Alaska News

Senate Passes Pot Bill, Without Concentrate Ban

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2015-03-30 17:34

When Alaskans voted to regulate marijuana, a discrepancy was created where possession of small amounts of the drug was legal and where possession of larger amounts meant higher level felonies. The Alaska Senate has passed a bill to bridge the gap. And in the process, they rejected a controversial effort to preemptively ban marijuana concentrates. APRN’s Alexandra Gutierrez reports.

Sen. Pete Kelly, a Fairbanks Republican, presented his amendment using images of marijuana candies and buildings consumed in fiery infernos.

“What drug is smoked in a glass apparatus using a propane torch to heat metal elements so the drug can be instantly vaporized allowing large quantities to be inhaled in a single hit? What drug is highly manufactured using volatile flammables and occasionally explodes in neighborhood labs?” asked Kelly, rhetorically.

Kelly likened the making of marijuana concentrates like butane hash oil to the manufacture of meth, and said that children would die if his amendment did not pass. While Kelly would have liked to have banned concentrates immediately, his measure was written to go into effect in two years — which is the soonest that legislators can fundamentally alter a ballot initiative, according to the state Constitution.

He argued that people were voting for legalization of the “leafy stuff,” not the sale of pot brownies, candies, and other forms of concentrates.

“If people knew what concentrates are, they would never ever vote for that,” said Kelly. “I’m convinced of that.”

Many members of the Senate disagreed. Sen. Lesil McGuire, an Anchorage Republican, pointed out that with 53 percent of the vote, the marijuana initiative was more successful than any single candidate for statewide office. She argued that the debate over whether concentrates should be allowed was a key issue of the campaign.

“What I believe is that the people, in the plain language that was presented to them, saw a definition that included the word ‘concentrate,’ saw a definition that included the word ‘compound,'” said McGuire. “There were 40 hearings across the state. There were eight of them held by the lieutenant governor alone just on this particular subject. And in almost every one of those hearings, it devolved into a debate over concentrates.”

Kelly’s amendment ultimately failed 14 to 6. The vote was an unusual one, with many Republicans voting against their colleague’s proposal.

An amendment that would have de-listed marijuana as a controlled substance also received considerable debate before ultimately failing. Supporters of the measure argued that because alcohol is not a controlled substance under Alaska law, marijuana should not be treated as one either, according to the initiative.

The marijuana crime bill, when considered in full, passed 17 to 3, with a bloc of Anchorage Democrats opposing it over the controlled substance language. It will now be considered by the House.

Categories: Alaska News

Legislature Diving Into Anchorage’s Violent Crime, Potentially Bringing New Funds

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2015-03-27 19:15

With a spike in shootings and homicides in Anchorage since the start of the year, legislators in Juneau heard testimony Friday on why violent crime appears to be rising, and what assistance state law-makers may be able to provide through appropriations.

Senators from Southcentral Alaska like Democrat Bill Wielechowski of Anchorage want to know what is driving the 33 shootings and 10 homicides in the city this year.

“What can we do? What’s the problem? And is it something we should be involved in?” Wielechowski asked. It’s why he and others requested a session to get background information and hear potential action items.

The Judiciary committee heard testimony on a range of issues, from drugs and gangs to staffing levels. Anchorage Mayor Dan Sullivan explained to the body that reducing the size of the police force during his tenure was a necessity given the financial situation his administration inherited.

“We agree with virtually all the speakers about staffing levels,” Sullivan said by phone. “You guys right now are going through a big challenge regarding budget. Well, I went through that big challenge, too, when I came into office in 2009. And when you’re facing multi-million dollar deficits you have to take some steps to make sure your budget is in balance while also focusing on your priorities.”

Sullivan pushed back against perceptions that crime is on the rise. He cites statistics showing overall crime has been on a years-long decline in Anchorage. He also says the total number of crimes reported today is less than it was decades ago when Anchorage’s population was significantly smaller.

But Detective Jeff Bell offered a very different view, telling legislators the focus on Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) statistics says more about the city’s approach to policing than it does about crimes taking place. Bell told lawmakers the type of proactive policing conducted by the city’s gang and theft units years ago works well, but does not necessarily look good on paper.

“You’re not going see those numbers in the UCR, because we don’t report what we don’t know, and we don’t know how many crimes were prevented by us being proactive,” said Bell. “And there’s just no way of measuring that.”

Bell is vice president of the Anchorage Police Department Employees Association, the officers union that has been critical of Sullivan’s controversial AO-37 proposal and the administration’s approach to public safety.

Based on the testimony, Wielechowski thinks the issue is fundamentally one of resources. He’s considering allocations in the budget like a grant to help cover costs from extra over-time. Although Wielechowski concedes that new expenditures are not an easy sell in the current fiscal environment.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska Senate Delays Vote On Pot Legislation

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2015-03-27 17:08

The Alaska Senate has delayed a vote on its signature marijuana bill after saying they need more time to consider an amendment that would largely ban concentrates.

