The U.S. Senate today voted to curtail the National Security Administration’s collection of bulk phone data. Both Alaska senators voted for the reforms, called the USA Freedom Act. Sen. Lisa Murkowski was an early sponsor, and last session was one of the few Republicans who voted to advance the bill.
Sen. Dan Sullivan says he became convinced the bill was a good revision to the controversial parts of the 2001 Patriot Act.
“I think that this reform dramatically, dramatically enhances civil liberties, and the protection of privacy, which is why I voted for it,” he said.
Late last month, Sullivan voted for a short-term extension of the Patriot Act, which failed. He says he didn’t want the less controversial programs to go dark during the debate. Sullivan says his support for the reform bill came after he pored over the most controversial section of the Patriot Act, and studied a recent court opinion declaring that the NSA overstepped its bounds.
“I think that’s what people in Alaska sent me to Washington for: Dig into the issues, study the issues,” he said. “I may have been one of the only senators that have actually sat down with that 100-page opinion and powered through the entire thing.”
Sullivan says surveillance and data-collection programs require a balance, and he thinks more reforms may be needed in the future.
“It’s the combination of wanting to make sure that we maintain our civil liberties but that we also keep up with the evolving threat, and we don’t know what the evolving threat is going to be three months from now, or six months from now.”
The bill, after it is signed into law by the president, will give the NSA six months to stop routinely collecting data about the phone calls Americans make and receive. Instead, the phone companies will keep the information about the calls — to, from and the duration. The government would need a warrant to get targeted records.
The bill passed with 67 votes. Among the 32 “no” votes were presidential candidates Rand Paul and Bernie Sanders, who felt the reform bill didn’t go far enough to protect civil liberties. Also voting “no” were defense hawks like Republican senators John McCain and Mitch McConnell, who support the NSA surveillance programs. The bill already passed the House, where it had the vote of Alaska Congressman Don Young.
On Saturday afternoon, fishermen and concerned Kodiak residents gathered at Pier II to protest the location and timing of the Navy Training in the Gulf of Alaska. The Sun’aq Tribe helped to organize the event with the help of skippers and crew members alike.
On board the Mythos, a voice comes on over the radio telling vessels to tie together in front of pier 2.
We make our way into a line, where we face the crowd of about 33 people lined up on the dock in front of their cars. Crewmembers hurry to raft up the boats. Once they are secured and the rush to avoid collision is over, I climb down to the deck and speak to Mythos crewmember Rolf Hanning.
Hanning is a newcomer to both Alaska and fishing and came out to take a stand alongside his skipper and crew.
“I don’t think it’s a very good idea to kill all the fish that this whole economy runs on, and beyond that, we know it’s bad for the environment, we know that they could do it somewhere else, it’s the United States government, they can bomb wherever they want. Why are they doing it right here? It doesn’t make any sense,” says Hanning.
Fisherman Chuck McWethy also thinks the Navy training could take place elsewhere.
“If they want to go blow up their bombs, they can figure out where there’s less sea life, where there’s less commercial product available for harvest that has a real, real good possibility of being affected by it,” says McWethy.
I hop from boat to boat to talk to protestors. Around me, crewmembers shoot flares into the sky, release orange smoke bombs, and honk their horns. Cars on the pier respond.
I end up on a vessel captained by McWethy’s son, Quinnan.
He says he just heard about the Navy training and doesn’t know much about it, but he’s there to support the fishing community.
“The only way we can actually achieve anything is if everyone gets together,” says McWethy. Whether it’s striking for prices of salmon or standing up to this, I know that everyone’s kinda coming together for something and I stand behind the fishing fleet and what they want to do.”
Wrapped up in the interview, we hear the shout that they’re cutting the boats loose a little too late. One of the fishermen offers me a skiff ride and delivers me to a ladder at pier 2. I climb my way up to the protest on land, where things are winding down.
Vice-Chair of the Sun’aq Tribe of Kodiak Council, John Reft, is among the crowd and says he has a personal history fishing in Portlock Bank, one of the areas where the Navy plans to train. He says King Crab comes in through there and the Navy could disturb the crab as well as other sea life.
“They’re gonna diminish the possible stocks when we’re trying to build this island back up for the King crab like it used to be,” says Reft. “You cannot take a chance with all those bombs and stuff that they’re going to use.”
Council Chair, Sophie Frets, is also at the protest, and says she saw a united front from the fishermen.
“They’re from totally different boat aspects, the trawlers, and the jiggers, and the salmon fishermen all together united to speak up and say this is not a game, that we need this to exist, so they got together in a way that I’m very proud that we were able to see it,” says Frets.
