Alaska News

Uber stops free rides, pauses operations in Anchorage

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2015-03-06 16:03

Uber is pausing operations in Anchorage and stopped offering free rides on Friday afternoon. But negotiations with the city are not over.

The Uber Pacific Northwest Operations Manager Bryce Bennett announced the decision in a blog post. He cited slow negotiations with the municipality about new regulations that would allow Uber drivers to charge for their services. “The city has dragged its feet and failed to provide a clear end-date for negotiations,” Bennett wrote.

Uber created an online petition to show public support for the service. More than 1,000 people signed within the first four hours of its creation.

Deputy municipal attorney Dee Ennis, who is working on the Uber case, says the muni and the company came to an impasse on issues of public safety. The city wanted Uber drivers to undergo fingerprinting, drug testing, and medical exams like other taxi drivers. Ennis says now it’s up to the Assembly to decide if they are willing to compromise on the issues.

“If the policy makers in the Assembly decide these things are important then we may never get to an MOU [memorandum of understanding]. If the city says, ‘Well if the consumer is aware that Uber doesn’t provide certain features, that it’s a consumer choice’ then we would proceed to an MOU.”

Assembly members will hear from the administration and from Uber during a March 18 public safety committee meeting.

Categories: Alaska News

What is the Iditarod?

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2015-03-06 12:04

Whether you’ve lived in Alaska for decades or you’re a newcomer to the state, you’re probably still curious about the “Last Great Race on Earth.” How long does the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race take to finish? Where does it go? What’s with all those dogs? Alaska Public Media answers all of your questions about the most popular sporting event in Alaska.

Categories: Alaska News

Steve Heimel and Historical Context for APRN

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2015-03-06 12:00

Steve Heimel has been a fixture of the APRN system since its inception. After more than three decades of dedicated service to news, Steve is leaving the network for other challenges. From covering the Exxon Valdez oil spill to helping Alaskans understand the breaking news on September 11th, Steve has been a steadfast, credible and authoritative voice. Steve Heimel
is our guest on the next Talk of Alaska.

HOST: Lori Townsend

GUESTS:

  • Steve Heimel
  • Callers statewide

PARTICIPATE:

  • Post your comment before, during or after the live broadcast (comments may be read on air).
  • Send e-mail to talk [at] alaskapublic [dot] org (comments may be read on air)
  • Call 550-8422 in Anchorage or 1-800-478-8255 if you’re outside Anchorage during the live broadcast

LIVE Broadcast: Tuesday, March 10, 2015 at 10:00 a.m. on APRN stations statewide.

SUBSCRIBE: Get Talk of Alaska updates automatically by e-mailRSS or podcast.

TALK OF ALASKA ARCHIVE

Categories: Alaska News

Walker Administration Renews Medicaid Push

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2015-03-05 22:18

A week after the House Finance Committee removed Medicaid expansion language from the budget, Health Commissioner Valerie Davidson is back before legislators advocating for the program.

Davidson gave a two-hour presentation to the House Health and Social Services committee on Thursday afternoon, walking the lawmakers through the potential savings and costs of expanding Medicaid. Even though the Walker administration no longer has a vehicle to accept federal funding for expansion, Davidson is optimistic that there may be other ways to advance the policy.

“We are certainly open to other opportunities to get this done, of course,” says Davidson.

Expanding Medicaid to cover Alaskans who make up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level has been a major priority for Gov. Bill Walker. In the first years, the federal government will cover the total costs of expansion, with 90 percent payment after that.

Rep. Paul Seaton, a Homer Republican who chairs the House Health and Social Services committee, says he is friendly to the idea of expansion, but would like to see the policy come as part of a larger Medicaid reform bill.

“We’re looking for a way forward on Medicaid expansion that makes sense for all Alaskans,” says Seaton.

Numerous members of the Legislature’s Republican majority have stated they would like to see the issue of Medicaid expansion handled through a bill instead of the budget, and that they would like to see that bill come from the Walker administration.

A Medicaid expansion bill has previously been filed by a group of Democrats in the minority, but has not been heard. Seaton says the prime sponsor, Andy Josephson of Anchorage, first put in a request for a hearing last Friday. Seaton says there is no hearing currently planned for that bill, but that his committee will continue to hear more on Medicaid expansion from the Walker administration next week.

