Alaska News

Alaska signs brief supporting same-sex marriage bans

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2015-04-02 17:27

Alaska’s Attorney General has signed on to an amicus brief to the US Supreme Court that says same-sex marriage bans should be upheld. Fifteen states, including eight that currently allow same-sex marriages, signed the brief. It says allowing the federal government to force all states to recognize same-sex marriages would demean the democratic process and cause “incalculable damage to our civic life.”

The attorney general’s office issued a statement saying they signed the brief because “the Attorney General has a duty to defend Alaska’s Constitution.” The Supreme Court will hear arguments on the case in late April and make a final ruling on the issue later this year.

Same-sex marriage was legalized in Alaska in October when a federal court judge overturned the ban. He cited previous decisions by the 9th Circuit Court.

Categories: Alaska News

Russian Trawler Capsizes Near Kamchatka

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2015-04-02 17:14

Rescuers are still looking for 15 missing crew members in the Sea of Okhotsk. (Credit: Russian Ministry of Emergency Situations)

More than 50 fishermen have died after a Russian factory trawler sank in the Sea of Okhotsk on Wednesday.

Download Audio

The Dalny Vostok was hauling in a load of pollock when it started to capsize,according to maritime and government officials. Within 15 minutes, the vessel was totally submerged.

Good Samaritans and rescue teams managed to save about half of the ship’s crew. There were 132 fishermen on board at the time of accident — almost twice as many as the vessel had when it left port in Russia.

A provincial governor told Agence France Presse that many of the crew members were foreign and not wearing life jackets or wetsuits when the ship sank.

Russian officials have started interviewing some of those survivors and the vessel’s owner. According to a state-run news agency, they’re investigating whether the 338-foot trawler was overloaded — and whether it hit a patch of sea ice, damaging the hull.

Russia’s pollock industry has seen big changes in the last few years. The Sea of Okhotsk was named a sustainable fishery by the Marine Stewardship Council — putting it in the same category as pollock from the Bering Sea.

That used to be a popular import into Russia. But it’s been banned ever since the government ordered an embargo on foreign seafood last summer. As a result, Russians have been seeking out more pollock fished off the coast of their country.

Categories: Alaska News

State Signs Onto Amicus Brief To Uphold Same-Sex Marriage Bans

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2015-04-02 17:13

The Associated Press is reporting Alaska has signed on to an amicus brief to the U.S. Supreme Court that says same-sex marriage bans should be upheld.

Download Audio

Fifteen states, including 8 that currently allow same-sex marriages signed the brief. It says forcing states to allow the marriages and recognize marriages from other states will cause “incalculable damage to our civic life.”

The court plans to make a final ruling on the issue later this year.

Categories: Alaska News

House Passes Bill About Municipal Role In Marijuana Regs

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2015-04-02 17:12

Alaska lawmakers took a step toward clarifying who will regulate the budding marijuana industry.

Download Audio

The House passed a bill on Thursday that would help define a municipality’s role in regulating marijuana businesses, add marijuana clubs to the list of regulated marijuana businesses, and allow a municipality to develop some criminal penalties for marijuana.

The bill would also enable established villages to prohibit marijuana businesses through an election or ordinance.

The bill also clarifies some components of personal use: it would reiterate the ban on public consumption, and set a maximum household limit of 24 marijuana plants if there are three or more residents.

An amendment proposed by Rep. Bob Lynn that would have lowered the household limit failed.

The bill now goes to the Senate for consideration.

Categories: Alaska News

Proposed Budget Cuts Could Hit Rural Broadband For Schools

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2015-04-02 17:11

Middle school and high school students all over the state are participating in the Alaska Measures Progress tests this week. This is the first year the test are being completed completely online. The cuts by the state legislature to broadband services could limit rural schools ability to administer these mandated state tests.

Download Audio

Last year, the state legislature passed the Broadband Assistance Grant. The grant provided 5 million dollars for rural schools per year for next three years to up their broadband capabilities.

The Southwest Region School District is composed of schools in 7 western Bristol Bay villages. Before the grant allowed them to up the bandwidth last year, the small schools in the district were at 2 Mbps (megabits per second) and 4 Mbps in large schools.

“Which is nothing. That hardly qualifies as household bandwidth in the lower 48 or even here these days,” says Lester Parks.

Lester Parks is the Technology Coordinator for the Southwest Region School District. The goal of the Southwest district is to get the internet to 10 Mbps.