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Sen. Pete Kelly, a Fairbanks Republican, said a “drafting issue” with his amendment caused the hold-up. The measure gives marijuana concentrates – like hash oil and edibles – the felony treatment, but includes an exception for concentrates meant for medicinal use. Because the Constitution bans the Legislature from tampering with ballot initiatives for two years after they go into effect, the ban on concentrates would not start until 2017.

Kelly says he’s offering the amendment now to send a message to the nascent marijuana industry.

“To have them spend money on display cases and processing and all that stuff – inventory, only to have it be illegal two years from now,” Kelly said. “This way it says, before you even start investing, this particular part of your business is going to be illegal. I just didn’t think it was far to the people who might be investing.”

This is Kelly’s second attempt to ban concentrates through the marijuana bill. The measure was briefly adopted during the committee process, but was removed after an outcry that it went against the spirit of the initiative.

Bruce Schulte is with the Coalition for Responsible Cannabis Legislation, and he lobbies on behalf of the marijuana industry. He describes the amendment as a “preemptive repeal” of the ballot measure.

“I would liken it to a legislative timebomb. They’re going to set this bomb in statute, and they’re going to light a two-year fuse on it,” Schulte said. “And they’re trying to guarantee that a legitimate marijuana industry will not develop. It cannot because nobody is going to go into business when they know that their entire business model is going to crumble on February 24, 2017.”

The amendment, and the full marijuana bill, is scheduled for a vote on Monday.

Categories: Alaska News

Court of Appeals Affirms Lower Court in Yup’ik Fishermen’s Case

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2015-03-27 17:05

The Alaska Court of Appeals has affirmed a lower court’s decision that Yup’ik Fishermen who fished during a state closure should be charged. The decision was issued today.

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In 2012, the thirteen defendants, all Yup’ik Alaska Native fishermen living a subsistence lifestyle, were convicted of violating the Alaska Department of Fish and Game’s emergency orders restricting fishing for king salmon on the Kuskokwim River.

The defendants moved for dismissal of the charges, asserting that their fishing for king salmon was a religious activity, and that they were entitled to a religious exemption from the emergency orders under the free exercise clause of the Alaska Constitution.

The District Court said the state’s responsibility to protect the declining species of fish outweighed the men’s claim of religious rights.

Attorneys for the Yup’ik fishermen plan to appeal the case to the Alaska Supreme Court.

Categories: Alaska News

Warm Interior Weather Turns Attention To River Breakup

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2015-03-27 17:04

This week’s warm weather is turning attention to river break up.

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National Weather Service hydrologist Ed Plumb is tracking the factors that play into ice flowing out.

“Basically from Fairbanks eastward, it’s been kind of more typical winter, at least when you look at the ice thicknesses, and the snowpack on the ground,” Plumb said. “Versus further to our west and south. As you go into the western interior, the snowpack is well below normal, and this is the same case as you go south of the Alaska Range.”

Plumb says above normal snowpack in the Canadian Yukon will send a lot of water into the upper Yukon River, but a forecasted trend of warm days and cool nights should meter the influx, and promote a gradual break up. Plumb says ice thicknesses going into spring are, as usual, variable.

“Most of the lakes are running a little bit above normal thicknesses, where as some of the river sites are little bit below normal,” Plumb said.

That was the case on the Tanana River at Nenena at the beginning of March, but Nenana Ice Classic manager Cherrie Forness says this week’s ice measurement of 35 inches was closer to the norm for this time of year.

“I think it’s a pretty average year,” Forness said.

Break up timing has a lot to do with weather, and the thermometer pushed 50 degrees in recent days.

“We are having extremely warm temperatures, so we’re thinking that the ice will go out early,” Forness said.

Forness says the earliest the ice has ever gone out at Nenana is April 20th. Last year the tri-pod tipped on April 25th. Ice Classic tickets remain for sale through April 5th.

Categories: Alaska News

Round-the-world Bicycle Traveler Stops Over in Fairbanks

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2015-03-27 17:03

Angelo Wilkie-Page. (Credit Angelo Wilkie-Page)

A South African adventurer pedaled a bike into Fairbanks this week, completing the first leg of a journey that will take him around the world twice over 8 years.

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Categories: Alaska News

Family of Four Starts 500-mile Trek to Kotzebue

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2015-03-27 17:02

The Higman/McKittrick family start their own journey from the Iditarod finish line on Friday. Photo courtesy of Betsy Brennan.

As Iditarod mushers were finishing their 1,000-mile journey, a family of four was just beginning their own trek from under the ceremonial burled arch. Bretwood “Hig” Higman, Erin McKittrick, and their two young kids Katmai and Lituya started their 500-mile trek from Nome to Kotzebue on Friday. Over the next few months, they plan to walk, ski and paddle up the Bering Strait.