Categories: Alaska News

New Anchorage Museum “lab” sparks innovation

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2015-03-05 16:53

A student plays at the new Spark!Lab. Feidt/APRN

What do buckets, disco balls, circuits, and marbles have in common? They’re all part of the Anchorage Museum’s attempt to spark innovation in their new interactive exhibit.

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Four-year-old Anabel Lantzman wanders into the Anchorage Museum’s new Spark!Lab ahead of the other kids and sees balls and pipes hanging from metal rods. Buckets and a bingo ball cage stick out from the base. It’s like a tree of stuff.

A volunteer hands her a drum stick and Anabel tentatively taps the different objects. The bucket sounds like a drum and the pipes ring like bells.

Kids play in the Spark!Lab. Feidt/APRN

“So, are you allowed to hit things at home?” I inquire.

“No.”

“How does it feel to hit things here?”

“Good.”

She giggles and wanders to the next station — creating a mini hydroponic garden with nylon, pebbles, and cotton. Soon a group of fourth graders joins her and the room erupts in noise as they call to each other and bang loudly on all of the objects, seemingly at once.

So why encourage such chaos?

“This is not just banging things that’s going on here,” says Arthur Molella, the director of the Lemelson Center at the Smithsonian, which created the Spark!Lab. “This is all done with a purpose. Cause some of the same energies that are happening here — essentially this curiosity, a disciplined curiosity begins here and carries on through the rest of your life.”

Molella says that curiosity and creativity lead to innovation and invention. That’s why his center worked with educators to create the Spark!Lab. They’re helping museums around the United States set up their own localized versions. The Anchorage version, the sixth in the country, will soon include activities focused on the innovation required to live in the Arctic.

The students quickly disperse to the different activities around the room. Some design shoes, others use blocks, ramps, and mini xylophones to create an obstacle course for a marble.

Students play with marbles and blocks at the Spark!Lab. Feidt/APRN

Fourth grader Sandia Whalen is part of a group that’s trying to get a marble to go down a path, turn a corner and return to its start.

“But I don’t think sometimes it will work because there are things that are down at first but then go up but the marble can’t move up without being pushed,” Sandia explains.

“Because it’s not moving fast enough?”

“If it’s going fast enough then that might do it, but we have to make it go fast enough.”

Sandia is doing exactly what the exhibit designers intended — she’s problem-solving and innovating. Further down the table her classmate Matthew Hudson snaps together plastic pieces with wires embedded in them and connects them to batteries and propellers.

“It’s a circuit that’s really cool. Once you do it, this will spin around and go into the air,” he says, pointing at the propeller. “And it’s really cool.”

Students build circuits at the Spark!Lab. Feidt/APRN

He says now that he knows the basics, he’s ready to design his own. “My own circuit, it would be like a train. It would be like tracks. It would move the train and bring me ice cream whenever I wanted ice cream.”

The Spark!Lab will be around for at least two years but the space will permanently be dedicated to creativity and invention. The exhibit is aimed mostly at children aged 6 to 12, though it includes a toddler area, too. It opens to the public Friday, March 6.

Categories: Alaska News

Arctic Opportunities Hearing Continues Despite Widespread Closures In DC

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2015-03-05 16:09

In the nation’s capital, lawmakers fled to the airports ahead of a snow storm today that closed most government offices. But one U.S. senator held a hearing anyway. Scores of Alaskans packed into Sen. Lisa Murkowski’s Energy committee for a hearing on Arctic opportunities.

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Categories: Alaska News

Rep. Don Young’s Homeless Comments Draw Public Ire

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2015-03-05 16:08

On the other side of the Capitol, Alaska Congressman Don Young attended the only other congressional hearing on this snowy day in Washington, and he created a stir with a comment about homeless people.

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Interior Secretary Sally Jewell was defending her budget to the House Natural Resources Committee. Young is no fan of Jewell, but he actually supported her department’s 2011 decision to delist the grey wolf from the endangered species list. Instead, Young turned his ire on Congress members who asked Jewell not to delist.

“The grey wolf in fact is a predator that’s killing the cloven hoof animals. And we’ve got 79 Congressmen sending you a letter,” Young said. “Haven’t got a damn wolf in their whole district. I’d like to introduce them to your district. I introduce them in your district, you wouldn’t have a homeless problem any more. I yield back.”

