Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: April 11, 2014

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-04-11 17:00

Individual news 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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Sullivan Maintains Fundraising Momentum

Liz Ruskin, APRN – Washington DC

Republican senate candidate Dan Sullivan has kept up his fundraising momentum. Sullivan’s campaign reports he raised $1.3 million in the first quarter of the year. That’s a bit more than Sullivan, the former state attorney general and natural resources commissioner, raised during the prior quarter.  Incumbent Democratic Sen. Mark Begich also reports raising more than a million dollars during the first quarter.  Other challengers in the race haven’t yet announced their totals, which aren’t due until next week.

Little Progress Made In Dealing With Looming Retirement Problem

Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN – Juneau

The legislature has made little progress on Governor Sean Parnell’s goal of addressing the state’s looming retirement problem. Parnell hopes to change that by filing a bill that reintroduces his plan to deal with Alaska’s $12 billion unfunded liability.

Inuit Circumpolar Council Discussing Food Security

Anna Rose MacArthur, KNOM – Nome

The Inuit Circumpolar Council is holding a meeting in Nome next week. The topic is food security, and the goal is to create a framework to understand the issue from an Inuit perspective.

Delta Western Workers Approve Union Membership

Lauren Rosenthal, KUCB – Unalaska

After two months of protests, Delta Western fuel workers in Unalaska have voted to unionize. The Inlandboatmen’s Union of the Pacific got the support of a slim majority in an election on Thursday night.

The Alaska Innocence Project Challenging 1987 Murder Conviction

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

Evidence used to get a conviction for a 1987 Fairbanks murder trial is in question.  The Alaska Innocence Project is pursuing post conviction relief for Michael Alexander, who was imprisoned for the March 23, 1987 kidnapping and killing of Fairbanks teenager Kathy Stockholm. The Innocence Project request challenges biological evidence that helped convict Alexander, and the group’s Director Bill Oberly says the FBI has concurred it could be suspect.

Fire Season Likely To Start Early In Southcentral Alaska

Emily Schwing, KUAC – Fairbanks

Wildland firefighters are gearing up for the upcoming 2014 fire season. According to the Bureau of Land Management’s Alaska Fire Service, fire season could come fast to parts of the Tanana Valley and Southcentral Alaska.

HAARP Research Facility To Shut Down

Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Anchorage

Gakona’s High Frequency Active Auroral Research Program, better known as HAARP, is slated for the junk pile.  But a group of University of Alaska researchers are trying to stave off a Department of Defense move to scuttle the often-misunderstood scientific facility.

AK: Puppet Town

Margaret Friedenauer, KHNS – Haines

Haines seems like a quintessential Southeast Alaska town. There are eagles, bears, salmon, big mountains and rough water. It’s a picture-book no stoplight, no movie theater, low crime type of community. But there’s a seedier and eclectic side of Haines that emerged late this winter: the underground puppet scene.

300 Villages: Kasaan

This week, we’re heading to Kasaan, located in Southeast Alaska on Prince of Wales island. The coastal Native village is home to the oldest Haida building in the world. Frederick Otilius Olsen Junior is from Kasaan.

Categories: Alaska News

Final Vote On Abortion Bill Delayed After Divisive Amendment Process

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2014-04-10 21:15

The Alaska State House opened debate on a bill putting limits on state Medicaid payments for abortions on Thursday, only to shelve it and delay a final vote to Sunday.

The bill requires abortion providers to sign a statement that a procedure is “medically necessary,” and it defines that term to include only physical conditions – not mental ones. Advocates of the bill believe the state is paying for elective abortions under the current law, while critics argue that the bill restricts abortion access for poor women.

The version that the Senate passed last year also included a provision establishing a women’s health program, which made the bill more palatable to moderate Republicans. That program would have allowed low-income single women to access birth control and family planning services, with those services largely paid for by the federal government.
A House committee stripped that language in March with support from an influential conservative advocacy group, but the issue of family planning became a major focus of debate during the amendment process.

Rep. Gabrielle LeDoux, the Anchorage Republican carrying the bill, signed on to an amendment signaling the Legislature’s intent “to continue” funding women’s health services in the state. The amendment, which passed 35-5, does not commit the Legislature to expanding services in any way. A handful of Democrats opposed the measure because they did not believe it to be substantive, and they instead tried to reintroduce the original family planning language that would have compelled the state to establish a new program immediately.

LeDoux spoke against the Democrats’ amendment, arguing that the state already provides women’s health services through public health clinics.

“Other than putting contraceptives in the drinking water, I mean we’ve done just about everything we can do as far as family planning services.” LeDoux said on the floor.

The Democrats’ amendment failed on a 22-18 vote, with four Republicans – Lindsey Holmes of Anchorage, Cathy Muñoz of Juneau, Alan Austerman of Kodiak, and Paul Seaton of Homer — breaking ranks with their party.

Sen. Berta Gardner, an Anchorage Democrat who offered the original family planning language last year, thinks the amendment to simply continue funding women’s health services is not a compromise measure, but a fig leaf.