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“We’re planning to head out around the coast and visit all the villages along the way and then end up in Kotzebue,” Erin explains.

As for gear, they’ve packed a lot of insulation, food, and creative ways to move across the land and water.

“We have pack rafts that we’re putting skids on and are going to be using as sleds, but we expect we’ll be paddling in them at some point,” Hig said. “The kids have skis that we can make into kick sleds. They can also ride in the raft sled or they can walk so we have all these different possibilities. Hopefully some combination of those will make for a fun, successful trip.”

Trekking is nothing new for this family. Erin and Hig met in college in Minnesota and soon got hooked on long-distance trekking. In 2007, they trekked 4,000 miles from Seattle to the Aleutian Islands, spending over a year in the wilderness. After having kids, they thought they’d have to put those long treks aside for a while, but instead their 6-year-old and 4-year-old come along for the journeys.

“We did a few little trips though with the kids and started saying, you know, this is quite possible and historically people traveled and did all sorts of incredible things with kids,” Hig said.

 And it’s a learning experience for all of them. Hig and Erin have backgrounds in geology and molecular biology respectively, and their expeditions allow them to see climate change right before their eyes.

“Going around Alaska right now and looking at the effects of climate change, you can go out and be in places and see changes that are happening on human time scales, in just a few years landscapes are changing, rivers are moving, new plants coming in, glaciers are retreating, all this stuff is happening really, really fast,” Hig said.

Through blogs, books and films, they hope to share their observations to help educate people about the effects of climate change. This time, they’re really interested in learning about sea ice changes, and they are always looking to learn from the people they meet along the way.

“We kind of almost look at it as a piece of gear now, something we carry with us is we carry a question,” Hig explains. “We’ve been asking everyone we can about what they think is coming up for the future of Alaska, what are we going to see in the next couple generations?”

If you want to keep up with Hig and Erin’s journey and meet the family as they pass through your village, you can go towww.groundtruthtrekking.org or find them on Facebook to follow their progress.

Categories: Alaska News

AK: The Middle Ages

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2015-03-27 17:01

A fighter prepares for battle. (Photo by Shady Grove Oliver, KBBI – Homer)

Feasts, jousting, and medieval dress are just your average afternoon for members of the Society for Creative Anachronism. Participants are dedicated to researching and recreating the arts and culture of pre-17th century Europe.

KBBI’s Shady Grove Oliver joined the Alaska contingent for its annual Bi-Baronial Collegium in Wasilla and reports it’s about values, family, and finding a place to fit in.

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Once upon a time in the Kingdom of the West there was a great leatherworker named Gregor Hawke.

He was known across the land for making the strongest and most beautiful leather armor. One day, he decided to teach others his craft. In March of the 49th year of the Society for Creative Anachronism, he led a belt making workshop.

Belt made by Gregor Hawke. (Photo by Shady Grove Oliver, KBBI – Homer)

Gregor is showing his students how to attach the buckle.

Gregor is from the Principality of Oertha, or Alaska, as it’s known in the mundane or modern world, where he also goes by the name Michael Snyder. He’s a member of the SCA. It’s a reenactment society, with thousands of members worldwide. Local groups like this one meet as often as they can to celebrate medieval times.

Gregor’s hands deftly work the leather. The passion that shows in his work also comes out when he talks about the SCA.

He first joined 25 years ago after going to a Renaissance Faire.

“My best friend, his high school coach in wrestling was out there fighting, dressed up in armor and everything,” he said. “We’d known the guy for years and we had no idea he was into this and it was hook, line and sinker. As soon as we saw them hit each other with a sword, the very first time, we were like, this is what we want to do.”

A fighter suits up in armor. (Photo by Shady Grove Oliver, KBBI – Homer)

Lilla aet Sceaphylle is helping the fighters suit up in full armor.

“I’m from the Barony of Wintersgate, the Principality of Oertha, the Kingdom of the West. My mundane name is Michelle Webb. I live in Fairbanks, Alaska.”

She’s been in the SCA for more than a decade.

“Originally the attraction was all the things you imagine, princesses and swordfights and all of that kind of great stuff that you really want to do when you’re eight years old and finally there were grownups doing it and it was so exciting,” she said. “And it’s still that exciting.”

Cemper O’Breoniann, baroness of Winters Gate. (Photo by Shady Grove Oliver, KBBI – Homer)

The SCA is based on the feudal system of medieval Europe. The “Known World” is broken up into kingdoms, like the West which includes California, Alaska, parts of east Asia and more, then principalities, like Alaska, baronies, like Fairbanks, and so on. Each has its own nobles, knights, and craftspeople.

“In the society, instead of creating a character, like you would in a game, you create a persona, which I think would be best described as a medieval version of yourself,” Lilla said.