In a written statement afterward, Young said he was employing analogy and hyperbole to point out that wolves are a problem for communities that have them. “If you misunderstood my comments,” Young said in the statement is office put out, “just imagine the impact a healthy wolf population would have on your own town, community, or congressional district.”

Categories: Alaska News

Feds Turning Tongass Land Over To Sealaska

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2015-03-05 16:07

Sealaska Corp. gets its new land on Friday.

The federal Bureau of Land Managementwill sign paperwork that day turning over 70,000 acres of the Tongass National Forest to the corporation.

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The agency’s Ramona Chinn says the land must still be surveyed and patented. But as of Friday, it’s Sealaska’s.

Sealaska Plaza, the corporation’s headquarters.

“It’s a milestone for the land-transfer program. Sealaska is one of 12 regions and this would finalize their entitlement,” Chinn says.

Federal legislation passed late last year turned the land over to the Juneau-based regional Native corporation. Sealaska gave up the right to select other lands in Southeast, under terms of 1971’s Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act.

The Bureau of Land Management’s Erika Reed says Sealaska prioritized which of the new parcels it wants first.

“We are going to be able to, we think, depending on the budget, survey the first two priorities this year. But assuming we maintain a stable budget, it will probably take us about five years to survey all 18 parcels,” she says.

The full process will take about eight years.

About 3,400 acres of old-growth forest on the Cleveland Peninsula and Prince of Wales Island’s North Election Creek are at the top of the list.

Sealaska has said logging could begin this year, but it’s not a firm decision. The parcels are near other corporation land with logging infrastructure.

Sealaska can also take over up to 76 tracts of cemetery and other historic sites in the Tongass totaling no more than 490 acres.

No timeline is set for that process.

Categories: Alaska News

Lawmakers Discuss Federal Issues With Pot Legalization

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2015-03-05 16:06

A state Department of Law official told concerned lawmakers that regulating marijuana shouldn’t result in federal prosecution.

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Sen. Anna MacKinnon said during a Thursday Senate Finance Committee hearing that she had heard from members of the public who thought that legislators were violating federal law if they implemented the ballot initiative legalizing marijuana.

Department of Law representative Rick Svobodny told lawmakers that isn’t the case. The oath requires them to uphold federal and state constitutions but doesn’t mention specific federal laws.

Although Alaska voters approved possession, personal use and transportation of limited quantities of marijuana for adults 21 and older, it remains illegal federally.

The committee is discussing the decriminalization bill.

Categories: Alaska News

How Will Retreating Glaciers Affect Whales, Seals?

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2015-03-05 16:05

Glaciologist Erin Pettit was on a kayaking trip in Glacier Bay in 2006 when she first wondered what kind of noise the glaciers were making under the water. Her new research shows the answer to that question is a lot – and not just when the glaciers are calving. Here’s the sound of a glacier pressurized bubbles being released from a glacier.

The study shows the animals – like seals and whales – who live and feed near glaciers have adapted to a noisy environment and will have to adjust to much quieter surroundings when global warming forces the glaciers to retreat onto land.

She says on the kayaking trip she was watching one whale interact with the glacier.

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Categories: Alaska News

Anchorage Police Identify Man Killed At Busy Intersection

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2015-03-05 16:04

Anchorage police have released the name of the pedestrian struck and killed Wednesday by an SUV.

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Police say 51-year-old Russell Place was hit just after 1:30 p.m. at Benson Boulevard and New Seward Highway.

The highway stretches across six lanes and turning lanes at the location.

Police say the 49-year-old woman driving the SUV was northbound on the highway.

Place was walking in the road when he was struck. Medics declared him dead at the scene.

No citations had been issued as of Thursday afternoon.

Categories: Alaska News

Robotics, Spelling, Poetry: Skagway School Expands Academic Extracurriculars

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2015-03-05 16:03

The Thought Bots at the Anchorage robotics competition. (Courtesy Heather Rodig)

Sports like basketball are well-supported at schools around Southeast Alaska. But in Skagway, the superintendent and school board have made a deliberate effort to extend activities beyond athletics.

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In the past two years, the 90-student school has increased the number of academic extra-curriculars offered. Those activities benefit students in ways similar to sports — with travel, competition and a boost to students’ self-confidence.