“It means nothing,” said Gardner in an interview. “It’s just like a little ‘P.S.’ but without the force of law.”

While the family planning amendments prompted the most discussion on the floor, the amendments that showed the greatest strife on the bill dealt with the lack of mental health exception.

One amendment added that exception back in, which would have allowed women receiving medication for psychiatric disorders to qualify for abortion coverage because of the pregnancy risk that creates. That failed 21-19, with Mike Hawker of Anchorage joining the bloc of Republicans seeking to alter the bill. The other amendment would have allowed for a mental health exception only in cases where suicide is likely. That failed 20-20, picking up support from Republicans Charisse Millett of Anchorage and Eric Feige of Chickaloon.

Once the amendment process wrapped up, the bill pulled from consideration and tabled until Sunday. House Speaker Mike Chenault acknowledged that the outcome would be close.

“You can see it’s kind of a divided issue,” said Chenault after the floor session. “It always is, it always has been.”

Chenault added that final consideration was not being delayed because of any uncertainty over the bill’s ability to pass. The bill was moved so that legislators with scheduled absences could be present for a vote.

Last year, the Department of Health and Social Services introduced regulations that are nearly identical to the bill language, but include the mental health exception. Those regulations are now the subject of a lawsuit, and a judge has put a stay on them until the courts determine if they comply with the equal protection clause of the Alaska Constitution.

If the bill passes, it will be sent to the governor’s desk for his signature, and then, most likely, to the courts.

Categories: Alaska News

Geraghty Testifies On Tribal Law And Order Commission Report Findings

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2014-04-10 17:33

State Attorney General Michael Geraghty testified before a legislative committee this week to respond to a national report that singles out Alaska for its high rates of violence against Alaska Natives, especially Native women. The Indian Law and Order Commission report was deeply critical of Alaska’s law enforcement and judicial system. But the state’s Geraghty says the Indian Law and Order Commission is trying to impose lower 48 solutions that won’t work in Alaska.

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Categories: Alaska News

Army Sets New Protocols During Fire Season

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2014-04-10 17:32

The Army has a new protocol for live ordnance training during times of high wildfire danger. Army artillery practice sparked the Stewart Creek 2 wildfire that burned east of Fairbanks though much of last summer. The 87,000 acre blaze forced evacuations and cost more than $20 million to fight.

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Categories: Alaska News

Exit Exam Bill Could Bring Diplomas To More Students

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2014-04-10 17:31

Graduation time is just around the corner and for most seniors that means walking a stage and accepting a diploma. But a few students a year in Petersburg do not receive a diploma because they don’t pass a test. A bill making its way through the state Legislature would change that. House Bill 220 would repeal the High School Graduation Qualifying Exam.

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The high school is especially quiet. Red signs are posted on the outside of the library doors and several classrooms.

High School Principal, Rick Dormer, says large groups of 10th graders are getting tested in the classrooms and smaller groups are in the library. The signs help others know to stay out because a quiet environment is important.

“You can see we have big red signs, ‘Testing, Do not Disturb’,” Dormer says, “We’re in the middle of it here today and kids are in a room and it’s three hours and it’s make it or break it. And we’ve had kids really crying before the test, crying after the test. It’s high stress, it’s high-stakes.”

There’s a lot riding on this test and students feel the pressure. If they don’t pass it, they don’t graduate with a diploma.

“And they must pass in three areas, reading, writing and mathematics. And they must pass it with a certain score that’s set by the state to earn their diploma,” Dormer says. “So despite anything that a student may or may not do, if they complete all graduation requirements, which has happened here in Petersburg, and do not pass this particular exam in the State of Alaska, we cannot give them a diploma in Petersburg High School. Rather, they get what we call a certificate of completion that is not equivalent.”

The certificate does not hold the same weight as a diploma. Students who want to further their education after high school can’t qualify for financial aid.

Sonya Stein is the Director of the Student Financial Assistance Office at the University of Alaska Anchorage.

“The federal department of education requires that a student has a high school diploma or its equivalent in order to be federal financial aid eligible,” says Stein.

An equivalent would be the GED or the General Education Development, which would require students to pass another test.

The exit exam has been required in Alaska for a decade. It was established through state law before the No Child Left Behind Law prompted other standardized tests.

There’s no middle ground with the exit exam.  . .either you pass it or you don’t.

Principal Rick Dormer says it can be heart breaking.

“I can tell you we’ve had two students who have not passed the test by one point, one section by one point,” Dormer says.

In both cases, the school paid some extra money to appeal the results to the state’s education department but it didn’t work.

“We don’t believe that’s the best assessment of a kid’s knowledge of what they know,” Dormer says. “Really any testing is there just as a measure to see what they know and then you build on it and so we don’t agree that high stakes testing is the best measure of what a kids knowledge is and whether or not they deserve a diploma. I think it’s a much more complicated than a one shot test.”