He says the lack of high-speed broadband has not only restricted use of teacher resources and student learning opportunities, but will also negatively impact the district’s capacity to implement new state required AMP test.

Parks says when the broadband is saturated, students are unable to load the login page for the test.

“And we’ve also found that kids that were already in and testing when the bandwidth become maxed out, were kicked out of the test and sent back to the login page, right in the middle of taking the test,” says Parks.

The Southwest schools are in the middle of the state testing right now, and Parks says things are going much better.

“We have had some small glitches even with the broadband upgrade we have in place now,” says Parks.

But if the legislature’s cuts go into effect, the district will lose those upgrades. Parks says the district will then be right back to having major testing issues again.

“Unless we can come up with 171,000 dollars somewhere and we have no place for it to come from other then the broadband assistance for schools we were told to count on for the next three years,” says Parks.

On top of losing the money, Park says the cuts will have meant all the staff time and effort put into implementing the grant was a waste.

On Tuesday, Parks testified before the Senate Finance Committee, saying the Broadband Assistance Grant is a sound investment in Alaskan schools, and requested the funding be reinstated.

Categories: Alaska News

Restrictions Planned For Northwest Alaska Caribou Hunters

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2015-04-02 17:10

Male caribou running near Kiwalik, Alaska. (Photo: Jim Dau)

For the first time in 30 years, hunting restrictions are planned for Northwest Alaska caribou.

Download Audio

The Western Arctic and Teshekpuk herds lost half their numbers in the past decade. But this caribou crisis has spurred a unique collaboration, where user groups across the state chose to share the burden of hunting reductions.

The Alaska Board of Game recently considered a proposal to actively manage Western Arctic and Teshekpuk caribou herds. And in a surprising turn, Northwest Alaska hunters pushed for greater restrictions, which were ultimately adopted by the Board.

Caribou biologist Jim Dau with the Alaska Department of Fish & Game says it was a highlight of his career.

“That’s the way resource management is supposed to work,” Dau said. “Not having government force things down the public’s throat to conserve a resource—it’s the public stepping up and saying ‘we care enough about this resource that we’re willing to take a hit.’ I think that’s really impressive.”

And it is a serious hit. The Western Arctic Herd, in particular, spans from Barrow south to the Yukon River, cutting from the Koyukuk River westward onto the Seward Peninsula. It’s the state’s largest herd — 235,000 animals as of July 2013, less than half its peak of 490,000 in 2003 — and caribou is a primary food source for over 40 villages that fall within its range.

The new regulations will go into effect July 1, and will impact resident and non-resident hunters by lowering bag limits and reducing the length of the hunting season. Charlie Lean is chair of Fish & Game’s Northern Norton Sound Advisory Committee. He says it wasn’t an easy decision.

“This is a hard pill to swallow but it’s a matter of sharing the burden of conservation between all areas and being proactive before it reaches a real crisis,” Lean said.

That willingness to share the pain is what Dau says sets this scenario apart from the last caribou crash in the 70s.

“That 1970s Western Arctic Herd population crash may have been one of the most serious wildlife management debacles in the history of the state,” Dau said.

Dau says the state responded by completely closing caribou hunting for everyone, with little input from local users. Here’s Jacob Ivanoff with the Southern Norton Sound Advisory Committee.

“The Board of Game at that time just said, ‘you guys gotta quit.’ That’s basically what they said,” Jacob Ivanoff, with the Southern Norton Sound Advisory Committee, said. “They did not give them the opportunity to express their opinions as we were able to at this last meeting.”

For the past 10 months, regional advisory committees have been assessing the population data and deciding how to react, ultimately opting to restrict their own opportunity for the good of the herd. The Western Arctic Herd traverses a variety of state, federal, and private land holdings, and overlapping state and federal regulations often confuse hunters. Ken Adkisson, with the National Park Service in Nome, says it would be ideal for the state and feds to pass similar regulations.

“Especially as it reduces confusion in the hunters’ minds where they don’t have to worry about whose land they’re on and whether the harvest limit changes,” Adkisson said. “I mean, the caribou don’t really care much where those boundary lines go and when you’re migrating all the way from the North Slope maybe almost to the Yukon, you’ve got a lot of boundary lines to cross.”

The question still on everyone’s mind is what’s causing the population decline. Data points in part to low calf-survival rate, and users almost unanimously blame predation. But Dau says implementing an effective predator control program will be complicated by land ownership boundaries. And while state and local groups lean toward supporting intensive management, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and the National Park Service remain opposed.

