property taxes in some communities, which doesn’t really play well in an election year.

So, how long can session go at this point?

Even though voters put a 90-day limit on the legislative session a few years back, the Legislature can meet up to 121 days without running afoul of the Constitution. Obviously, people want to get out as quickly as possible, but since they’ve already blown the deadline, they may as well try to get things done as best they can and finish work on other bills that were at risk of dying.

How much work is left unfinished, aside from education?

Well, the two other big priority bills did pass this weekend. At the beginning of session, Gov. Sean Parnell asked the Legislature to put a few billion dollars toward the pension system and to pass a bill that allows a massive natural gas pipeline to be built. The Legislature did that. That’s done. That’s off their plate.

But there are still dozens of lawmakers’ personal bills that got close to passing, but were then held up either as leverage in negotiations or were just caught up in the logjam as things fell apart this past week. Those cover everything from a popular crime reform bill to legislation allowing the DMV to offer license plates with bears on them. 

‘Demo Dose’ Lab Tests Find Bacteria

Alaska and Yukon Headlines - Mon, 2014-04-21 17:24

Lab testing of a synthetic saline solution wrongly used in a University of Alaska Fairbanks medical class shows bacteria. A Houston based laboratory was hired by the university to analyze samples of “Demo Dose.” The solution, which is not intended for humans, was used by UAF Community and Technical College Clinical Procedures Class students to practice injections on themselves and one another.

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Gasline Official Says In-State Project Is No Pipedream

Alaska and Yukon Headlines - Mon, 2014-04-21 17:23

With an oversupply of natural gas in the country, Alaska is exploring the construction of a relatively small, low-pressure gasline within the state’s borders – while still holding out hope for a much larger project should prices improve.

Dan Fauske is the president of the Alaska Gasline Development Corporation – or AGDC. He spoke to Sitka’s Chamber of Commerce last week about when and where Alaskans may see gas.

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Dan Fauske. Photo by Ellen Lockyer.

The AGDC is the latest attempt by the state to put something — anything — together to promote the construction of a gasline from the North Slope. The Alaska Gasline Development Corporation was established by the legislature in 2010 to explore in-state options for gas while a more high-profile effort — Gov. Sarah Palin’s Alaska Gasline Inducement Act, or AGIA — was trying to connect North Slope gas to markets in the lower 48 through a gasline in Canada.

Earlier this year, Gov. Parnell announced that the state and TransCanada had called it quits, putting an end to AGIA.

Now, the Alaska Gasline Development Corporation is the only game in town. And Dan Fauske knows this game has been played time and time again.

“We have a plaque in our office. It says, Fairbanks to get Gas. It’s from the 1954 Daily News-Miner. So this debate’s been going on a while.”

The problem is economic. Natural gas is sold in volumes of 1,000 cubic feet at a price — right now — somewhere between $3 and $4. To sell gas, it has to be delivered in pressurized pipelines, or be super-cooled and liquefied.

If you’re close to the gas, it can be a great deal. The city of Anchorage has been served for decades by low-cost gas from oil refineries next door in Cook Inlet.

On the North Slope, where the state has vast reserves of natural gas, Fauske says it’s considered a byproduct.

“For years, the gas a Prudhoe Bay has been reinjected into the ground to force the oil out. The petroleum engineers will tell you that we’ve looked at this gas three and four times. They’ve recycled it.”

The AGDC is exploring a 700-mile gasline from Prudhoe Bay to Nikiski, which would be about one-hundred miles shorter than a gasline to Valdez, where the TransAlaska Oil Pipeline terminates. There are two options on the table. A 36 -inch low-pressure pipeline that would carry so-called “lean gas” — or gas ready for delivery directly to consumers. The other option is a 42-inch pipeline delivering much higher volumes of gas under much higher pressure. The smaller pipeline would cost almost $8-billion and serve primarily Alaskans. The larger pipeline would cost $65-billion, and supply Alaska and the global export market.

The big three oil producers — Exxon Mobil, ConocoPhillips, BP — and even TransCanada would partner with the state in the big pipeline, if it ever pencils out. Fauske says this is a big “if.”

“Oil companies are not charged with taking care of Alaskan citizens. Oil companies do things for their shareholders. I’m not defending them, I’m just saying no one’s going to invest in this kind of project so that 700,000 Alaskans can get a benefit. The reality is: They do things for their shareholders. The irony is that the Alaska Permanent Fund is a huge shareholder of Exxon stock. People say, They should have done this. It’s been looked at thirty times.”

The state invested $355 -million dollars in the Alaska Gasline Development Corporation to perform the preliminary engineering and design for the smaller gasline — called the Alaska Stand Alone Pipeline — which will take about 2 years. Fauske believes that sometime in that window, the two projects will meld and the state will ultimately have a 10-percent stake in a gasline that is operational by 2020.