House Bill 220 would work retroactively, so past students who received a certificate instead of a diploma because they didn’t pass the test would be able to get a diploma. They’d just have to request it.

So far the bill hasn’t seen much opposition. It passed the House with a vote of 32 to 5. The Parnell administration and the Education Department support getting rid of the test as well.

The bill is sponsored by Representative Pete Higgins, a Republican from Fairbanks.

Categories: Alaska News

Sitka Assembly Passes Anti-Smoking Law

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2014-04-10 17:29

The Sitka Assembly passed a controversial amendment Tuesday night, tightening the city’s anti-smoking laws. The question before the assembly was whether children should be prohibited from entering any business that allows smoking — even for a non-smoking event. The decision came down to different interpretations of what voters intended nearly a decade ago.

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It was the fourth time the Assembly had discussed the amendment, which pitted anti-smoking advocates against those who felt, in the words of one member of the public, “You’re going a little too far…You’re micromanaging things that a parent should do. So let’s do city things, and let parents do parent things.”

In 2005, Sitka voters passed a law that barred children from entering businesses that allow smoking. This past December, the American Legion, a private club that allows smoking, hosted a Christmas party for kids – but didn’t allow smoking at the event. The Legion asked the city attorney whether the party was legal. She said it was.

In response, Mayor Mim McConnell and Assembly Member Phyllis Hackett sponsored an amendment to clarify the intent of the 2005 law. The new language makes it clear that if a business allows smoking, then kids can’t enter, even for a smoke-free event.

That prompted protests from the Legion, and the Assembly sent the issue to the Health Needs and Human Services Commission. The commission voted unanimously in favor of the amendment. They cited, in particular, the possible health hazards of third-hand smoke, or the chemicals that can remain in walls and furniture after a room has been used for smoking.

But both McConnell and Hackett argued that all of these issues – third-hand smoke, public health, assembly overreach and even Christmas parties – were beside the point. Voters already settled these issues when they passed the law in 2005, Hackett said. The assembly’s job was simply to honor the voters’ original intent.

“The issue here, which I know some people are having a hard time understanding or choosing to believe, but the issue here is about intent, and it’s about the intent of the ordinance that was passed,” Hackett said. “And it was passed overwhelmingly by the voters.”

Assembly Members Mike Reif and Matt Hunter, however, insisted it wasn’t so easy to tell what voters intended nearly a decade ago. Reif pointed out that third-hand smoke, for instance, wasn’t even part of the debate in 2005.

“I personally really don’t know the intent of the voters in Sitka back in 2005,” Reif said. “It’s very cloudy trying to speculate what the intent was of all those voters.”

All the same, Reif said he felt he had a clearer sense of the voters’ will now.

“I do think that if we put this to the vote of Sitkan voters today, that they would pass this, they would want to see this banned,” Reif said. “I’ll support it because that’s what I think the majority of Sitkans want.”

Hunter, meanwhile, spoke at length about how his thinking on the issue had changed.

“I’ve publicly gone back and forth on this issue and I’m still conflicted on it,” Hunter said, adding that he had consulted the original 2005 ballot. “The language as it’s written, the whole reason for doing this amendment to change the language, is because the language is unclear. And to me it means that, what people voted on, it’s very easy for people to interpret it in many ways.”

He said he thought the issue should be put to a vote once again.

“I am going to not support this ordinance because I feel that this is an issue that really needs to go to the people to decide,” he said. “And while I have no intention of exposing myself or those I love to first-, second- or third-hand smoke, I also am very sensitive to the personal responsibility issue.”

In the end, Hunter was the only vote against the amendment. Assembly Member Pete Esquiro had agreed with Hunter during earlier meetings, but he voted yes, without offering any other comment.

Categories: Alaska News

Fairbanks Will Help Fund New Mental Health Drop In Center

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2014-04-10 17:28

The City of Fairbanks will help fund a new mental health drop in center. Earlier this week, the city council approved $58,000 for the Northern Door Clubhouse.

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Categories: Alaska News

Retired Detective Discusses ‘Finding Bethany’

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2014-04-10 17:27

Retired Anchorage Detective Glen Klinkhart has written a true crime memoir called Finding Bethany. The story reveals the years of work it took Klinkhart and others within APD to find the killer of Bethany Correira, a young woman from Talkeetna who had moved to Anchorage for college and in 2003 was murdered by Michael Lawson, the man who managed the apartment building where she lived. Klinkhart says he also wanted to tell the stories of the dedicated people who helped solve the case in big and small ways.

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April 14th, Monday, at Little Italy Restaurant, 2300 East 88th Avenue, Anchorage, Alaska, 5pm to 9pm

April 25th, Friday at Blue-Hollomon Art Gallery, 3555 Arctic Blvd., Anchorage, Alaska, 5pm to 9pm

April 26th, Saturday at the Anchorage Senior Center Activity Center, Giant Book Sale, 1300 East 19th Avenue, Anchorage, Alaska, 11am to 4pm

Saturday May 3rd, Barnes and Noble Bookstore, Anchorage,  noon to 4pm

May 31st, Saturday, at Arctic Rose Gallery and Art Center, 423 West 5th Avenue, Anchorage, Alaska, 3pm to 6pm

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: April 10, 2014

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2014-04-10 17:18

Individual news 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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House Debates Limiting Medicaid Funding For Abortions

Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN – Juneau

Debate is underway in the Alaska State House on a bill that would put limits on state Medicaid payments for abortions.