“There are several guarantees with predator control: it’s always controversial, it’s always expensive, and it’s never guaranteed,” Dau said. “And all those things are going to be considered before the state does anything.”

The adopted state regulations are likely just step one in addressing the caribou decline.

The Department of Fish & Game will be conducting another population survey this year. The full text of new regulations can be found online.

Categories: Alaska News

Teen Play Explores The Complexities Of Date Rape

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2015-04-02 17:09

Juneau-Douglas High School seniors Robert Newman and Brita Fagerstrom star in the play “Hush.” (Photo by Lisa Phu/KTOO)

Five Juneau teens star in a play about the complexities of date rape. The show is called “Hush,” but the teens hope the audience do exactly the opposite.

Download Audio

“And I could’ve said something, you know. I mean, I said no, but I could’ve said something else or fought harder or fought even more or, I don’t know, something like that …”

Brita Fagerstrom rehearses the role of Kim Tuesday night at Juneau-Douglas High School. Kim’s been raped by her boyfriend and consequently deals with depression and getting her life back together.

Fagerstrom hopes the message about consent in the play is clear.

“No means no. It shouldn’t have to be a struggle. It shouldn’t have to be some crazy loud act. Even just saying no in a whisper, anything like that,” she says.

Demaris Oxman, who acts the roles of a parent and therapist, says the play explores how consent often gets muddled in a relationship.

“Rob, Kim’s boyfriend in the play, says, ‘We were fooling around and she may have said that she said no, but I knew what she really meant.’ And I feel like it kind of shows that some people in our culture really do think that somebody has a right to do whatever they want if they’re already together, like that’s a form of consent, but it’s not,” Oxman says.

Robert Newman plays Rob, a character confused about what he’s done and isn’t sure how to deal with the guilt or losing his friends. Newman says Rob isn’t a monster.

“It’s any person, any person who doesn’t listen to their partner can fall into this role. And that’s something we really got to teach our generation,” Newman says.

Ashleigh Watt and Max Blust play the Kim’s best friends in “Hush.” (Photo by Lisa Phu/KTOO)

For a group of actors who are used to performing in musicals and comedies, “Hush” was challenging and personal.

Oxman says she had to sub in as Kim’s best friend during a short performance last weekend.

“It was very intense because I had to think about how would I react if this happened to my best friend or to me, and then it became very real,” she says.

Ashleigh Watt, who plays the best friend, says people sometimes don’t realize they’ve been raped or are in denial.

“We see things like this all the time, where to some degree something like this happens, and a lot of times people just ignore it and that’s not OK,” Watt says.

Director Michaela Moore says as a teacher and a parent, she’s heard and dealt with a lot of heartbreaking things having to do with partners not being respectful.

“I just really hope that kids will come [to the play] so they can begin to talk about these things, and girls, especially, can realize it is their right to give consent or not give consent, and that they need to stop letting boys have such power over their life,” Moore says.

She hopes the play makes people feel uncomfortable. Fagerstrom says it will make an impact.

“This show is kind of jarring. It’s putting it in your face and the reason it’s called ‘Hush’ is because it’s a topic you don’t talk about, but this show is about talking about it. It’s about opening up a conversation with the community about it,” Fagerstrom says.

Everyone needs to part of the conversation — children, teenagers, adults — so it’s out in the open. If not, she says, then sexual assault and date rape will continue to happen.

“Hush: A Play About the Complexities of Date Rape” will be performed Friday and Saturday at 7 p.m. @360, 360 Egan Drive.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: April 2, 2015

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2015-04-02 17:08

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

Download Audio

Senate Finance Committee Passes Budget With $700 Million In Cuts

Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN – Juneau

After nearly seven hours of delay, the Senate Finance committee has moved an operating budget with $700 million in cuts.

Surveillance Video Shows Former Bethel Police Officer Slamming Man to Ground

Daysha Eaton, KYUK – Bethel

Surveillance video shows a former Bethel city police officer repeatedly slamming a man to the ground in the parking lot of a grocery store during an arrest last summer. The man eventually pleaded guilty to harassing the officer. But with the new evidence, an attorney is trying to bring the case back to court.