Frets says the Sun’aq Tribe put in a request to the United States Department of Defense for a formal consultation and hopes to get the Navy to listen to their concerns. She says the tribe is still waiting to hear back from officials.
A two-year-old boy was found dead in a creek in St. Mary’s Saturday. The boy’s mother reported to Alaska State Troopers the boy was missing Saturday afternoon.
Troopers and local search crews initiated a hasty search of the area. They also diverted an aircraft with a pilot and spotter to fly over the area. Searchers combed the creek near the house and eventually found the child’s body caught under a sunken wood pallet.
Troopers say there are no signs of foul play. The boy’s body will be sent to the medical examiners office for an autopsy.
All state ferries will stop sailing by early July if the Legislature fails to reach a budget deal.
The Alaska Marine Highway System’s plans are among dozens of state service cuts announced Monday by the Walker administration.
Ferry spokesman Jeremy Woodrow says the 11 ships in the fleet will head to their home ports as close to July 1 as possible.
“We can’t play guessing games that there will be a fully funded budget at some point. And so, we have to play it safe and have the ships enter layup status in July,” he says.
Ferries will stop sailing between June 29 and July 1, depending on their location.
Woodrow says a skeleton crew will remain with each ship to keep it ready to return to service. He says the ferry system has enough money to keep all 11 ferries tied up for a year.
Notice of the layup plans will be posted on the marine highway website. But those scheduled to sail will not hear directly from staffers.
“There’s thousands of reservation holders. If we were to start contacting each one, by the time we reached them all, there might be a budget passed and we’d have to turn around and call them all back,” he says.
Woodrow says those changing or cancelling reservations will not face a penalty.
One ferry — the Taku – was already scheduled to be tied up for July and August as part of budget cuts.
The ferry system serves 35 port communities. Only five are on Alaska’s mainland road system. Prince Rupert, British Columbia, and Bellingham, Washington, are also connected.
The Anchorage School Board passed the first reading of a new suspension policy on Monday evening, but they plan to delve deeper into the issue later this summer.
The new suspension policy requires teachers and administrators to provide parents and guardians with a “brief statement of facts” about why the student was suspended. Previously the letters home only included coded reasons for the suspensions.
School Board member Eric Croft says the new policy is not in response to the litigation against the district, which argues ASD needs to provide more details to families when students are suspended.
The first reading of the policy passed unanimously, but it must go through a second reading in two weeks.
But School Board member Pat Higgins says the revisions of the suspension policies will not end here.
“Suspensions right now are too much attributed to a discipline as opposed to a constructive move to make the child more successful.”
Higgins recently attended a conference on suspensions and says studies show that suspensions are not always the fault of the student.
“Most of the time the suspensions are directly related to the teachers as well and the connection they don’t have with the student. So when you look at some of the reasons why kids are acting the way they are, the interaction isn’t there, the connection isn’t there. And that contributes to it.”
The district’s Multicultural Advisory Committee and Special Education Advisory Committee plan to present suspension policy recommendations in August, says Starr Marsett, who sits on both committees.
“School board members should be leading the charge to reduce the practice of out of school suspensions and instead push comprehensive strategies for preventing the removal of students from schools or classes or placing them in alternative schools,” she said during the public comment period.
Data compiled by the Center for Civil Rights Remedies for 2011-2012 show that African-American secondary school students are about three times more likely to be suspended than white students in the Anchorage School District. The same is true for Hawaiian and Pacific Islanders. Students with disabilities are twice as likely to be suspended.
This weekend, Alaska saw its first-ever job fair for careers in commercial cannabis, offering a glimpse of how the semi-legal marijuana industry is taking tentative steps towards professionalism and profits.
Theresa Collins shuffled between prospective employers and job-seekers inside the enormous, high-ceiling room that serves as the venue for Pot Luck Events, the marijuana-friendly company she runs at 420 West 3rd Avenue in downtown Anchorage. And yes, that is the actual address. Collins worked with the newly-formed Alaska Cannabis Growers Association to organize an event matching would-be workers with jobs that don’t yet exist.
“Growers, trimmers, bud-tenders,” Collins rattles off. And then there are all the clerical jobs she expects trained employees from other sectors to bring into the offices accompanying future dispensaries and green-houses, “Accounting, admin–there’s going be all kinds of different, new jobs in this industry.”
Collins wants Alaska’s new commercial pot sector to be legit–law-abiding and mature, in part because it makes for good business.
To that end, though the club has a distinct aroma of pot smoke, no one was visibly consuming. Collins banished dues-paying club members who wanted to imbibe to the VIP section in the back. The rest of the venue was all business.
“If you’re going to sit down and smoke a joint before you sit down for an interview,” Collins said, shaking her head, “I don’t think it really shows that you’re very professional.”