Sponsor Wants Vote On Judicial Council Issue

Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN – Juneau

The sponsor of a constitutional amendment to reconfigure the Judicial Council says he wants a vote on the bill, even if the outcome is not guaranteed to be favorable.

Sen. Pete Kelly, a Fairbanks Republican, has been trying to shore up support for Senate Joint Resolution 21 since Monday, when the measure was initially scheduled to appear on the Senate floor.

Geraghty Testifies On Tribal Law And Order Commission Report Findings

Joaqlin Estus, KNBA – Anchorage

State Attorney General Michael Geraghty again testified before a legislative committee this week to respond to a national report that singles out Alaska for its high rates of violence against Alaska Natives, especially Native women. The Indian Law and Order Commission report was deeply critical of Alaska’s law enforcement and judicial system. But the state’s Geraghty says the Indian Law and Order Commission is trying to impose lower 48 solutions that won’t work in Alaska.

Army Sets New Protocols During Fire Season

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

The Army has a new protocol for live ordnance training during times of high wildfire danger. Army artillery practice sparked the Stewart Creek 2 wildfire that burned east of Fairbanks though much of last summer. The 87,000 acre blaze forced evacuations and cost more than $20 million to fight.

Exit Exam Bill Could Bring Diplomas To More Students

Angela Denning, KFSK – Petersburg

Graduation time is just around the corner and for most seniors that means walking a stage and accepting a diploma. But a few students a year in Petersburg do not receive a diploma because they don’t pass a test. A bill making its way through the state Legislature would change that. House Bill 220 would repeal the High School Graduation Qualifying Exam.

Assembly Passes Anti-Smoking Law

Rachel Waldholz, KCAW – Sitka

The Sitka Assembly passed a controversial amendment Tuesday night, tightening the city’s anti-smoking laws. The question before the assembly was whether children should be prohibited from entering any business that allows smoking — even for a non-smoking event. The decision came down to different interpretations of what voters intended nearly a decade ago.

Fairbanks Will Help Fund New Mental Health Drop In Center

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

The City of Fairbanks will help fund a new mental health drop in center.  Earlier this week, the city council approved $58,000 for the Northern Door Clubhouse.

Retired Detective Discusses ‘Finding Bethany’

Lori Townsend, APRN – Anchorage

Retired Anchorage Detective Glen Klinkhart has written a true crime memoir called Finding Bethany. The story reveals the years of work it took Klinkhart and others within APD to find the killer of Bethany Correira, a young woman from Talkeetna who had moved to Anchorage for college and in 2003 was murdered by Michael Lawson, the man who managed the apartment building where she lived. Klinkhart says he also wanted to tell the stories of the dedicated people who helped solve the case in big and small ways.

Categories: Alaska News

FEMA Head Meets With Mat Su Officials

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2014-04-10 11:47

A year and a half ago, a series of severe windstorms hammered Southcentral Alaska. The first toppled hundreds of trees in Anchorage, but a later storm combined with torrential rains to swell rivers and creeks in the Matanuska Valley.

 Well over one hundred Valley homes were damaged and several  were declared a total loss. The Borough  received an emergency declaration in the wake of the storm, and FEMA representatives soon arrived on scene to assist those who filed damage claims. But there have been glitches. In a meeting with FEMA adminstrator Craig Fugate, Mat Su Borough manager John Moosey said the Boro is still facing challenges due to the spread of the damage. During the storm, pockets of flooding affected the Borough from Talkeetna to Palmer

“..and it was unusual, because usually you have flooding in a smaller area. The Borough is the size of West Virginia, and it occurred in a large portion.”

 ”We are going to be hurting if we don’t correct the glitches going forward”,  Moosey told a group of Borough and FEMA officails.

 Casey Cook, the Borough’s emergency response manager, outlined some problems with 2012 flood response paperwork and building plans.  Cook said it was not possible to meet a FEMA three year deadline, due to Alaska’s extremely short building season. To which Fugate responded:

 ”So I’m wondering if this is something we’re driving on our end, or is this something internal. Because, I’ve got projects that go far past three years.” 

Fugate said FEMA allows extensions in paperwork and reporting all the time.

 Fugate told them thatthe Sandy Recovery and Improvement Act of last year made changes to the Stafford Act.  The Stafford act is the 1988 legislation that provides the legal authority for the federal government to provide assistance to states during major disasters.  Fugate said the changes  to the law   simplify the  repayment and reimbursement  process. Prior to the changes, FEMA could only reimburse actual costs, not cost estimates.