Promise and Hazards of Arctic Oil Outlined at D.C. Forum

Liz Ruskin, APRN – Washington DC

With two of Shell’s rigs now crossing the Pacific in hopes of drilling in the Chukchi Sea this summer, officials and energy experts gathered at a forum in Washington this week to review the rewards and challenge s ahead for Arctic oil development.

Russian Trawler Capsizes Near Kamchatka

Lauren Rosenthal, KUCB – Unalaska

More than 50 fishermen have died after a Russian factory trawler sank in the Sea of Okhotsk on Wednesday.

State Signs Onto Amicus Brief To Uphold Same-Sex Marriage Bans

The Associated Press

The Associated Press is reporting Alaska has signed on to an amicus brief to the U.S. Supreme Court that says same-sex marriage bans should be upheld. 15 states, including 8 that currently allow same-sex marriages signed the brief.

House Passes Bill About Municipal Role In Marijuana Regs

The Associated Press

Alaska lawmakers took a step toward clarifying who will regulate the marijuana industry.

Alaska House Passes Measure Stopping Reimbursement Of School Bonds

Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN – Juneau

Anchorage could be the last school district to get state reimbursement for its bonds, before the program goes on a five-year hiatus.

Anchorage Community Members Protest Education Budget Cuts

Anne Hillman, KSKA – Anchorage

Community members gathered outside of the Legislative Information Office in Anchorage yesterday evening to protest proposed cuts to education funding. Today, the Senate Finance Committee cut even deeper into the education budget, trimming $100 million from the Base Student Allocation.

Proposed Budget Cuts Could Hit Rural Broadband For Schools

Matt Martin, KDLG – Dillingham

Middle school and high school students all over the state are participating in the Alaska Measures Progress tests this week. This is the first year the test are being completed completely online. Cuts by the state legislature to broadband services could limit rural schools ability to administer the tests.

Restrictions Planned For Northwest Alaska Caribou Hunters

Jenn Ruckel, KNOM – Nome

For the first time in 30 years, hunting restrictions are planned for Northwest Alaska caribou. The Western Arctic and Teshekpuk herds lost half their numbers in the past decade. But this caribou crisis has spurred a unique collaboration, where user groups across the state chose to share the burden of hunting reductions.

Teen Play Explores The Complexities Of Date Rape

Lisa Phu, KTOO – Juneau

Five Juneau teens star in a play about the complexities of date rape. The show is called “Hush,” but the teens hope the audience does exactly the opposite.

Categories: Alaska News

Two former middle school teachers vie for ASD School Board Seat F

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2015-04-02 16:23

Tam Agosti-Gisler (left) and David Nees (right) are competing for School Board Seat F.

Two former middle school teachers are vying for Anchorage School Board Seat F. Incumbent Tam Agosti-Gisler and opponent David Nees both spent more than two decades in the classroom and want to use their first-hand knowledge to shape district decisions.

Download Audio

David Nees, a former math teacher, says he sees problems with the current school board.

“It seems to be their focus is on the budget, and they’ve lost focus on their core mission, which is to educate all the children.”

Nees says the district needs to focus on making sure all kids succeed and to intervene for individual students if they aren’t. That includes transporting kids to schools that aren’t in their neighborhoods. He also wants to spend more money on kids with special needs. Nees says he doesn’t think some newer, more expensive models are paying off and improving academic performance.

“First order of business is to take a look at some programs we adopted, socio-emotional learning, middle school, Response to Instruction [testing and monitoring system]. Those are all expensive. You chose to do those. Did anyone do an analysis five years later to show is it having an effect?”

Nees says teachers need to have the flexibility to innovate and not be tied to set teaching curriculum, though he says he thinks old school methods are the most effective.

“The things that work, typically, is drill and practice, especially in mathematics. It’s proven. I mean if you go to Singapore, it’s drill and practice. Korea is drill and practice. It works. It’s old school; it’s not popular; it’s not big idea. But if it gives you the results you want, because for me, computation in math, that’s our alphabet.”

Incumbent Tam Agosti-Gisler, a former social studies and French teacher, says she quickly learned that drill and practice only works for some students. She says it’s important for the school district to have standards that align with other districts because there are so many transient students, but teachers need flexibility and innovation to reach those marks.

“The standards are basically the meat, but how you’re going to cook that meat and serve it are where the choices come in there. And that meets the individual learning styles.”

Agosti-Gisler says she wants to explore more partnerships with businesses so they can mentor students and help them on their career paths. She wants more partnerships with the muni to share services, like the bus system. But she says being on the school board for three years has taught her that the district can’t do everything.