If there’s one team Skagway School is known for, it’s robotics. Sophomore Denver Evans says being on the robotics team for three years in middle school helped her in an unexpected way.

“I was an extremely shy kid,” she said. “We had to give our presentation to a room of 200 or 300 people. And getting up on stage was petrifying. But now I have no problem speaking in front of people, and my little sister is the same way.”

“I really think it’s opening me up so I can be more out there,” said Denver’s little sister, Peyton Rodig, who is in 6th grade. “‘Cause I used to really be like, not wanting to talk to anybody.”

This Rodig’s second year on the hugely successful robotics team, which is part of the FIRST Lego League. Her mother is the head coach this year.

“Well our team’s gotten a reputation in Juneau,” said assitant coach Greg Clem. “We are the ones that the other teams go out to outdo.”

Clem says the Skagway team has won the regional competition in Juneau several times, and then gone on to place well at nationals and internationals. They placed second at the state-wide robotics competition in Anchorage this year, and they’ll be traveling to the national competition in California soon.

Clem has seen the impact robotics has had on his son Dawson.

“He started out as the introvert over behind the table not wanting to be part of it,” Clem said. “And now he’s a big part of the team. The little shy, stand-off — you can’t do that.”

The Thought Bots placed first at the Juneau regional competition. (Courtesy Denise Sager)

The success of robotics has set a good precedent for the school to try out other academic extracurriculars. The school registered in the Scripps Spelling Bee this year. Last year, the high school started a poetry competition. And also this year, students who enjoy math can compete in a program called Math Counts.

Skagway School Board President John Hischer says the board has made it a priority to encourage academic competitions. He says they help reinforce what students learn in class.

“When you think about your school experience, what are the things that you remember most?” Hischer said. “It’s not usually what you learn in a textbook, it’s when you go out and apply it in the real world or apply it in a competition.”

“I decided to compete because I just love spelling,” said 5th grader Tatum Sager. “Whenever I’m in my spelling class I always look forward to spelling.”

Sager won the school spelling bee this year, but she and the second place winner aren’t able to travel to the state competition. So, Callia Feilding, the third place winner, will go to Anchorage instead.

Another person traveling to a state competition soon is high school junior Al Weber. She’ll recite poems including “Life Cycle of Common Man” by Howard Nemerov at the Poetry Out Loud event in Anchorage.

“[The poem] actually made sense to me, like it sounded like a story in my head,” Weber said. “So, I went with it, because that’s what poems should be, they should be stories.”

Kent Fielding is the teacher who organized the Poetry Out Loud program at Skagway School. He’ll also be the coach for DDF — Drama, Debate and Forensics. That’s an extracurricular that Skagway School is bringing back next year after a few years without it.

With so many activities, and only about 90 students, School Board president Hischer says there is one concern.

“What I see [as] the big danger is kids spreading themselves too thin with so many things,” Hischer said.

That could be a problem as the school adds DDF to its list of options. But Superintendent Josh Coughran says they might remedy that by making DDF an elective class during the school-day instead of an after-school program.

“That way they can devote that time and energy it takes to be really good at DDF while still supporting teammates on, say, a vollyball or wrestling team.”

Coughran says the financial burden of activities hasn’t been a problem for the school district. He says the community is very supportive when teams need to fundraise for travel expenses.

“If there’s anything that I’ve learned about Skagway over the years it’s that they’re gonna find a way to get it done,” Coughran said.

Sixth grader Peyton Rodig says she’s found that two of her favorite activities — basketball and robotics — have something in common.

“You’re getting exercise in basketball, but you’re exercising your brain in robotics.”

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: March 5, 2015

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2015-03-05 16:02

Stories are posted on the APRN news page. You can subscribe to APRN’s newsfeeds via emailpodcast and RSS. Follow us on Facebook at alaskapublic.org and on Twitter @aprn.

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Arctic Opportunities Hearing Continues Despite Widespread Closures In DC

Liz Ruskin, APRN – Washington DC

In the nation’s capital, lawmakers fled to the airports ahead of a snow storm today that closed most government offices. But one U.S. senator held a hearing anyway. Scores of Alaskans packed into Sen. Lisa Murkowski’s Energy committee for a hearing on Arctic opportunities.