“We are the Society for Creative Anachronism and anachronism is something out of its place in time. I think everybody here would say that explains who they are,” Marjorie de Ffeyrefeld, or Tina Smith, is a baronial chronicler.

She’s also an accomplished calligrapher who handwrites and illuminates most of the official documents for the Alaskan SCA. She says the society doesn’t try to exactly recreate the past, but reimagines it. They keep the exciting parts of medieval life, chivalry and dancing, and leave out the bad parts like the Plague.

“Doesn’t everybody want to escape from their life and live in a better place?” Marjorie said. “I mean, they talk about heaven being a better place but we can’t get there until we’re done with this life. I’m not done with this life yet.”

That seems to be the heart of SCA. It’s where people go to find their place. Gregor Hawke says his life before the SCA was very different.

“It’s kind of a sad story. My dad was really abusive, beat up on my mom and everyone a lot. I didn’t really know how to trust anybody. I didn’t know how to love and things like that,” Gregor said. “All’s I knew was fear, fear and hate and hopelessness. I probably wouldn’t be here right now without the society.”

Through the society Gregor found a new family and a creative outlet. Stories like his are common among SCA members. Many credit the society with getting their lives back on track and using the past to get to a better future.

“Everything is about everybody else. We try to elevate each other and in that, we get our gratification, knowing you’re a part of a bigger story and helping somebody achieve goals and something like that,” Marjorie said. “If you’re supporting everybody and they’re supporting everybody, you’ve got hundreds of people on your side helping you and that’s what I like about the SCA and I wish I could see that more in the real world.”

SCA members watch a sword fight. (Photo by Shady Grove Oliver, KBBI – Homer)

Gregor says that’s why he’ll continue on as a leatherworker, as a fighter, and why he hopes to someday be King of the West- to help lead others down the same path.

“Oh yeah, I’ll die of old age,” he said. “I’ll be here ‘til the bitter end.”

And then, he’ll be able to say he did live happily ever after.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: March 27, 2015

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2015-03-27 17:00

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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Alaska Senate Delays Vote On Pot Legislation

Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN – Juneau

The Alaska Senate has delayed a vote on its signature marijuana bill after saying they need more time to consider an amendment that would largely ban concentrates.

Legislative Analyst Offers Gloomy Budget Outlook

Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN – Juneau

A standing-room-only crowd gathered yesterday in the capital to watch a special budget presentation that had been discussed in murmurs for weeks. The outlook for the state was somewhere between gloomy and apocalyptic.

Alaskans Testify On Governor’s Medicaid Expansion Bill

Annie Feidt, APRN – Anchorage

Lawmakers took public testimony for the first time Thursday on Governor Bill Walker’s bill to expand Medicaid. The public spoke during the last 30 minutes of  the House Health and Social Services committee’s hearing on HB 148.

Murkowski Adds Federal Land Disposal Measure to Budget

Liz Ruskin, APRN – Washington DC

Environmentalists are saying a budget amendment authored by Sen. Lisa Murkowski could lead to a plundering of treasured federal landscapes. Murkowski’s amendment on federal land disposals was part of a national budget resolution the Senate passed early this morning.

Court of Appeals Affirms Lower Court in Yup’ik Fishermen’s Case

Daysha Eaton, KYUK – Bethel

The Alaska Court of Appeals has affirmed a lower court’s decision that Yup’ik Fishermen who fished during a state closure should be charged. The decision was issued today.

Warm Interior Weather Turns Attention To River Breakup

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

This week’s warm weather is turning attention to river break up. National Weather Service hydrologist Ed Plumb is tracking the factors that play into ice flowing out.

Round-the-world Bicycle Traveler Stops Over in Fairbanks

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

A South African adventurer pedaled a bike into Fairbanks this week, completing the first leg of a journey that will take him around the world twice over 8 years.

Family of Four Starts 500-mile Trek to Kotzebue

Kristin Leffler, KNOM – Nome

As Iditarod mushers were finishing their 1,000-mile journey, a family of four was just beginning their own trek from under the ceremonial burled arch.

AK: The Middle Ages

Shady Grove Oliver, KBBI – Homer

Feasts, jousting, and medieval dress are just your average afternoon for members of the Society for Creative Anachronism. Participants are dedicated to researching and recreating the arts and culture of pre-17th century Europe. KBBI’s Shady Grove Oliver joined the Alaska contingent for its annual Bi-Baronial Collegium in Wasilla and reports it’s about values, family, and finding a place to fit in.

49 Voices: Dan Distor of Mountain Village

This week we hear from a Filipino high school student who moved to Pilot Station from Texas with his family when he was a first grader. Dan Distor lives in Mountain Village.

Categories: Alaska News

49 Voices: Dan Distor of Mountain Village

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2015-03-27 17:00

This week we hear from a Filipino high school student who moved to Pilot Station from Texas with his family when he was a first grader. Dan Distor lives in Mountain Village.