Collins was impressed with the turnout–more than a hundred people stopped by and registered information for jobs.
But was not the case for one attendee, who asked to be called Morgan, was hunched over a table filling out a form with questions like “What is your relationship with cannabis?” and “What experience do you have working with cannabis, and in what capacity?”
Morgan was at the fair because she knows a lot about pot and thinks the business environment will likely be more laid back than regular retail or office work. But she was disappointed by the event.
“It’s a little bit skinnier than I guess I thought it would be,” said Morgan, who anticipated a more traditional job fair set-up, with booths, hand-outs, and way more prospective employers. “It seems a little bit more like a cattle-call.”
The forms could be dropped off with any of the three businesses present, including Alaska Cannabis Staffing. Owner Kyle Houghton is setting up a data-base of employees he hopes to sell to companies needing both permanent and seasonal laborers.
“I gotta build a data-base first, before I have any value to offer employers,” Houghton said, standing next to the laptops used to help patrons set up login credentials. After that they were free to upload resumes whenever they wanted.
Houghton explained that it was still a bit early in the commercialization process to hold an event like Saturday’s. “Most of the jobs are gonna come next year,” he said.
Alaska Cannabis Staffing’s business model isn’t new–a cross between a temp agency and a job site–but it depends on a robust industry that does not yet exist. Much like insurance brokers and equipment suppliers, Houghton’s is an ancillary business that stands to profit from what many expect to be a green gold rush.
Which is exactly why Houghton chose the business he did: “I want to be involved without being involved, I don’t want to be heavily regulated.”
In the VIP lounge, I talk with a business owner who will be very involved–Justin of Green Dream Farms (he asked that I not use his last name). We’re in the smoking area because Justin is showing me one of the products he hopes to eventually sell: dab, an essential oil extracted from large quantities of cannabis. Concentrated products like dab have been a bit of a boogey-man in municipal and state-level conversations over how to regulate marijuana.
But Justin believes this is a misunderstanding.
“I think it’s a healthier, safer, faster product,” he tells me. Justin hasn’t smoked “flower” (budding marijuana) in five years, partly because his pulmonary health was suffering from all the tar that came from ingesting so much plant matter. He loads a small daub of dab into a battery-powered pipe called an oil rig that heats the substance to the point of combustion at 700 to 850 degrees. “It’s almost an instant heat,” he adds, demonstrating.
Justin’s business doesn’t officially exist. There is no store-front or commercial processing facility, and lawmakers have yet to finalize rules about permits or controversial products like concentrates.
While many variables are still unknown, recruiting early has crucial benefits to Justin’s business strategy.
“It’s all future marketing and branding,” he said, matter-of-factly, “we just kinda wanna get our name out there.”
As for coming to the job fair in particular, “We want a team assembled before licensure,” Justin explained, “to make sure that when we are licensed we can hit the ground running.”
For job-seeking Morgan, it was a good event for networking, but didn’t yield many tangible job prospects.
“I think that there’s a lot of work to be had, it’s just not readily available yet,” she said.
The state anticipates the first commercial marijuana operations to open for business in May of 2016.
Walker Hires Mediator to Help Lawmakers Pass A Budget
Annie Feidt, APRN – Anchorage
Governor Bill Walker has hired a mediator to help lawmakers reach a deal on the budget.
Permanent Fund CEO Abruptly Retires
Matt Miller, KTOO – Juneau
The Alaska Permanent Fund Corporation has announced the abrupt retirement of its chief executive officer Mike Burns.
Premera Alaska Files For Another Large Rate Increase
Annie Feidt, APRN – Anchorage
Premera Alaska is asking the federal government to approve an average rate increase of 39 percent for its Affordable Care Act health insurance plans in the state for 2016. That follows a 37 percent increase the federal government approved for 2015.
Rep. Young’s Fisheries Bill Passes the House
Liz Ruskin, APRN – Washington, D.C.
A bill to reauthorize the Magnuson-Stevens Act passed the U.S. House this evening, largely on party lines.
North Pacific Council to Vote on Halibut Bycatch Limits
Rachel Waldholz, KCAW – Sitka
Of the thirty million pounds of halibut caught last year by commercial fishermen statewide, nearly a third was thrown back into the ocean, dead. It were netted accidentally by boats targeting other fish.
U.S. House Votes to Sell Midtown Lot to Muni
Liz Ruskin, APRN – Washington, D.C.
The U.S. House today voted to sell a 9-acre lot in Anchorage to the Municipality, at fair market value. The property at 40th and Denali Street is one of the largest undeveloped lots in Midtown.