“Congress gave us new authorities under the Sandy Recovery Improvement Act. Where instead of now having to do everything [based on] actual cost, give me an estimate on the project. We agree that this will be for projects over a million dollars. If we agree to that, we write the project worksheet, obligate the funding at the front end, and we are done.”

 Fugate said, now if repairs cost less than estimated, the saved dollars can be used for disaster mitigation, rather than returned to FEMA.

Cook told Fugate that, during the flood emergency, the Borough spent 100 thousand dollars on emergency responders’ pay, but did not get reimbursed under the FEMA rules. FEMA does not reimburse normal working hours for Borough staff, but does reimburse overtime hours for emergency work, Fugate explained.

One big problem the Borough faces is the available flood plain mapping data.  It is not up to standard with the Lower 48,   Moosey said.

“We are behind on that, and so the new laws really don’t match up well, and kind of put people in tough spots and having to spend additional personal funds to try to correct something that should be corrected already. I think the staff will take a look at that. I believe and after our conversation that they understand what our needs our , our concerns and how we are different and how we are behind at times. “

 The Borough is relying on flood plain maps that are no longer accurate, Moosey said.  Insurance companies want accurate data when assessing flood insurance costs.  Homeowners who applied for FEMA assistance in 2012 got a nasty shock when they were informed what flood insurance costs would be if they rebuilt in a flood plain.  Up to date mapping helps to determine exactly where those flood plains are.

 Borough emergency manager Cook said that the FEMA rule  changes only apply to a few small projects  the Borough is completing.

Categories: Alaska News

Microphones Cut During Senate Hearing On Oil Production

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2014-04-09 22:45

After rejecting a request that oil industry experts be required to testify under oath, the Senate Resources Chair cut off microphones when the Minority Leader attempted to explain why he thought the request was appropriate.

Sen. Cathy Giessel, an Anchorage Republican, said it was “inappropriate” and “unprofessional” of Sen. Hollis French to “spring an under-oath requirement on invited citizens” during a Wednesday hearing of the Resources Committee. Representatives from Exxon, BP, ConocoPhillips, and Repsol were there to give updates on how their work was proceeding under a new oil tax regime.

When French – an Anchorage Democrat — asked for a chance to respond, he was again denied.

GIESSEL: As the chair it is my decision, and I’ve gotten a legal consultation on that.
FRENCH: I guess I’ll just — As a point of person privilege I will say that …
GIESSEL: Sen. French, you are out of order.
FRENCH: The only …
GIESSEL: Brief at ease.
FRENCH: I’m going to keep talking …

What followed was a half-minute of silence on the Legislature’s official recordings of the proceedings, even though French continued to address the committee and its audience in the room.

French and Giessel later sparred on the Senate floor, through a pair of seething speeches.

In his address, French said his request complied with statute, even if that statute was rarely used. He also argued that the state has historically been too trusting of the oil industry.

“What does it say about us when we think it is unprofessional to use these statutes in the furtherance of our duties, of our obligations as Alaska state legislators?” French asked the body.

Giessel responded by pointing out that the last time the statute to compel testifiers to speak under oath was last used in 1997.

“I think that if we distrust the citizens who are coming, than we need to execute a different process. But simply asking for informational reports to a committee does not justify placing them under oath,” said Giessel.

Giessel also noted that it was “unfortunate” that the tension between the two senators had come to a verbal “duel” on the floor.

Categories: Alaska News

State Senators Prefer To Leave Minimum Wage Question On Ballot

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2014-04-09 19:48

While a minimum wage bill that could pre-empt a ballot initiative is on the fast track in the Alaska State House, Senate leadership says the idea is unlikely to get traction in their body.

Sen. Lesil McGuire, an Anchorage Republican who is in charge of scheduling bills, says some members of her caucus feel the question of raising the minimum wage is best left to voters.

“The public is fundamentally suspicious of the Legislature interceding on a minimum wage bill, because we did this in the past and we changed it,” says the Rules Chair.

Majority Leader John Coghill, a North Pole Republican, also expressed doubt that the bill would advance in the Senate at a press availability on Tuesday.

The last time a minimum wage initiative was certified to appear on the ballot, the Legislature kept it off by passing their own version. A year later, they gutted the legislation by removing a provision that pegged the minimum wage to inflation.

The House held its first and only hearing on the bill on Wednesday, and initiative supporters were blunt in their testimony that they did not trust the Legislature with this issue. The House could hold a vote on their bill as early as Thursday.

Categories: Alaska News

Troopers Name Two Pilots Killed In Crash Near Bethel

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2014-04-09 17:32

Two pilots are dead after a fiery plane crash Tuesday night just outside Bethel.

Alaska State Troopers have identified the pilots who were onboard the Hageland Cessna 208 Caravan as Derrick Cedars, 42, of Bethel and Greggory McGee, 46, of Anchorage.

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Ravn Alaska spokesperson Steve Smith confirms the downed plane was a Hageland training flight.