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Categories: Alaska News

Alaskans Testify On Governor’s Medicaid Expansion Bill

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2015-03-27 16:40

Lawmakers took public testimony for the first time yesterday (Thursday) on Governor Bill Walker’s bill to expand Medicaid. The public spoke during the last 30 minutes of the House Health and Social Services committee’s hearing on HB 148.

Nearly everyone spoke in favor of Medicaid expansion. The committee heard from a youth pastor, a small business owner and the head of the Alaska State Hospital and Nursing Home Association.

Juneau resident Alyson Currey told the committee she is a social worker who too often sees clients who have to make do without health care:

“It is an injustice to me that today if you’re a childless adult without a disability in Alaska making less than $20,000 a year, which equals to just under $10 an hour, you have no affordable health care coverage available to you.”

The Committee plans to spend a lot more time taking public testimony on Medicaid expansion at a hearing this Saturday, starting at 3pm.

Most local Legislative Information Offices will be open around the state to allow people to testify outside of Juneau.

This story is part of a reporting partnership between APRN, NPR and Kaiser Health News.

Categories: Alaska News

Murkowski Adds Federal Land Disposal Measure to Budget

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2015-03-27 13:33

Environmentalists are saying a budget amendment authored by Sen. Lisa Murkowski could lead to a plundering of treasured federal landscapes. Murkowski’s amendment on federal land disposals was part of a national budget resolution the Senate passed early this morning. Senators offered hundreds of amendments that don’t have the force of law but often serve symbolic or political purposes.

Murkowski said on the Senate floor her amendment could facilitate state and local land exchanges to create balanced resource policy. But, the senator says, the amendment doesn’t, on its own, sell or exchange any particular piece of federal land.

“Any legislation enabled by this spending-neutral reserve fund will have to go through the process and be voted either up or down in regular order,” she said. “But the language does specify what cannot be considered, and that’s any land that’s located within a national park, within a national preserve or a national monument. Those will continue to be protected.”

 

Alaska Wilderness League Conservation Director Kristen Miller says Murkowski’s amendment leaves refuges, national forests and other lands vulnerable.

“The way the legislation reads, it’s targeted at every single one of our public lands across the country that didn’t fall into the categories explicitly listed, so it’s dangerous everywhere from the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge down to, you know, the bottom of Florida,’ she said.

Miller says it’s not clear what the implications are for the non-binding measure.

“It’s hard to say. I mean, the amendment was brought to the floor. It was voted on. The way you read it, it seems to encourage for our public lands to be given away, to be transferred, and to be potentially up for sale for development,” she said.

The Senate approved it after Murkowski held the vote open for an extra 10 minutes and convinced Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine to change her vote. Collins told the publication Environment and Energy Daily she voted for it because Murkowski assured her any future land exchange would have to come before Congress. The budget resolution itself passed with just 52 votes. It is not law but serves as a blueprint for the appropriations process.

 

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska’s Housing Issues

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2015-03-27 12:00

Only 10 percent percent of the people in Alaska who experience homelessness are chronically homeless. Families and individuals often become homeless because they lost their jobs or the cost of housing is too high. So what can we do about it?

HOST: Anne Hillman

GUESTS:

  • Scott Ciambor, chairperson, Alaska Coalition on Housing and Homelessness
  • Sue Steinacher, NEST shelter in Nome
  • Callers statewide

PARTICIPATE:

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

LIVE Broadcast: Tuesday, March 31, 2015 at 10:00 a.m. on APRN stations statewide.

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

TALK OF ALASKA ARCHIVE

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska’s Housing Issue

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2015-03-27 12:00

Only 10 percent percent of the people in Alaska who experience homelessness are chronically homeless. Families and individuals often become homeless because they lost their jobs or the cost of housing is too high. So what can we do about it?

HOST: Anne Hillman

GUESTS:

  • Scott Ciambor, chairperson, Alaska Coalition on Housing and Homelessness
  • Sue Steinacher, NEST shelter in Nome
  • Callers statewide

PARTICIPATE:

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

LIVE Broadcast: Tuesday, March 31, 2015 at 10:00 a.m. on APRN stations statewide.

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

TALK OF ALASKA ARCHIVE

Categories: Alaska News

Erin’s Law And Sexual Abuse Awareness

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2015-03-27 08:00

(Photo by Josh Edge, APRN – Anchorage)

Erin’s Law was recently introduced again in the state legislature. It would mandate all public schools to teach sexual abuse prevention curriculum to all students grades K-12. It also requires education and awareness for teachers.

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HOST: Anne Hillman

GUESTS:

  • Julie Dale, educator, Standing Together Against Rape
  • Melanie Sutton, Health and PE coordinator, Anchorage School District

KSKA (FM 91.1) BROADCAST: Friday, March 27 at 2:00 p.m. and Saturday, March 28 at 6:00 p.m.