Rep. Don Young’s Homeless Comments Draw Public Ire

Liz Ruskin, APRN – Washington DC

On the other side of the Capitol, Alaska Congressman Don Young attended the only other congressional hearing on this snowy day in Washington, and he created a stir with a comment about homeless people.

Feds Turning Tongass Land Over To Sealaska

Ed Schoenfeld, CoastAlaska – Juneau

Sealaska gets its new land tomorrow. The federal Bureau of Land Management will sign paperwork that day turning over 70,000 acres of Southeast Alaska’s Tongass National Forest.

Lawmakers Discuss Federal Issues With Pot Legalization

The Associated Press

A state Department of Law official told concerned lawmakers that regulating marijuana shouldn’t result in federal prosecution.

How Will Retreating Glaciers Affect Whales, Seals?

Lori Townsend, APRN – Anchorage

Glaciologist Erin Pettit was on a kayaking trip in Glacier Bay in 2006 when she first wondered what kind of noise glaciers were making under the water. Her new research shows the answer to that question is a lot – and not just when they’re calving. Here’s the sound of pressurized bubbles being released from a glacier.

Church, Non-Profit Cooperation Working To Provide Low-Income Housing

Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Anchorage

Rapid population growth in the Matanuska Susitna Borough has brought some problems with it.  One of them is a shortage of low income housing.

Anchorage Police Identify Man Killed At Busy Intersection

The Associated Press

Anchorage police have released the name of the pedestrian struck and killed Wednesday by an SUV.

Anchorage Museum Exhibit Works To Spark Innovation

Anne Hillman, KSKA – Anchorage

What do buckets, disco balls, circuits, and marbles have in common? They’re all part of the Anchorage Museum’s attempt to spark innovation in their new interactive exhibit.

Robotics, Spelling, Poetry: Skagway School Expands Academic Extracurriculars

Emily Files, KHNS – Haines

Sports like basketball are well-supported at schools around Southeast Alaska. But in Skagway, the superintendent and school board have made a deliberate effort to expand activities beyond athletics. In the past two years, the 90-student school has increased the number of academic extra-curriculars offered.

Categories: Alaska News

I Run a Custom Knife Shop

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2015-03-05 12:35

For Virgil and Dawn Campbell, making and selling knives is a way of life. The I.R.B.I. (“I’d Rather Be Independent”) knife shop on the Seward highway has been in the family for three generations and serves as workshop and a landmark for passerbys from near and far.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska House Finance Committee Hearing Public Input On Budget

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2015-03-04 17:24

With the state facing a deficit of more than $4 billion, the budget is arguably the most important issue facing the Alaska Legislature this session. The House Finance Committee is now hearing from the public on its cuts, in preparation for any changes it might make to the spending proposal.

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Lori: What’s been the public response so far?

Alexandra: The public testimony started yesterday, with people physically present in Juneau first invited to speak, before the committee went to the phones. The scene was kind of a zoo. The committee room was standing room only, and people lined the halls to get in and say their piece. As soon as soon as their two minutes was up, testifiers were shuttled outside the door to make space for others.

On top of the 15 hours of testimony the committee has scheduled, it is also taking written statements, too. So far, the committee has received about 500 pages worth of letters, with plenty more still rolling in.

Lori: What issues have gotten the most response from the public?

Alexandra: It’s often said in the Capitol that every state dollar has its constituency. We’re seeing that maxim play out with these hearings. You have parents and teachers opposing cuts to early education programs, like Best Beginnings and the state pre-kindergarten program. There were deaf men and women who spoke through interpreters about interpreter services being cut, which was pretty striking. Listeners of public radio asked for station funding to be restored. Attorneys and people who have received pro bono representation from Alaska Legal Services spoke against cuts there. The removal of Medicaid expansion from the operating budget has been a touchy issue. People have testified on cuts to the ferry system and the state’s timber program, and more.

One thing that’s been interesting is that you do not really have people calling in to say we need further reductions. Some have acknowledged that the state is in a difficult position, given the multi-billion-dollar deficit and the need to draw from the state’s reserves, but the testifiers are mainly people who want to protect programs that matter to them.

Lori: So, how much have legislators cut from the operating budget so far?

Alexandra: The current version of the budget cuts $240 million over last year. That’s simultaneously a lot of money — and almost nothing at all, when you look at it in context of a deficit that’s more than 10 times that amount.