 “We are sending an investigator from the Anchorage office of the NTSB. His name is Chris Shaver. We also have two other individuals who are going to be joining the investigative team, one investigator from the Federal Aviation Administration, the FAA as well as an additional investigator from a technical side from Cessna aircraft,” Clint Johnson, Chief of the Alaska Regional Office of the National Transportation Safety Board, said. ”Hopefully they’ll be on site there later this afternoon and possibly make it to the accident site tonight to at least start their on scene potion of the investigation.”

 Troopers say the crash happened just after 6 p.m. Within the hour a pilot reported burned wreckage near Three Step Mountain close to a fishing weir. The Alaska Army Guard in Bethel dispatched a Blackhawk helicopter with local fire personnel and Alaska State Troopers on board in an attempt to locate survivors.

Troopers arrived on scene and observed a large debris field and the willows around the crash site were burned and charred.  Troopers were able to locate remains in the wreckage. They’ll return to the crash site Wednesday to further investigate as well as continue recovery efforts.

Next of kin for the pilots have been notified.

Hageland Aviation flies under the banner of Ravn Connect, a company operated by Ravn Alaska, formerly known as Era Alaska.

Four people died in November when an Era Cessna 208 Caravan passenger flight crashed outside St. Mary’s. The exact cause of that crash has not been determined.

Categories: Alaska News

Murkowski Signs Onto ‘Regulatory Fairness Act’

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2014-04-09 17:30

Leaders in the Bristol Bay area say they’re upset U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski has co-sponsored a bill that would undo their biggest regulatory success in fighting the Pebble Mine project.

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Categories: Alaska News

State Suspends Funding For New Anchorage Tennis Complex

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2014-04-09 17:30

The State is looking into the legality of using money earmarked for building repairs to construct a new tennis complex in Anchorage. APRN’s Alexandra Gutierrez reports that the multi-million-dollar grant was suspended after Mayor Dan Sullivan’s opponent in the lieutenant governor’s race called the decision into question.

From here on out, Alaskans might consider substituting the phrase “political football” with “political tennis.”

Debate has raged for months over whether lawmakers knew they were funding the construction of a new sports facility in Anchorage when they voted to give the city $37 million for “deferred and critical maintenance” to aging public buildings. Now, the state Division of Community and Regional Affairs is referring the grant to the Department of Law for review, and freezing the money until they get confirmation that it’s being used correctly.

The decision comes after Sen. Lesil McGuire, an Anchorage Republican, raised the issue with the governor on Monday after getting an opinion from the Legislature’s legal division that the grant was suspect.

“If we set a precedent that says ‘critical and deferred maintenance,’ and allow local communities to then use it for whatever they want, including building new facilities, which we know are going to require more money both in the building and the maintenance and other things, then we are not doing our jobs,” says McGuire.

According to the grant agreement, the state authorized funding for the Anchorage Museum, the Egan Center, the Sullivan Arena, and the Anchorage Center for the Performing Arts. The grant also funds upgrades to the Dempsey Anderson Complex, including the addition of a tennis facility. Anchorage Mayor Dan Sullivan has argued that language should allow the city to put $4.4 million of that grant toward the construction of a new standalone sports complex.

McGuire thinks it does not. She says the suspension should encourage more transparency in funding requests.

“It sends a signal statewide that when you ask for money that it’s going to be a rigorous process – that it’s got to be for what is clearly allocated,” says McGuire.

Members of the Democratic Minority believe suspending the grant is long overdue. Earlier this week, they tried repealing the tennis money by offering an amendment to the operating budget, but McGuire was the only member of the Majority to support the idea.

Sen. Bill Wielechowski, of Anchorage, also points out that Democrats asked for legal review of the appropriation back in December.

“When we put the legal opinion out, why wasn’t there any sort of action then? Why did it take four months for a Republican to put the legal opinion out and get some action?”

For his part, Sullivan stands by the use of the money for the new sports complex, and is disappointed that the suspension could stall work on all of the buildings included in the grant. He also believes that the group who originally lobbied for the grant did so in an appropriate way.

“The Alaska Tennis Association did everything they were supposed to do. They got community council support. They got support from organizations that would be users of the facility. They got a legislator to champion the grant,” says Sullivan. “So, they’re the ones that are being hurt by this, and that’s unfortunate.”

The tennis issue has also been a key divide between Sullivan and McGuire in their separate efforts to secure the Republican nomination for lieutenant governor. Sullivan won’t say if he personally thinks this has anything to do with the campaign.

“Some people have said it’s pretty transparent, but I can’t read the hearts and minds of other folks,” says Sullivan. “So we’ll let others speculate about that.”

McGuire says she’s sensitive to how her status as a candidate and her status as a senator relate to the tennis question, but making sure state money is used appropriately is part of her responsibility.

“When you’re running against somebody, and they have a different position than you, that’s going to be something that people bring up,” says McGuire. “I’ve tried really hard this session to keep my Senate hat on and to keep the work of the Senate at the forefront, and this is the work of the Senate.”