Alaska Public Television BROADCAST: Friday, March 27 at 7:30 p.m. and Saturday, March 28 at 4:30 p.m.

Categories: Alaska News

Legislative Analyst Offers Gloomy Budget Outlook

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2015-03-26 21:31

Each week during the legislative session, various interest groups and lawmakers will host catered lunches as a way of drawing staffers to learn about their pet issues. Often, the selling point is the pizza or the sandwiches. But this Thursday, the food was beside the point. A standing-room-only crowd gathered to watch a special budget presentation that had been discussed in murmurs for weeks. APRN’s Alexandra Gutierrez reports that the outlook was somewhere between gloomy and apocalyptic.

The Legislative Finance director’s model illustrated what he had long been saying:

“You simply cannot cut your way to a sustainable budget.”

Manipulating an Excel spreadsheet with dozens of inputs, David Teal showed what would happen if the state cut formula programs, added a variety of taxes, and shrunk its agencies. None of the actions taken on their own made any difference. At projected oil prices, the state still does not close its multi-billion-dollar deficit.

Teal played with one scenario where the Legislature cuts its budget by 12 percent each year until the state’s $1.4 billion education program was shrunk to $400 million. When the model continued to show a deficit, the audience muttered a few “wows.” House Finance Co-Chair Steve Thompson had to stop Teal at another scenario. Whole agency operations were shut down — and still, the state faced a shortfall.

THOMPSON: You mean no state troopers? No [Department of Transportation]?
TEAL: No Corrections. No prisons.
THOMPSON: No prison guards? All of those?
TEAL: But of course that isn’t workable.

The only scenario that seemed to make a difference was one where the state cut spending, oil prices rose some, a modest income tax was implemented, and the state drew some money from the Permanent Fund earnings reserve while paying out a potentially smaller dividend. That account is separate from the Permanent Fund’s principal, and legislators can draw on it at any point with a simple majority vote. However, the fund is a third rail, and rarely discussed because of its political consequences.

That was illustrated halfway through the presentation when Sen. Bill Wielechowski, an Anchorage Democrat, logged onto Twitter from his phone and accused the Republican House Majority of making moves to “raid the Permanent Fund.” He elaborated on the comment after the presentation.

“When you talk about raiding the Permanent Fund what you’re talking about is taking money out of the earnings reserve and using it for government expenses or using it for something else other than paying out dividends,” said Wielechowski.

Thompson, who sponsored the lunch-and-learn event, responded with some exasperation to the suggestion.

“We’re not raiding the Permanent Fund, and nobody’s going to do that. I mean, I don’t even see how that’s even a possibility,” said Thompson. “We’ve got to have a discussion about how can we fund the core services that are expected under our Constitution by the citizens of Alaska.”

The Fairbanks Republican said the purpose of the presentation, which came from a non-partisan analyst, was to give the public a better understanding of the state’s fiscal outlook. The model had already been shown to many lawmakers and some staff, but — with only a few weeks of session to go — had not been public until now.

Rep. Les Gara, another Anchorage Democrat who was in attendance, said he did find value in seeing the hard numbers, even if he would have liked to see more attention to the effect different policies on oil taxes and credits have on the state budget.

“I think it’s worthwhile to have over, and over, and over again for the public to see all over the state so they can plug in numbers,” said Gara. “Look, if they’re oil tax people, they can say, ‘What would oil tax changes do?’ If they believe in other sources of revenue, they can plug in those numbers. But I think it’s important to lead to an honest public discussion.”

The Walker administration also had at least one member present. Tax Division Director Ken Alper said he thought the presentation captured the urgency of the state’s budget situation. He added that the executive branch is working on its own model as it figures out the next step in tackling the revenue shortfall. But he stressed that for now, the focus is simply on cutting the budget.

Categories: Alaska News

Lawmakers Seek Answers On Rape Kit Backlog

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2015-03-26 19:18

Alaska has the highest rate of sexual assault in the country, but it has no mechanism for tracking untested rape kits. Now, legislators are considering an audit to find out just how big the backlog is. APRN’s Alexandra Gutierrez reports.

When the Legislature’s research department was asked to find how many rape kits sat on shelves waiting to be analyzed, it kept hearing one answer: Unknown.

The researcher could not even compare Alaska’s kit processing rate to other states because there was so little hard data on how many kits had even been processed in the first place.

In response, Sen. Berta Gardner and Rep. Geran Tarr — both Anchorage Democrats — have each filed bills asking for an audit of rape kits in the state.

Tarr’s aide, Ray Friedlander, laid out the problem to the House State Affairs committee on Thursday, explaining the challenge of coordinating evidence processing rules with the many small police departments across Alaska.

“There’s not a single uniform protocol utilized by 150 law enforcement agencies to do the same,” said Friedlander. “So, in essence, there could be a local law enforcement agency here in Alaska that is in possession of an untested sexual assault kit potentially containing DNA that could remove a rapist from Alaska’s streets, but we don’t know. There’s no database or way to manage these untested sexual assault kits that have been shelved.”