Because more than half of state operating spending comes from formula programs like school funding and Medicaid, there’s really only $2 billion in agency operations where the Legislature can make direct cuts that don’t require extra legislation. You could wipe out all those agency operations and still not cover the state budget.

Some agencies are feeling the cuts more than others. Three departments — Labor, Military and Veterans Affairs, and Commerce — are all seeing their budgets reduced by more than 30 percent over last year. Meanwhile, the Judiciary and the Department of Public Safety are looking at cuts of one and three percent, respectively.

Lori: How are the governor and the Legislature handling their own budgets?

Alexandra: There’s been an interesting conversation in terms of who is making deeper and more meaningful cuts. Based off the spreadsheets that the House Finance Committee is using, the governor is reducing his budget by 30 percent, and the Legislature is only cutting its budget by three percent over last year.

However, lawmakers and their staff have been quick to note that part of the reason it looks like the governor is cutting so much is that the executive branch doesn’t need to spend money on things like election staffing and the redistricting board this year. They say that once you take out those one-time budget items, the cuts look like they’re closer to eight percent. On top of that, some of the spending on domestic violence programs that used to be in governor’s budget has been shifted to the Department of Public Safety.

All this goes to show how many different ways these numbers can be sliced. Because money can be moved around and because there are so many ways to compare budgets, depending on whether you’re looking at last year’s spending or more recent proposals, people can be looking at the same budget items and describe them in radically different ways.

Lori: What’s the plan with the budget moving forward?

Alexandra: After public testimony is done, the House Finance Committee will start taking amendments. They’re hoping to move the bill out of committee by the end of next week. After that, it’ll go to the floor for a vote, and then be sent over to the Senate, where that body will have the chance to make its own cuts — or restore funding in some places, if they so choose.

Categories: Alaska News

Medicaid Expansion Event Brings Out Lawmakers, Davidson

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2015-03-04 17:21

Speaking to a standing-room-only crowd in the Alaska Capitol, Christie Herrera, a senior fellow with the Foundation for Government Accountability, briefs legislators, staffers and members of the press about Medicaid expansion, March 4, 2015. (Photo by Skip Gray/360 North)

Legislators, aides and others heard an alternate viewpoint on Medicaid expansion from a senior fellow with an organization that has referred to the “dangers” expansion poses in states that opt for it.

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Christie Herrera, with the Foundation for Government Accountability, spoke to problems that she said some states have experienced. Herrera spoke during an informal “lunch and learn,” sponsored by Sen. Mike Dunleavy.

State health commissioner Valerie Davidson, who also attended, questioned Herrera’s use of data in Arizona and Maine, which expanded Medicaid on their own and not under the federal health care law.

Herrera billed those states as cautionary tales, and said they provide a longer-term view of data.

Herrera was also confronted by Rep. Les Gara, an Anchorage Democrat.

“Why is it bad to provide health insurance to people who are low-income workers who work for a living?” Gara said.

Rep. Les Gara, D-Anchorage, questions Christie Herrera, senior fellow with the Foundation for Government Accountability in the Alaska Capitol, March 4, 2015. Herrera was briefing legislators, staffers and members of the press on Medicaid expansion. (Photo by Skip Gray/360 North)

In her response, Herrera said she believes that Medicaid expansion will serve as a disincentive when it comes to people finding gainful employment.

“In my opinion, I don’t think more government spending and more people on a welfare program brings prosperity,” Herrera said.

Before the event, Gara had sent out an e-mail blast calling the Foundation for Government Accountability an “outside group” and pointing out their ties to the conservative industrialists David and Charles Koch.

Medicaid expansion has been a priority of Gov. Bill Walker. He is planning town-hall meetings to tout the benefits of expansion and rally support as lawmakers consider it.

At the lunch-and-learn event, the Foundation for Government Accountability served sandwiches from Juneau’s Silverbow Bakery, which is owned by senior Walker official Ken Alper.

Categories: Alaska News

P/V Stimson Likely to Move From Unalaska to Kodiak

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2015-03-04 17:19

(Courtesy: Alaska Wildlife Troopers)

The state is once again looking to move the Wildlife Trooper patrol vessel Stimson from Unalaska to Kodiak. And this year, the change seems poised to go through.