“I have a much better understanding of the broader picture. And how often I’ve been faced with making choices as a school board member that I do not like, but we have to produce a balanced budget.”

She says that includes cutting career counselors in order to preserve small class sizes. To limit those hard choices, Agosti-Gisler says she’s worked to create more efficiencies through the auditing process, and she’s using the communication skills she learned when earning a bachelor’s in international relations to help unite the School Board.

“I’m known on the board for being able to work with anybody and find ways to compromise and collaborate and, again, putting forth those skills I learned in my degree program.”

The municipal election takes place on April 7. All Anchorage voters can vote for all three open school board seats.

Categories: Alaska News

Refugees in Alaska

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2015-04-02 16:18

Every year, over one hundred refugees set foot on American soil for the first time in Alaska. Many are fleeing war or persecution in their home countries, and all of them face a new set of challenges as they adapt to life in Alaska.

Categories: Alaska News

Promise and Hazards of Arctic Oil Outlined at D.C. Forum

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2015-04-02 16:18

With two of Shell’s rigs now crossing the Pacific in hopes of drilling in the Chukchi Sea this summer, officials and energy experts gathered at a forum in Washington this week to review the rewards and challenges ahead for Arctic oil development.

Jan Mares, an energy policy advisor and former Homeland Security official, says the prize is within the industry’s technical reach.

“The U.S oil potential, off-shore in our Arctic, seems to be about 44 billion barrels of oil equivalents, in less than 100 meters of water. That’s actually pretty shallow, by oil and gas development offshore,” he said.

Mares contributed to a report released last week by the National Petroleum Council that says the country must start developing the Arctic now so its oil will be available once shale oil production in the Lower 48 declines. Mares, echoing the report’s findings, says well-control technology has improved greatly since the Deepwater Horizon spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Even if it fails, Mares says, equipment would be available to stop the flow of oil.

“The first one that would be the most significant in terms of reducing any possibility is what’s called a subsea shutoff device. I’ll show a picture of that in a minute,” he said. “The second one would be a capping stack.”

Former Deputy Interior Secretary David Hayes says the shallow waters of the Chukchi may make some aspects of drilling easier, but in the Arctic it also means more ice scour and it limits the kind of support vessels you can bring in. Hayes emphasized other challenges, too. With all the headlines about the receding ice in the Arctic, Hayes says some don’t realize it’s seasonal. The operating season in Alaska’s far north is short, maybe 90 days.

“And this is something that’s frankly a little hard to digest but we are looking at potentially drilling and potentially producing in a region that is mostly ice-bound most of the year,” said Hayes, who, as the No. 2 at Interior, played a major role in granting Shell’s permits to conduct exploratory drilling three years ago.

He says operators would have to stop drilling before the end of the season “so that if there is a spill, there’s time to address it before the ice comes, because there’s no technology known to be able to clean up a spill effectively in icy water.”

Even with a season that short, Hayes says, there may be interruptions.

“You also have intrusion issues,” he said. “When Shell had their program in the summer of 2012 they had to get off the Chukchi well because a huge iceberg was heading right for it, and they had to move off, lose a week or two, then move back.”

Willie Goodwin, a former mayor of Kotzebue, was the only Alaskan on the panel. Goodwin was unimpressed by talk at the forum about clean-up equipment and technology.

“You know, for me as a hunter, you’ll never convince me that you’re going to clean it up,” he said.

Goodwin’s main message at the forum, hosted by Washington think tank Resources for the Future, was that policymakers should have more meaningful consultation with local Inupiat.

Categories: Alaska News

Surveillance Video Shows Former Bethel Police Officer Slamming Man to Ground

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2015-04-02 09:07

Surveillance video shows a former Bethel city police officer repeatedly slamming a man to the ground in the parking lot of a grocery store during an arrest last summer. The man eventually pleaded guilty to harassing the officer. But with the new evidence, an attorney is trying to bring the case back to court.

Download Audio

The camera is far away, and the video has no sound, but it shows a uniformed police officer repeatedly picking up and dropping a man to the ground in the parking lot of the Alaska Commercial Company store.

A few people pause to watch the event unfold. The officer picks the man up and slams him down at least 9 times. Nobody intervenes, including the other officer at the scene.

According to the video and police documents, the incident took place on July 12th, 2014 just after 9 a.m. A witness, Linda Green, a professor doing research in the area, reported what she saw to police and to the City of Bethel but got no response, so she went to the media. From her home in Arizona, Green says she’s relieved the video has come out to corroborate her reports.