The state is hoping to complete the legal review and resolve any questions surrounding the grant before the end of the legislative session this month.

Categories: Alaska News

UAF Med Students Inject Wrong Substance

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2014-04-09 17:29

Some University of Alaska Fairbanks students received doses of a substance not approved for humans or animals. The medical course students were practicing giving injections.

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Categories: Alaska News

Statewide Smoking Ban Gains Traction In Senate

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2014-04-09 17:28

A proposal that would ban smoking in most public places in Alaska is making headway in the state Senate. Senate Bill 209 passed out of the Senate State Affairs Committee last week.

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The bill would ban smoking in office buildings, sports arenas, taxicabs, bars and restaurants, among other public places.

Many places in Alaska, including Anchorage, Juneau and Bethel, already have similar bans. As a result of those bans, nearly half of Alaska’s population is already affected by a workplace smoking ban.

Soldotna Senator Peter Micciche is the bill’s sponsor. He told the Senate State Affairs Committee Thursday that normally, he a “small government kind of guy.” In this case, however, he feels it’s appropriate for the government to get involved to protect the health of workers.

“Just as it’s appropriate for government to set safety standards in automobiles, electrical codes for wiring (and) requirements for infant and child carrier seats,” he said.

Micciche says the state takes on much of the economic costs associated with second-hand smoke, which he said kills more Alaskans each year than automobile accidents. He also made the point that second-class cities and unorganized boroughs in Alaska do not have the legal authority to enact their own smoking bans.

But most importantly, Micciche said the issue is for him, a very personal one. He spoke about his father, who passed away from a smoking-related illness.

“My father made his personal choices,” said Micciche. “But my siblings and I didn’t. I’m the lucky one of the three. They all had respiratory issues from living through second-hand smoke effects.”

Micciche said more than 400 businesses and organizations have signed on in support of his bill. Committee Chairman Fred Dyson said most of the comments his office has received about the bill have also been supportive of the state doing something.

Larry Hackenmiller testified from Fairbanks on behalf of the Interior Cabaret, Hotel, Restaurant and Retailer’s Association. He said Fairbanks rejected a similar law. He also took issue with some of the numbers put forward about hazards related to second-hand smoke.

“There is no hazard to second-hand smoke in a workplace … period,” said Hackenmiller.

Gary Superman owns the Hunger Hut bar in Nikiski. He called the smoking ban an infringement on his rights as a business owner. Superman described his bar as a “blue-collar tavern” that would be “irreparably harmed economically” by the ban.

Kenai businessman John Parker spoke in favor of the proposed ban, saying it would “level the playing field” for business owners on the Kenai Peninsula who may be afraid that banning smoking would give a leg up to their competition. More importantly, Parker said that customers and employees have a fundamental right to smoke-free air.

A couple of amendments have been proposed to the bill. One would include the use of e-cigarettes in the ban. The other would set up an appeal process for businesses who would like to “opt out.”

The bill also provides an “opt out” clause for local municipalities, which would be granted only if a local election is held and a majority of voters choose to exempt themselves from the smoking ban.

After nearly an hour of testimony, SB 209 passed out of the Senate State Affairs Committee. It heads now to the Health and Social Services Committee. A companion bill is also working its way through the Alaska House.

Categories: Alaska News

Howard Weaver Speaks On Anchorage Daily News Sale

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2014-04-09 17:27

There are still a lot of unknowns about how the sale of the Anchorage Daily News to Alaska Dispatch will play out. But former Anchorage Daily News writer and managing editor Howard Weaver is thinking a lot about that question. Weaver wrote the book “Write Hard, Die Free” about the Anchorage newspaper wars in the 1970′s and 80′s.

Weaver says he was saddened to learn about the sale of the Daily News.

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Categories: Alaska News

Where No Shop Class Has Gone Before

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2014-04-09 17:26

Metlakatla Science teacher Jason Pipkin watches as the printer creates metric screws for a quadcopter his students are building. (KCAW photo/Robert Woolsey)

This is not your grandfather’s shop class.

Late last month a group of high school and college shop teachers and a few of their students gathered for a three-day workshop in Sitka’s state-of-the-art Design and Fabrication Lab.

The use of 3D printers and other computer-controlled equipment has revolutionized shop, and turned one of the most remote classrooms in the building into the coolest place in school.

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KCAW – Tell me your name, where you’re from, and what you’re doing here.
Neibergall – John Neibergall, Sherwood High School. I’m helping some teachers and students get into digital design and fabrication.

Sherwood High is outside of Portland, Oregon.

Neibergall – You got an idea, you want to make a model or an output of something in three dimensions — whether you build it in wood, metal, plastic, 3D print it. You have to visualize it, and then you get to print it. You have an output of a product in your hand. And that’s what get kids excited.

Read a story about a recent project created by shop students in the Sitka Design and Fabrication Lab.

Yes, digital fabrication gets kids excited. But in this workshop the teachers can barely contain their enthusiasm.