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Officials in Unalaska fought hard to hang on to the troopers’ biggest vessel when the move was on the table a year ago. But this time around, city manager Chris Hladick says they’ve had to reconsider their priorities.

“I just don’t see us, with this budget climate, being able to save everything,” Hladick says.

Moving the 156-foot P/V Stimson to Kodiak would save the state almost half a million dollars, says Wildlife Trooper Col. Steve Bear. It’s either that, or cut three jobs — meaning, he says, the transfer is all but a done deal.

“I think everybody realizes that during these tough economic times, some of the politics that may have saved projects like this in the past just aren’t going to happen,” Bear says.

The savings with moving the Stimson come mostly in salary and housing costs. Bear says their employees in Unalaska make 60 percent more than those in Anchorage, because of the high cost of living. They also live in state-leased housing at around Anchorage rates.

If the Stimson’s five-person crew, their families and one of Unalaska’s two troopers moved to Kodiak, they would take a pay cut — and would have to find their own housing.

It would also mean a loss of several students from Unalaska’s schools, which are already running a deficit due in part to declining enrollment.

But Bear says the Stimson’s mission wouldn’t really suffer. In fact, he says they’ve planned around added fuel and travel costs.

“We could move the boat, sail an additional 27 days, and we’d still save about $480,000 a year by doing that,” he says.

The Stimson spent 116 days on the water last year, patrolling fisheries in the Aleutian Islands and Western Alaska. It’s a bigger area than they used to cover — the vessel was brought to Dutch Harbor in 1998 to police the derby-style crab fisheries. Back then, boats were racing to fish, even in dangerous conditions.

Now, with quota doled out among the fleet, Bear says the Stimson can focus on species besides just crab.

“That fishery is a lot cleaner and a lot safer than it used to be, and I don’t think people feel the need or are urged to make the risks that they used to in the past,” he says. “I think that frees the Stimson up to do other patrols. They do spend at least 30 days a year patrolling the salmon fisheries in Bristol Bay.”

They also cover cod, and even the caribou season in Adak. So for Unalaska-based Trooper Sgt. Robin Morrisett, a move could just mean more sea time in more places.

“If they see where it’s a couple more days of the boat driving from Kodiak out here – well, that’s a couple more days of going through the south part of the Alaska Peninsula to get out here to where we work, and then two more days going back,” he says. “That’s four more days in that area that we see that area.”

Chris Hladick, the city manager, wondered if the Stimson might be busier in the Aleutians as companies like Shell Oil establish a regional presence. But Colonel Bear says except in special cases, the Wildlife Troopers focus on what’s in their name: “Wild resources, the fish and the game of the state — not oil resources,” he says.

The troopers do have another vessel that does similar patrols — the 121-foot P/V Woldstad, already based in Kodiak. But Bear says it’s long past due for an engine overhaul that would take it out of service for several months.

“It can be used, it’s still operational, but we’re trying to be very cautious how much we use it, because the engines are so far past the rebuild date,” he says.

The Stimson got that kind of rebuild a little over a year ago. So Bear says it can help cover the Woldstad’s patrols well into the future.

The plan to move the Stimson is part of the state’s proposed public safety budget. It’s currently making its way through legislative approvals in Juneau.

Categories: Alaska News

Researcher Investigating Alaska’s Sexual Assault Issues

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2015-03-04 17:18

A researcher from University of California Irvine is in Dillingham to collect the experiences of sexual assault victims.

The project is trying to figure out the cause of the disproportionately high number of sexual crimes in rural Alaska.

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There have already been a few studies that looked at the quantity of sexual assaults in rural Alaska. According to an FBI report, there were 80 reported rapes per 100,000 Alaskan residents in 2012 – the highest in the country.

Jeremy Braithwaite is a PhD candidate in criminal justice at the UC Irvine. Reading the reports on the high incidence of sexual assaults in Alaska, he noticed none offered conclusions as to why that is. The Californian packed his bags and moved to Alaska to see if he could help figure that out.

“I thought to myself why not go up there and peel back a few layers of the onion to really understand why this is happening a little bit more,” Braithwaite said.

Braithwaite’s research is unique because it goes beyond documenting the magnitude of the problem, as other studies have done before, but trying to explain why the problem exists in the first place.

He started interviewing women in Dillingham about two months ago. So far nine women have participated in his study.