City Holds Job Fair for Marijuana Industry
Zachariah Hughes, KSKA – Anchorage
The state’s first ever job fair for careers in commercial cannabis was held in Anchorage over the weekend.
Medicaid Denials May Boot Some Seniors From Assisted Living
Quinton Chandler, KBBI – Homer
Many of Alaska’s seniors are in danger of losing their only means of paying for disability services. The state and the federal government partner in funding in-home and assisted living services for the seniors who qualify. Caregivers say the problem is individuals who met the state’s criteria for years are now being let go from the system.
Gov. Bill Walker has hired a mediator to help lawmakers reach a deal on the budget. Walker made the announcement at an Anchorage news conference this afternoon. He also said state agencies began sending layoff notices to 10,000 workers who could lose their jobs if the legislature doesn’t pass a budget by July 1st, when the new fiscal year begins.
Walker says lawmakers are arguing over a relatively small piece of the budget:
“The amount of difference being argued in the legislature is really approximately 1 percent of the problem. We have $3.5 or $4 billion deficit this year and next year as well. We want to focus on the 99 percent opportunity we have to solve this going forward, and we are.”
The Senate Finance Committee yesterday rejected a compromise between the House majority and minority.
The Governor says he can’t force the various parties to try mediation to resolve their differences, but he thinks it could help. He retained the services of Anchorage lawyer and mediator Matt Peterson.
Peterson says he got a call from Walker early this morning. He says he usually mediates complex litigation involving business disputes, and he thinks the situation in the legislature isn’t so different:
“And in my experience if you can get everyone talking, identify the areas that are agreed upon, and then focus on fair negotiations for the remaining part, as I sit here right now, I’m optimistic this can be mediated.”
Peterson says he’s cleared his schedule for the rest of the week.
Meanwhile, a spokesman for the Democratic-led House minority says negotiations were occurring between the House minority leader and Senate president this afternoon.
Christopher Clark is a former reporter and legislative aid who has been watching the action unfold. He identifies one of the biggest sticking points.
Of the 30 million pounds of halibut caught last year by commercial fishermen statewide, nearly a third was thrown back into the ocean, dead. It were netted accidentally by boats targeting other fish.
Now, that may change. The North Pacific Fishery Management Council, which oversees the federal waters off Alaska, is considering major new limits on wasted halibut — or bycatch — at its meeting in Sitka the week of June 1. The decision will have impacts from Southeast to the Bering Sea.
Critics argue that too many fish are dying in the nets of big Bering Sea trawlers — and that means less halibut for everyone else.
“Halibut’s one of the two most important species, along with salmon, to the coastal communities of Alaska. The bycatch threatens all of that.”
That’s Linda Behnken. She’s the head of ALFA, the Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association, which represents mostly small-boat commercial fishermen.
She calls the Bering Sea Alaska’s halibut “nursery ground.” Studies have found that young fish migrate from there into the Gulf of Alaska and Southeast. And that means…
“What happens in the Bering Sea doesn’t stay in the Bering Sea. What happens in the Bering Sea, happens to all of us.”
And what happens in the Bering Sea is this: trawlers targeting flatfish like yellowfin sole drag their nets through the same deepwater habitat where halibut live — and invariably catch some. The law requires trawlers to discard that halibut, and most fish don’t make it back into the water alive. Last year alone, trawlers scooped up — and discarded — about five million pounds of halibut in the Bering Sea.
This has been the case as long as there’s been trawling. But the issue has become more urgent in recent years, as halibut abundance has dropped.
In the last ten years, the exploitable biomass – that is, the population of fish big enough to catch – has declined by half. And halibut fishermen have seen their catch limits drop with it. But the caps on bycatch have remained essentially the same.
In the Central Bering Sea, halibut fishermen initially faced a 60 percent cut this year. That cut was avoided, but only on the condition that bycatch in the region declines this year. The impacts would be huge, Behnken says.
“The Bering Sea communities, especially communities like St. Paul in the Pribilof Islands. They don’t have salmon. They don’t have musk ox. They don’t have caribou. They don’t have moose. Halibut is the most important species for them for subsistence and for their commercial fisheries… They’re looking at something that I think threatens cultural extinction if they lose the halibut stock.”
ALFA has asked the Council to reduce the trawl bycatch cap by 50 percent.
Woodley: A 50 percent bycatch reduction would be absolutely devastating to the Amendment 80 sector.
Chris Woodley is head of the Groundfish Forum, which represents most of what’s called the “Amendment 80” fleet. That fleet is made up of six companies, most based in Seattle, with about 18 catcher-processors targeting flatfish in the Bering Sea.
Woodley: Essentially our boats would be tying up five to six months early. And it would also significant downstream impacts to the maritime economies of remote communities in Alaska, primarily Unalaska, Adak, Kodiak and Sand Point.