“I’m particularly glad because it hopefully will lead to some consequences for this kind of behavior,” said Green.

The officer was later identified as Andrew Reid.

KYUK requested a copy of the video from the Bethel Police Department on March 13th, about the same time that attorney Sean Brown, who represents Wassillie Gregory, the man being arrested, made the same request.

“I’m glad to have finally obtained the video for Mr. Gregory and it reveals clearly what witnesses had told us had happened that day,” said Brown.

The video was recorded as surveillance for the Alaska Commercial store. A police officer verbally denied KYUK’s request for the video but the department never sent a formal denial. Brown says the video should have been turned over to the Bethel District Attorney’s office.

“I think it is upsetting and disturbing that even as of last week I’ve received written confirmation that the Bethel Police Department had never turned this video over to the District Attorney’s Office so that the officer himself could be investigated by the Bethel DA’s office or so that charges could be considered against the officer for the actions he took against Mr. Gregory that day,” said Brown.

Derek Reimer is a spokesperson for North West Company, the parent company of the AC store where the video was captured. When asked about the chain of events regarding the handling of the surveillance video he said:

“The North West Company has cooperated with the local law enforcement as they requested and we’re hopeful the that the matter will be resolved by them,” said Reimer.

However, an email from an attorney for the company, obtained by KYUK, says the store manager provided the Police Chief with a hard drive containing the video. The email says when the manger requested the return of the hard drive from Bethel Police the video had been deleted. The manager took the hard drive to someone in Bethel who was able to restore the video. It was then turned over to the attorney who shared it with KYUK.

The police record differs from the video and witness accounts. A police report says there was no call for police help, but Officer Reid, on July 12th responded because he observed Wassillie Gregory, a quote, “Indian” male, at 9:18 am as quote, “clearly intoxicated”. The report says that Gregory made verbal threats to Reid and challenged him to a fight. The report says Reid was afraid that Gregory might be grabbing for a weapon.

In an affidavit, Officer Reid says he quote, “kindly tried to assist Gregory into my cruiser for protective custody when he pulled away … ” end quote.

The report says Reid then transported Gregory to the hospital where he was medically cleared and says he didn’t have any injuries other than a cut on his face. But a transcript from the initial court hearing quotes an Alaska State Trooper saying Gregory was at the hospital because of a dislocated shoulder and a possible broken collarbone.

Charges against Gregory of disorderly conduct and resisting arrest were dropped in exchange for him pleading guilty to harassing Reid. Brown, the attorney for Gregory, is pursuing a motion to withdraw the plea because of the new video evidence.

The City of Bethel and the Bethel Police Department referred KYUK to their attorney, Bill Ingaldson, who said he could not comment because of ongoing personnel action involving Reid and possible litigation.

Officer Reid was fired from his job at the Bethel Police Department last month. About the same time, a protective order was issued against him by a court in a domestic matter. He was hired in July, 2012.

Categories: Alaska News

Anchorage community members protest education budget cuts

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2015-04-01 23:40

Protestors gather outside of the Legislative Information Office in downtown Anchorage. Hillman/KSKA

Community members gathered outside of the Legislative Information Office in Anchorage Wednesday evening to protest proposed cuts to education funding.

Download audio

A group of about 60 people, ranging from grade schoolers to grandparents, chanted, “Enough is enough! Enough is enough!”

“Think about our education!” added in third grader Violet Bernoski, who attends Winterberry Charter School.

Violet said she was there to support her teacher. Her classmate, Hatcher Mesknes, chimed in saying “She helps us learn and be able to go to college.”

West High 11th grader Charlie Lowell stood at the back of the crowd with a group of teenagers, surrounded by signs saying “You’ve gone too far” and “Keep your promise.”

Protestors asking for fewer cuts to education funding. Hillman/KSKA

“Mostly I’m just really disappointed with the legislature is right now with it’s stance toward education funding. A lot of legislators that Great Alaska Schools and a lot of students were really banking on promised a lot to their constituents and the students and to education in general in the state. And right now what we’re seeing is nothing of the sort that they promised.”

The Senate is currently proposing to cut a variety of programs focused on early learning and literacy. That includes state funding for Parents as Teachers, which prepares first time parents to help get their students ready for school. The Senate is also including cuts to the one-time grant funding promised in last year’s HB 278.