“And when you look at a very small community like Dillingham, Alaska to talk to nine women that have been effected by sexual violence that’s a very, very high number,” Braithwaite said.

Victims tell Braithwaite that they have typically been discouraged from sharing their stories of abuse and assault.

“Everybody has said, when they came forward and talked to somebody about the abuse they were told don’t talk about it. That’s ugly talk. We don’t talk about that,” Braithwaite said. “So not being able to communicate that violence just pretty much allows it to continue. If you don’t talk about it, it doesn’t go away.”

He is still in the early phase of his research, but already one clear theme has emerged in the interviews he has conducted.

“Obviously the alcohol problem and the heroin problem in Dillingham have been unanimously named by everyone,” he said.

Braithwaite says that collecting these stories should help better identify some of the root causes of sexual violence here. He hopes that may lead to more effective ways to address the problem.

When he finishes his work here, Braithwaite says he wants to repeat the study in other rural parts of the state.

Categories: Alaska News

Mayor, Chief Pitch ‘Community Policing’ At South Fairbanks Meeting

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2015-03-04 17:17

Fairbanks’s mayor and police chief rolled out a new approach to law enforcement last night. The community policing program is getting started in crime-plagued South Fairbanks.

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Mayor John Eberhart told about 100 people who packed the meeting room at the J.P. Jones Community Center that the new policing policy represents a departure from the way law enforcement officers have traditionally operated.

“It’s a different philosophy,” Eberhart said. “It’s a different way of forming closer relationships with your community.”

Chief Randall Aragon says that old approach involves a routine response after a crime has been committed: “Call the police. Send a car. Make an arrest.”

Fairbanks Police Officer Richard Sweet, left, and Chief Randall Aragon explain community policing at Tuesday night’s meeting at the J.P. Jones Community Center in South Fairbanks. (Credit Tim Ellis/KUAC)

Aragon says the old approach is reactive, and largely ineffective, because police get reports of crimes after the fact, the suspect is long gone in about 75 percent of the cases. And he says there’s typically only about a 5 percent chance that police will be able to arrest a suspect. The chief says a different approach is needed, especially for troubled areas like Fairbanks’s south side.

“We’re writing an excellent police report,” Aragon said. “But that bicycle from that neighborhood, they continuously get stolen, no one’s working on how to solve the problem. Community policing is trying to prevent it from happening in the first place.”

Aragon says community policing is intended to help residents both protect themselves from becoming crime victims and help police prevent crimes in their neighborhoods. That requires the police to get out into the community, and build trust with its residents.

To get the dialogue going, Aragon polled residents on their major crime and law-enforcement issues. They came up with a list of 17. The top three were drug activity, speeding – and a lack of respect shown by police.

A couple of residents raised concerns over what they thought might become an overly intrusive police policy. But most of those in attendance, like the Rev. Joe Blackburn, seemed comfortable with it.

“Well, I think it’s a wonderful idea,” Blackburn said. “I think it’s headed in the right direction. It shows concern….”

Blackburn, the pastor of Mt. Pleasant Baptist Church, says he’s hopeful that community policing will build the trust needed to encourage residents to interact with police and overcome concerns that some have about law enforcement.

“Just feeling comfortable, and not feeling that every time you see a policeman that he’s there to arrest you or serve you a warrant or something,” he said.

Officer Richard Sweet has been heading up the community policing program on much of the south side for about a month now. He says he hopes it’ll help residents understand that fighting crime is something most everyone can agree on.

“The hope is that it’s not an us-them proposition between the police and the community,” Sweet said. “Everybody’s together.”

Aragon says he’ll convene another meeting on April 30th at the J.P. Jones Center to check back on how community policing is working. He says the program will be phased in citywide in the coming months.

Categories: Alaska News

‘Iditarod Adventures, Tales from Mushers Along the Trail’ Documents Race Stories

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2015-03-04 17:16

A new book, out just in time for this year’s race, documents stories of the Iditarod. Lew Freedman, a former Anchorage Daily News reporter and author of numerous other books on Iditarod legends, gets people who race or love and support the race, to tell their own stories. The book is called Iditarod Adventures, Tales from Mushers Along the Trail. Freedman starts with Martin Buser. He says he’s had a question he’s wanted to ask Buser since 1991.

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Categories: Alaska News

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