Woodley says the fleet has already made voluntary efforts to reduce bycatch. And they’re asking the Council to let them adopt other measures, like deck sorting, which would allow them to return more halibut to the water alive.
“There may be some more things that we can do. But all of that comes at a cost…And we’re concerned that people don’t appreciate that we’ve already made significant improvements, and it’s not so simple as just flipping a switch and everything gets better. Any additional improvements are going to have potentially huge costs to our fleet. And what we don’t want is a strict regulatory solution to this.”
For Behnken, the big issue is what kind of fisheries Alaska wants. The commercial halibut fleet is made up of about a thousand small boats, most of them family-owned.
“So I would say the way fisheries are changing, it’s the way our country’s changing. It’s what small farmers have faced. It’s the industrialization of the food system…To me, this decision the council is facing, it’s really a landmark decision. They are deciding between a fishery that has a hundred-year tradition of being commercially exploited by small boats, community based, this is a really important fishery to Alaska, and this fish being taken as bycatch, wasted in the industrial, Seattle-based fleet.”
But whether the Council sees it that way is up in the air. The Council is expected to vote on bycatch caps this weekend.
The North Pacific Fishery Management Council is meeting in Sitka’s Harrigan Centennial Hall through Tuesday, June 9. There are opportunities for public comment throughout the week. You can find a link to the council’s full schedule and livestream, along with instructions for those who wish to comment, on kcaw.org.
First, picture a nursing home. Main Street Assisted Living in Homer is the polar opposite of that. It’s a house. In the center is a living room and directly behind it a full kitchen. Hallways to the left and right lead to bedrooms and a downstairs office. Seventy-five-year-old Lily Mann says she came to the center seven or eight years ago.
“I was rescued by Adult Protective Services at the request of my doctor who said I was no longer safe to live at home. Now they want to throw me out. The state rescued me and now they want to get rid of me. It’s mind-boggling,” says Mann.
Mann says before, she was “falling and breaking things.” She still has balance issues. She recently fell and hurt her foot. She also needs help with basic hygiene. These are things so personal she’s embarrassed to discuss some of them.
“I get help with bathing. I get help with treating my recurrent yeast infections which I’m physically incapable of reaching. I get help with cleaning my sleep [apnea] machine. They do the usual stuff. They carry away all the wet diapers,” says Mann.
Now she might lose it all.
“I was just told I was denied,” Mann says.
When Mann says denied, she’s talking about her Medicaid waiver. Presently the state uses four types of waivers. The one we’re interested in is titled 1915-C or just the “C option.” Seniors who use the C option choose to live in their own home with a personal nurse, or in an assisted living home. But they must be eligible for institutional level of care. Simply put, they have to be able to gain admittance into a nursing home even though they are choosing not to live in one. Brian Richardson is CEO of Immediate Care. It’s a company that provides assisted living services to clients across the state:
“In 2013 there was a change in the Alaska State Regulations. The industry believes the interpretation of a certain two sentences in those regulations has led to people being declared ineligible for nursing home supports and therefore ineligible for these kinds of Home and Community Based Services,” says Richardson.
Senior Disabilities Services, or SDS, Director Duane Mayes disputes Richardson’s claims. He says the Department is controlling the Medicaid waiver programs just as it was always meant to; but one key development gives the impression that more denials are being mailed than should be.
“There were lawsuits from a long time ago specific to our Personal Care Attendant program and our Medicaid Waiver program,” says Mayes.
According to Mayes those lawsuits challenged SDS’ methods for assessing individuals’ eligibility for these programs. The appeal process the department provided people who didn’t agree with their assessment was also under scrutiny.
“And so we resolved those lawsuits. So literally for a period of seven to eight years we were unable to remove anybody that no longer met level of care from our waiver system,” explains Mayes.
Mayes says it was about three years ago that those lawsuits were settled. That’s around the same time Richardson says there was a jump in the number of people found ineligible.
“I think that’s probably the impact people are feeling is now when we do our job and we determine if a person continues to meet eligibility for the waiver program. If there’s a senior who can change for the better, and they no longer meet eligibility, then we need to address other types of services for those individuals,” Mayes explains.
Waiver recipients go through an initial assessment when they first apply and they are reassessed annually. Caregivers and residents at Main Street Assisted Living think the assessments don’t go far enough. They say they only focus on physical abilities like; can a resident feed themselves, can they turn over in bed, or go to the bathroom alone. Mayes defends the assessment. He says it’s the same process the department has always used. And the department’s findings are reviewed by a third party contractor.