Fauske spent 18 years as the director of the Alaska Housing Finance Corporation before taking over AGDC. He was on Gov. Palin’s AGIA team, which he says was a good idea, when gas was at $10. His expertise is in finance.

The discovery of shale gas in the northern plains of the US undermined AGIA, but Fauske believes this new gasline strategy, based on revenue bonds, is a workable solution for the state’s energy needs, as well as the largest construction project in the country.

But he says gas is nothing akin to the discovery of oil on the North Slope.

“Oil is king. Gas gives us security. From a revenue standpoint gas will never replace oil.”

Asked by a member of the chamber audience to give odds on which gasline would be built, Fauske pointed to the radio microphone and tv camera and declined. Instead, he quoted a line from the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey, and said, “Something wonderful’s going to happen.”

Delta vs. Alaska: Dueling Airlines Benefit Juneau

Alaska and Yukon Headlines - Mon, 2014-04-21 17:22

Delta Air Lines performs a test flight into Juneau on Wednesday in preparation for daily service to Seattle starting May 29. (Photo by Doug Wahto)

In preparation for daily flights between Juneau and Seattle starting May 29, Delta Air Lines performed test flights in the capital city on Wednesday. For a long time, Alaska Airlines has been the only one flying that route.

Juneau is set to benefit from the competing partner airlines.

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Alaska travel analyst Scott McMurren says the power of competition goes a long way in lowering airfares.

“The moment that Delta’s rubber hits the tarmac in Juneau, fares will be at historic lows. The moment Delta leaves the market, fares will immediately return to their previous level. This is a great opportunity for Juneau travelers, and that great opportunity will last as long as Delta flies there and not a moment longer,” McMurren says.

An online spot check of round-trip flights between Juneau and Seattle in early June showed the airlines offered the same fares, $487.40. In September when Delta service ends, flights on Alaska Air Lines jump $80.

Adding service to Juneau is part of Delta’s expansion in Seattle. Right now, the airline makes 35 daily departures out of Sea-Tac Airport. By August, Delta hopes to increase that to 86 departures.

“We are reaching out to markets that are key travel markets for us that allow us to carry passengers both into Seattle as well as connect them onto international flights. We’re adding a significant amount of international service. We just added London Heathrow at the end of March and we are going to add Hong Kong and Seoul in June,” says Anthony Black, Delta spokesman.

The airline already flies from Seattle to Amsterdam, Paris, Beijing, Shanghai and Tokyo.

Connecting to international destinations is what Black says will set Delta apart from Alaska Airlines, which only flies internationally to Canada and Mexico.

Between Juneau and Seattle, Delta will be flying a Boeing 757. Alaska Airlines uses 737s. Black says a 757 can carry more passengers and has more powerful engines.

He also says Delta’s prices are competitive and, so far, Delta is pleased with bookings.

Marilyn Romano, regional vice president for Alaska Airlines, says she feels very secure with Alaska’s position in Juneau. She says Delta’s one flight a day between Juneau and Seattle during the summer doesn’t compare with Alaska’s eight flights a day.

“That’s our standard operating business coming in and out of Juneau and that doesn’t include all the other flights that we have – Anchorage to Juneau, or Juneau to other cities in Southeast Alaska – so as far as competing, I think we feel like we’ve been operating daily service into Juneau for over four decades,” Romano says.

Plus, there’s free baggage if you’re a member of Club 49, the airline’s program for Alaska residents, and bonus mileage, like last summer. Travelers flying on Delta from Juneau to Seattle will still get Alaska Airlines miles, though.

While Alaska and Delta are now competing in Juneau, the two airlines are partners for other destinations.

“At times, the competitive nature of our business is bigger than at other times and this is probably one of those times. We’re doing what we need to do to grow our business and Delta will do what Delta feels they need to do to grow their business, and at the same time, we are partners, so it’s a unique situation,” Black says.

Juneau International Airport manager Patty deLaBruere says competition is good for Juneau’s economy.

“Alaska Airlines, I think, has taken very good care of people up here but Delta may add a different flair on what they’re going to do for the travelers. So choice is good,” says deLaBruere.

That also means more revenue for the airport, an enterprise of the City and Borough of Juneau. Renting space for a check-in counter and offices, flying in and out, and parking its plane overnight in Juneau for the summer will cost Delta about $90,000.

Earth Day Celebration Helps Mark Wilderness Act’s 50th Anniversary

Alaska and Yukon Headlines - Mon, 2014-04-21 17:21

Earth Day will be celebrated with a concert in Fairbanks on Tuesday. It’s part of a summer long series of events marking the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act and other environmental laws.

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