The bill would require every law enforcement agency in the state to go through its inventory and find out how many untested kits it has and when they were collected. Friedlander explained to Committee Chair Bob Lynn, an Anchorage Republican, that the numbers have been high in other places where this analysis has been done.

FRIEDLANDER: Texas had 20,000.
LYNN: 20,000?
FRIEDLANDER: 20,000. Detroit had 11,000. Memphis had 12,164. Illinois had 4,000, and Ohio had 4,000. And we acknowledge that …
LYNN: And we don’t know what we have here.
FRIEDLANDER: Right.

From what is known, there’s a certain amount of variability in how different agencies handle rape kits. Local police departments set their own policies. The state troopers have only been required to send back all rape kits as of February of this year. Once kits make it to the state crime lab, there is a set protocol for tracking them.

But even at the crime lab, there are problems in processing the kits. Orin Dym is the forensic laboratory manager, and he explained that in emergencies, they can turn around kit results in 24 hours. But usually, it takes much longer.

“Our average turnaround time today is 170 days. Our oldest sexual assault request goes back 16 months today,” said Dym. “I will say that is a vast improvement over the 6+ years it used to be.”

That processing time troubled committee members, like Anchorage Republican Liz Vazquez.

VAZQUEZ: So, Why does it take so long?
DYM: Rep. Vazquez, through the chair, it takes so long because there are many times where the incoming requests for service exceed our capability to complete the analysis. We have more business than we can complete in a timely fashion.

Dym responded that it would likely take two years for the crime lab to process the backlog in-house, and that’s assuming there is no staff turnover or loss of funding.

Neither Vazquez nor Lynn found much comfort in that.

VAZQUEZ: I am still very troubled with the 170 days it takes to …
LYNN: Me, too.
VAZQUEZ: … test these kits. I mean it’s a haunting thought in my mind.

The committee plans to hear the bill again next week. A separate request to audit the crime lab is also planned.

Categories: Alaska News

In Continuing Fight, Public Broadcasting Funding Axed

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2015-03-26 19:07

Earlier this month, public broadcasting survived an effort in the House to slash its state funding by half. Now, a subcommittee in the Senate has axed the appropriation entirely.

Mat-Su Republican Mike Dunleavy chairs the Department of Administration subcommittee, and he warned that the cuts would be deep before announcing them at a Thursday meeting.

“There’s going to be a lot of good across the board that may not be funded,” said Dunleavy. “As we go through this, it’s not necessarily a judgment on those programs, but it has to do with the fact that we may not have the money to pay for everything.”

Juneau Democrat Dennis Egan attempted to restore $5 million in funding to the budget proposal.

“I am a 45-year private sector broadcaster. I programmed, managed, and owned a bunch of private stations here in Southeast Alaska and in Anchorage,” said Egan. “And here I am, speaking up for public broadcasting, because I am not sure everyone realizes how much is going to be lost.”

Egan noted that the cuts would cause some stations in places like Homer and Kodiak to lose their federal funding, too. He said rural communities could lose their emergency alert system, and that public television coverage of the Legislature would be threatened.

The amendment failed three to one, with Republican members voting against it.

Categories: Alaska News

As Legal Landscape Changes, A New Marijuana Club Opens Its Doors in Anchorage

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2015-03-26 17:57

Theresa Collins, left, and Jami Hicks are two of the four business partners behind Pot Luck Events.

Marijuana is in legal limbo in Alaska. Multiple bills in the Legislature will determine everything from permits to penalties, and in the meantime municipalities are scrambling find rules that protect the public, but also make room for an emerging industry. A new business in Anchorage is taking its first tentative steps forward navigating the shifting legal landscape.

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Inside a brand new private marijuana club air purifiers whir. The room is huge, with a stage at one end, lounge chairs in another, and high ceilings.

“We have a bar,” said Theresa Collins before adding, “no alcohol products!”

Collins showed off jars of free candy and abundant soda options. “We got our food permit and so we do have a munchies menu–been doing like little sliders, nachos, different kind of munchie items for our members.”

Collins is one of the co-owners of Pot Luck Events, a members-only private business hoping to capitalize on Alaska’s expanding legal market for marijuana.

“We’re not selling marijuana, we’re selling an experience. We want a safe place for people to come and consume their marijuana products,” Collins explained. “There is no place like this in Anchorage, and people have been asking for it.”

As far as anyone knows, the Pot Luck club is doing everything legally. Costumers buy a membership package ranging from $20 for a month, to $500 for a year’s worth of access to events, a VIP lounge, and line skipping.