There’s one more check on the process. People deemed ineligible are guaranteed an appeal. Right now Lily Mann is in the middle of appealing her denial. She’s gotten help from an attorney with the Office of Public Advocacy. The owner of Main Street Assisted Living says 9 out her 15 residents are at risk of losing their waiver.
“They’re going to be dumping a lot of people out. I can’t go back to where I was living. I guess I’d just be competing with everybody else for a senior apartment or something like that,” says Mann.
Even if Mann finds a place it’s unclear how she’ll pay for it let alone get the care she needs.
This is the first report in a three-part series. Next we’ll explore the state’s assessment process and options available to seniors in danger of losing their waiver.
The Alaska Permanent Fund Corporation has announced the abrupt retirement of its chief executive officer Mike Burns.
Burns’ immediate departure is due to unspecified health concerns, according to a short statement issued on Monday.
Chief Financial Officer Valerie Mertz has been named as acting CEO as the search gets underway for interim and permanent replacements.
The Corporation’s Board of Trustees convened a special meeting by teleconference on Monday morning to accept Burns’ retirement.
Board Chair Bill Moran said that they appreciate the many years of service and outstanding performance that Burns brought to his role as CEO.
According to state figures, Burns made $346,000 in salary in 2014. He also received 120-thousand dollars in additional compensation and benefits such as health insurance and retirement.
The Alaska Permanent Fund Corporation is a state-owned corporation responsible for managing the state’s oil wealth savings account. It’s different than the Permanent Fund Dividend Division which is the state division responsible for vetting applicants for the dividend and disbursing checks every October.
Burns was president of KeyBank, National Association Alaska before he was named CEO of the permanent fund corporation in August 2004. He also served as president of Alaska Pacific Bank before it combined with First National Bank of Fairbanks to become KeyBank of Alaska.
The market value of the Alaska Permanent Fund is now up to nearly $54.5 billion dollars.
A bill to reauthorize the Magnuson-Stevens Act, the nation’s primary fishing law, passed the U.S. House this evening, largely on party lines. The sponsor, Alaska Congressman Don Young, says the bill makes practical revisions to continue a law that has restored the health of America’s fisheries.
“The opposition is coming from – you know, not the fishing community. It’s coming from very frankly from the environmental community, and why they’re opposing it I don’t really know. Other than the fact that they think I’m weakening NEPA. I’m not. The Endangered Species (Act), I am not,” Young said. “This bill is originally and it always should be a sustainable yield fisheries bill for the fish and for the communities.”
Much of the debate on the House floor did concern NEPA, the National Environmental Protection Act. Democrats, like Rep. Debbie Dingell of Michigan, say Young’s bill would gut the public process required under NEPA.
“Stakeholders, including businesses and individuals, would get less consideration in the council process and would not have a way of voicing their concerns and influencing the directions of plans or projects that threaten the environment or the livelihoods of these people,” she said.
Young says the same environmental review required by NEPA would still take place, but it would be part of the Council process, to avoid duplication.
Young’s bill also introduces a controversial element of flexibility in fisheries management. It would eliminate the mandatory 10-year planning period for rebuilding depleted stocks. Opponents says that allows for commercial interests to pressure managers to set harvest levels too high. Young, though, says the rebuilding time frame should vary, depending on the needs of the species.
The White House has already threatened to veto the bill. Young says the veto threat is premature, since the bill will be revised once the Senate passes its version and the two bills are renegotiated in a conference committee.
The U.S. House today voted to sell a 9-acre lot in Anchorage to the Municipality, at fair market value. The property at 40th and Denali Street is one of the largest undeveloped lots in Midtown. The late Sen. Ted Stevens intended the site to be the Alaska location of the National Archives. With his support, the government bought the land in 2004 from real estate developers John Rubini and Leonard Hyde for $3.5 million. But when Stevens lost his Senate seat, the project had no champion and was never constructed. Anchorage Mayor Dan Sullivan wanted the land as a transit hub. The transition manager for Ethan Berkowitz says the mayor-elect is still considering the best use for the land. The bill next moves to the Senate.
Premera Alaska is asking the state and federal government to approve an average rate increase of 39 percent for its Affordable Care Act health insurance plans in the state for 2016. That follows a 37 percent that was approved for 2015.
The company says a small number of customers with complex medical problems are filing millions of dollars in claims that can’t be absorbed by the small size of the insurance pool in Alaska. Premera has about 8,000 members on Affordable Care Act plans in the state.
The company is working with the state of Alaska to develop a program that would help spread the risk of expensive claims and stabilize the market.
Many Premera members who buy insurance on Healthcare.gov qualify for subsidies that will help lesson the impact of any increase.
Moda Health, the other insurer who offers health plans on the federal exchange in Alaska, has filed for an average rate increase of about 22 percent.