My name is Pat Kraft. I’m one of the instructors at Portland Community College, in Portland. I grew up in an era where Star Trek was, you know — Star Trek was young, I was young, and the thought of having a replicator, where you could put something in there and create something just like it.

And now they have the tools to create just about any kind of machine part. Even parts that are not for machines.

Winship — I’m Kent Winship with Bristol Bay/Dillingham campus, UAF
KCAW — What are you working on right now?
Winship — This is a scan. We’ve got a fetal orca whale that swam up the Freshwater River. Two parents, and one of them was pregnant. So we’ve got the fetus. It’s mostly cartilage. And we’re going to try to scan it, and then print it out in plastic before we lose those cartilage parts.
KCAW – Scan it how?
Winship – A laser scanner than can measure a surface at 20,000 points per square inch. It will record it and put it into a CAD — computer aided drafting program — and we can actually print it out in plastic. And were even talking about trying to mill it out of a CNC mill out of bone or something.

CNC stands for computer numerical control. Besides a pair of 3D printers, this lab has a CNC vinyl cutter, and a laser engraver. What’s got these guys most excited is not necessarily the ability to make a whale fetus, it’s about trying to make that fetus, and failing.

Neibergall and Kraft are pioneering the integration of technology into shop class. They say repetition is education.

Neibergall — Kids are afraid to fail, and this forces them to fail — or fail forward, if you will. If it doesn’t work, you can tweak it…
Kraft — Failure’s okay. Because that’s part of the improvement process.
Neibergall — Because that’s what industry wants: People who aren’t afraid to fail forward. Reinvent. Remodify. And make it right. And it might take four or five iterations. But we can do it quickly.

“I failed…”

Randy Hughey is the recently-retired wood shop teacher at Sitka High. He wrote the grants for Sitka’s Fab Lab and helped a local grant writer, Lily Herwald, develop the proposal for this workshop.

Hughey has microwaved some chocolate chips, with unfortunate results.

“Well, I was just trying to melt chocolate to put into this mold that John has made.”

Digitally fabricated custom candy bar molds. This technology gives kids the ability to aim for the stars, but a prom date is not a bad start.

Neibergall — What my kids did is made prom invitations for the young ladies, wrapped it up in chocolate, and it said Prom? on it.
KCAW — Wow!

For a moment, it sounds like the shop class I remember. But it’s not. John Neibergall assures me that I’m looking at a different sort of future for technical education.

KCAW — Shop used to be the dark space at the end of the hall.
Neibergall — Dumping grounds? That’s the term we tend to say. But now the creative piece that is driving the economic recovery is manufacturing. And if we can get young people excited about that and see the career potential, that’s what’s going to help us get out of our slump, if you will.
KCAW — It comes back to Star Trek, eventually.
Neibergall and Kraft — Right!

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: April 9, 2014

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2014-04-09 17:19

Individual news 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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Troopers Name Two Pilots Killed In Crash Near Bethel

Ben Matheson, KYUK – Bethel

Two pilots are dead after a fiery plane crash Tuesday just outside Bethel.

Murkowski Signs Onto ‘Regulatory Fairness Act’

Liz Ruskin, APRN – Washington DC

Leaders in the Bristol Bay area say they’re upset U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski has co-sponsored a bill that would undo their biggest regulatory success in fighting the Pebble Mine project.

Legislature Suspends Anchorage’s Tennis Court Grant

Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN – Juneau

The State is looking into the legality of using money earmarked for building repairs to construct a new tennis complex in Anchorage. The multi-million-dollar grant was suspended after Mayor Dan Sullivan’s opponent in the lieutenant governor’s race called the decision into question.

UAF Med Students Inject Wrong Substance

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

Some University of Alaska Fairbanks students received doses of a substance not approved for humans or animals. The medical course students were practicing giving injections.

Statewide Smoking Ban Gains Traction In Senate

Aaron Selbig, KBBI – Homer

A proposal that would ban smoking in most public places in Alaska is making headway in the state Senate. Senate Bill 209 passed out of the Senate State Affairs Committee last week.

Howard Weaver Speaks On Anchorage Daily News Sale

Lori Townsend, APRN – Anchorage

There are still a lot of unknowns about how the sale of the Anchorage Daily News to Alaska Dispatch will play out. But former Anchorage Daily News writer and managing editor Howard Weaver is thinking a lot about that question. Weaver wrote the book “Write Hard, Die Free” about the Anchorage newspaper wars in the 1970′s and 80′s.

Weaver says he was saddened to learn about the sale of the Daily News:

Where No Shop Class Has Gone Before

Robert Woolsey, KCAW – Sitka

This is not your grandfather’s shop class.

Late last month a group of high school and college shop teachers and a few of their students gathered for a three-day workshop in Sitka’s state-of-the-art Design and Fabrication Lab.

The use of 3D printers and other computer-controlled equipment has revolutionized shop, and turned one of the most remote classrooms in the building into the coolest place in school.

Categories: Alaska News
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