You can bring marijuana as long as it is less that one ounce, but you cannot buy or sell marijuana products inside because so far the state does not allow legal sales. Members are not breaking prohibitions against consuming in public because the club is private. And before even passing coat check, new members are have to show ID and sign a waiver that outlines good conduct. Breaking it gets you kicked out.

It is less like a bar to drop into than an events hall hosting parties, cannabis tastings, and assorted special occasions.

“We’ve actually had interest for two weddings,” said Collins. “We’re definitely open to any type of event that somebody wants to have, and it doesn’t have to be 420 friendly.”

The space’s soft open was last week, “St. Potrick’s Day,” which Collins said went extremely well.

Puns aside, marijuana is serious business, and Collins and her partners have invested a lot of money and time making sure they are on the right side of existing rules. It has not been easy. They struggled to find insurance, a space to rent, and are running everything by a lawyer for advice on compliance with city, state, and Federal rules that are changing week to week.

“You can operate successfully in a professional way, and still have fun,” explained Jami Hicks, another of Pot Luck Events four owners.

On top of raising money and hiring a staff of 15, part of their business plan has been reaching out to neighbors and law enforcement so everyone knows what they are doing. “That was the first thing,” said Hicks, “meet the neighbors, shake hands, find out what the community needs.”

Even though the laws on marijuana are a bit murky right now, that does not mean new businesses can operate carte blanche. The Anchorage Police Department recently executed a search warrant on a high profile business allegedly selling cannabis products, with more charges expected.

Bruce Schulte is the spokesman for the Coalition for Responsible Cannabis Legislation, and says Pot Luck Events is the kind of business that policy advocates have been hoping would appear after Ballot Measure 2 passed.

“They are being good neighbors, they are being very up-front with APD and the fire marshall about what they’re doing, and how many people are going to be on-sight, so I think that’s helping perception, they’re doing everything they can to be model citizens and I think that’s hugely important right now,” Schulte said.

With just a few weeks left in the legislative session, several Assembly members of a sub-committee tasked with overseeing marijuana implementation in Anchorage see the prospect of comprehensive state-wide legislation as unlikely. And that shifts the job of regulation to local governments. Which is fine for many officials in Alaska’s largest city. The municipality has already gotten into the particulars of looking at permit structures and public consumption rules. Todd Sherwood is with the city’s legal department, and says they are hoping for more municipal discretion in designing regulations.

“Every municipality is a little different, but that’s one thing I would say we generally agree on is we want the maximum amount of local control,” said Todd Sherwood with the municipality’s legal department. “But we just don’t know what we can do until we have a complete package really from the state, and then we can work with that.”

Pot Luck Events is just one business getting out in front of the changing circumstances. However, they are not alone. Hicks said they have been contacted by around 50 vendors and businesses about collaborating on events. For now they feel like they have been lucky with how things have come together. They even found a building that is its own advertisement.

“When 420 W. 3rd Avenue came up we couldn’t really pass that up,” Hicks laughed.

 

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: March 26, 2015

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2015-03-26 17:40

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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Lawmakers Consider Audit Of Determine Number Of Untested Rape Kits

Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN – Juneau

Alaska has the highest rate of sexual assault in the country, but it has no mechanism for tracking untested rape kits. Now, legislators are considering an audit to find out just how big the backlog is.

Choose Respect Rally Marches Through Juneau

Casey Kelly, KTOO – Juneau

Gov. Bill Walker led about 100 people in a Choose Respect rally and march through Juneau on Thursday.

Anchorage Marijuana Club Navigates Shifting Legal Landscape

Zachariah Hughes, KSKA – Anchorage

Marijuana is in legal limbo in Alaska. Multiple bills in the Legislature will determine everything from permits to penalties, and in the meantime municipalities are scrambling to find rules that protect the public but also make room for an emerging industry. A new marijuana club in Anchorage shows the tentative approach by businesses to navigate a shifting legal landscape.

Fairbanks School Board OKs Budget That Cuts 60 Jobs; Member May Seek Salary Freeze

Tim Ellis, KUAC – Fairbanks

The Fairbanks North Star Borough School District Board passed a budget Wednesday night that cuts about 60 full-time positions and trims many programs.

Conservation Groups Appeal Big Thorne Ruling

Leila Kheiry, KRBD – Ketchikan

Less than a week after losing a lawsuit in U.S. District Court, a coalition of conservation groups seeking to stop the Big Thorne Timber Sale has filed a Notice of Appeal with the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, and asked for an injunction pending the outcome.

Prolific Glacial Melt Is 10% Of Annual Fresh Water In The Gulf Of Alaska

Lori Townsend, APRN – Anchorage

A kayak trip in Glacier Bay in 2006 inspired an engineer to research the impact of glacial run off in the Gulf of Alaska. David Hill is an Associate Professor of Civil Engineering at Oregon State University. For the study, he used decades of state and USGS stream flow data, combined with calculations on land characteristics and watershed size to create an analysis for the entire area.

Categories: Alaska News

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