The state will make its decision by August 25th.
This story is part of a reporting partnership between APRN, NPR and Kaiser Health News.
June has ushered in a dramatic change in the weather as a cold front from the high arctic dips into Alaska. National Weather Service meteorologist Chris Cox in Fairbanks says the system is packing an un-summery punch.
“We’ve had some strong winds reported up on the Dalton Highway where we’ve had some trees knocked down near the highway up there, and here in the interior, we’ve had temperatures drop substantially, and we’ve had reports of snow in the Delta Junction and Salcha areas, and we’ve actually had some reported power outages, as some of the snow has accumulated in the trees.”
Cox says the weather system is tracking south, and as Interior skies clear and winds calm overnight, there’s the potential for frost.
As Marijuana Rules Take Shape, Focus is On Control
Zachariah Hughes, KSKA – Anchorage
The state has a year until it begins issuing licenses for businesses selling recreational marijuana.
Supreme Court: DNR Wrongfully Issued Pebble Permits
David Bendinger, KDLG – Dillingham
Just a day after two federal lawsuits involving the Pebble Mine were in the news, mine opponents Friday are hailing the Alaska Supreme Court’s decisions on two state cases.
AIDEA Holds Off On F.N.G. Decision
Dan Bross, KUAC –Fairbanks
The Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority has delayed action on the state agency’s proposed purchase of Fairbanks Natural Gas parent company Pentex.
Earthquake Rattles Southwest Alaska
David Bendinger, KDLG – Dillingham
There were no tsunami warnings, but last night’s 6.4 magnitude earthquake northeast of the Chigniks rattled residents all over Southwest Alaska.
State Reacts To Study Linking Childhood Obesity to Domestic Violence
Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Anchorage
A recent study linked obesity in children to domestic violence. Now, evidence indicates that childhood trauma can spur physical disease later on, when an abused child reaches adulthood.
UAS Chancellor John Pugh Leaves Behind a Legacy of Caring for Students
Lisa Phu, KTOO – Juneau
Friday is John Pugh’s last day as Chancellor of the University of Alaska Southeast. He’s retiring after almost three decades with the college.
AK: A Teenager And His Past
Elizabeth Jenkins, KTOO – Juneau
It’s graduation season for Alaska’s high school seniors. Earning a diploma marks a milestone in a person’s life. And for one Juneau student, that milestone is especially sweet after his high school experience was interrupted with several trips to juvenile detention.
49 Voices: Amanda Cash and ‘The Magpie’
Annie Feidt, APRN – Anchorage
This week, we’re talking with chef Amanda Cash, who owns a new food trailer in Anchorage called ‘The Magpie’ that specializes in making breakfast- and lunch- with local ingredients.
On Sunday evening, an airborne collision between two airplanes hospitalized an Eagle River man.
At 5:15 pm, the Alaska State Troopers responded to a report of the collision at the Talkeetna State Airport.
According to reports from Troopers and other witnesses, a Cessna 185 belonging to Talkeetna Air Taxi was piloted by Antonio Benavides and carrying four passengers when it collided with a Cessna 172 piloted by Cole Hagge of Eagle River. Both planes suffered significant damage. Hague was transported to Mat-Su Regional Medical Center with what Troopers are calling non-life threatening injuries. The passengers and pilot aboard the Cessna 185 were uninjured.
Shaun Williams, who is investigating the incident for the National Transportation Safety Board, says that both aircraft were descending to land at the Talkeetna Airport when the incident occurred. He says a preliminary report will likely be issued in the next five-to-ten days, but that the full report could take up to a year to be released.
This is a developing story.
Searchers have found the wreckage of the Yute Air plane that’s been missing since Saturday morning. A team Sunday evening spotted the Cessna 207 in the Kwethluk River, about 40 miles southeast of Bethel.
According to the Alaska Rescue Coordination Center, a Yute pilot first spotted the downed airplane in the river at about 6:45 Sunday evening. A civil air patrol pilot confirmed the wreck moments later. Crews on a jet boat and helicopter left early today to go to the scene.
Megan Peters is a spokesperson for the Alaska State Troopers.
“We have our troopers as well as other agencies, including the National Transportation Safety Board, going to the site to look at the wreckage, to look at the circumstances, to hopefully recover the pilot,” said Peters.
The plane left Bethel at about 8:30 Saturday morning after a maintenance check and should have been back in three hours. It never returned.
Yute Air offices in Bethel were closed yesterday and remain closed today. Yute Air serves the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta, providing flights for passengers and freight to more than 20 surrounding villages as well as charters around the state.
A search is on for a Yute Air pilot who did not return from a flight out of Bethel Saturday. The Alaska Rescue Coordination Center is in charge of the search and rescue operation. Troopers and others are assisting in the search.
Searchers say the missing plane is a Cessna 207. According to National Transportation Safety Board officials the flight left Bethel Saturday morning after maintenance and never returned.
The Alaska Department of Public Safety is providing aircraft to assist in coordination with the civil air patrol and military assets.
Yute Air offices in Bethel were closed yesterday and remain closed this morning. Yute Air serves the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta, providing flights for passengers and freight to more than 20 surrounding villages as well as charters around the state.
Daysha Eaton contributed to this story.
Nome Superior Court Judge Timothy Dooley is facing a host of allegations from a judicial oversight commission for alleged violations of professional conduct, as well as violating sections of state law that the charges allege call his integrity into question.
In all, the Alaska Commission on Judicial Conduct cites six incidents—brought to their attention through anonymous complaints—beginning the first month Dooley was on the job in May of 2013 and running through September of last year.
Courtroom recordings, made available through the commission, highlight a series of statements by Dooley the commission said violates state law and the state’s code of conduct for judges, by showing “insensitivity” to victims, witnesses, and others in both criminal and civil cases.
In a May 2013 hearing, Judge Dooley asked a man facing a misdemeanor charge of resisting arrest:
“You don’t have to answer this question, but has anything good ever come out of drinking other than sex with a pretty girl?”
In a November 2013 sentencing hearing—after a guilty conviction for sexual abuse of a 14-year-old girl—Dooley said to the man being sentenced:
“From what I’ve read this was not someone who was, I hate to use the phrase asking for it, there are girls out there who seem to be temptresses, and this does not appear to be anything like that.”
In August 2014 Judge Dooley said during a domestic violence case, when a juror could not hear the victim on the stand: “I’m not allowed to slap her around, I can just say something.”
A civil trial that same month showcased Dooley’s self-described “medieval Christianity;” statements the commission said are “inappropriate to the dignity of judicial office.”
“I’m going to enforce those oaths, and they’re enforceable with a two year sentence for perjury. And I’d be the sentencing judge,” Dooley began. “I also have a medieval Christianity that says if you violate an oath, you’re going to hell. You all may not share that, but I’m planning to populate hell.”
A final violation alleges Judge Dooley essentially bargained a specific sentence in exchange for a defendant’s “no contest” plea. In addition, the commission states the defendant didn’t have a lawyer, all of which the commission claims is conduct that harms “the administration of justice” and brings the judicial office “into disrepute.”
Marla Greenstein is the executive director of the commission. She said the complaint was built on review of court transcripts and interviews with people working in the Nome legal system. (The names of those interviewed, Greenstein added, remains confidential at this time.) She said the case has been building for months.
“The commission evaluates the conduct in the investigation at various stages and gave notice to [Judge Dooley] several times in the process,” Greenstein said. “The point where they made the determination it was serious enough to warrant public charges was at a meeting on May 12.”
Judge Dooley has 20 days to respond to the complaint. He said Wednesday he has no comment on the alleged violations.
Greenstein said Judge Dooley could face a hearing before the nine members of the commission (she estimates as early as November). He could also reach a settlement before a hearing. Either outcome will ultimately go before the state Supreme Court, which will rule on one of three possible outcomes.
“A public censure, basically a public statement that the conduct was wrong and violated the Code of Judicial Conduct,” Greenstein said. Judge Dooley could also face “suspension from office for a certain period of time; and then, the most severe, is a removal from office.”
Only one judge has faced that “most severe” punishment, former Bethel Judge Dennis Cummings, who was removed from his position as judge in January 2013.
An Alaska resident for nearly 40 years, Judge Dooley has lived all over the state, from urban hubs like Anchorage and Fairbanks to rural communities like Bethel and the North Slope. He opened an Anchorage-based private law practice in 1993. He assumed his current position in Nome in March of 2013 by appointment from former governor Sean Parnell.
Tribal leaders and commercial fishermen are protesting against military exercises planned for the Gulf of Alaska.
Dozens of fishing boats and kayaks set out on the Port of Kodiak Saturday while supporters set off smoke bombs and flares.
Alaska’s largest military exercise this year is scheduled to begin in June on land and at sea.
Sunaq (Pronounced SHU-Nak) tribal chairwoman Sophie Frets says she’s concerned about damage to salmon, crab and other marine life. She says fish have been a part of her ancestors’ diet for generations and she doesn’t want to lose cultural traditions.
Alaska Command Spokeswoman Anastasia Wasem says damage mitigation is a major part of the exercise. She says the military wouldn’t do the drills if it thought the exercises would harm the environment.