Great Alaska School’s Alyse Galvin helped organize the event.

“We worked hard last year to get that bill, 278. And now we know the governor made some suggestions that that get cut down. And then the legislature took that and ran out of town with it. And frankly, we’re not liking it.”

The Senate plans to vote on the budget at the end of this week. They’re trying to close a $3.5 billion dollar budget gap.

Categories: Alaska News

Proposal Would Reject Pay Increases For Public Employees

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2015-04-01 17:25

The Senate Finance Committee has included in its version of the state budget language rejecting monetary terms included in contracts for more than a dozen units for the upcoming fiscal year.

Download Audio

The committee also adopted language removing salary increases for employees not covered by unions. Committee co-chair Pete Kelly said that action would require separate legislation. Such legislation was introduced in the House on Wednesday.

Kelly says the move is geared toward saving jobs. The state faces projected multibillion-dollar deficits amid low prices, and departments are facing cuts.

Documents provided at a Wednesday morning hearing showed the removal of the salary increases would save about $57 million in all fund sources.

Sen. Click Bishop, a former state labor commissioner, said afterward that he did not support the amendments.

Categories: Alaska News

Legislature Votes To End School Bond Reimbursements, But Uncertainty Lingers For Anchorage

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2015-04-01 17:24

The Legislature has passed a bill that would put its school bond reimbursement program on hiatus. APRN’s Alexandra Gutierrez reports that the big question is whether it will affect Anchorage’s $60 million bonding proposition.

Download Audio

Right now, when municipalities bond for school construction costs, the state pays more than half the bill.

“We’re paying nearly $120 million in school bonds in this year alone,” said Thompson.

Rep. Steve Thompson, a Fairbanks Republican, carried a bill that would stop the program for five years, and only bring it back with a reduced reimbursement rate. With Alaska facing a multi-billion-dollar deficit, Thompson said it was not appropriate for the state to automatically take on more financial obligations.

“We are simply trying to control our debt,” said Thompson.

Debate over the bill focused on two things: money and timing. Rep. Sam Kito, a Juneau Democrat, opposed it, saying the legislation could create larger deferred maintenance costs.

“By taking a holiday, these costs aren’t going to go away,” said Kito. “The costs are still going to be there. They’re just going to be delayed, and it’s going to cost us more when we actually get to that point where we have to fund those projects again.”

Anchorage Republican Liz Vazquez said she thought the bill had merit in principle, but that she disliked the process around it. The way the bill is written, it would go into effect retroactively, closing the program to new school bonds issued after January 1 of this year. That would block Anchorage from getting funding for the school bonding proposition being considered in the April 7 election.

“Whether it’s the IRS, whether it’s another governmental agency, I detest any government agency or group that decides retroactively to change its rules,” said Vazquez.

Rep. Lance Pruitt, another Anchorage Republican, sympathized with this point.

“I come from Anchorage, and I will recognize that this is really difficult because some of the individuals in my community are currently making some of these decisions on whether or not to go forward with this bond,” said Pruitt.

But Pruitt then stressed that the state could not delay action on the program, given the revenue shortfall. He compared the state to a bird that kept flying into a window of his home — until it killed itself.

“This is the appropriate time to step back, to reevaluate the program, to come back with one that makes sense, and to stop running into that virtual window,” continued Pruitt with the metaphor.

The House passed the bill with a 23 to 15 vote on Wednesday afternoon. Anchorage Republican Liz Vazquez and Dillingham Democrat Bryce Edgmon joined the minority caucus in opposition to the bill.

But in a complicated procedural move, the provision to retroactively apply the bill to the Anchorage election failed. With a 24 to 14 vote, the House did not reach the two-thirds threshold needed to change the date when the bill goes into effect. Representatives will come back on Thursday to reconsider the bill and once more take up that provision.

If it fails again, the legislation will go into effect 90 days after it is signed into law, and the Anchorage school bonds will be the last ones to be included in the reimbursement program.

The bill has already passed the Senate.

Categories: Alaska News

Medicaid Expansion Bill Clears First Hurdle

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2015-04-01 17:23

Governor Walker’s Medicaid Expansion bill has passed it’s first committee in the House. HB 148 was approved by the House Health and Social Services Committee Tuesday night with a 6 to 1 vote.

Download Audio

The bill would allow the state to accept at least 145 million dollars in federal funds to provide health insurance to low income, childless adults. The federal government is funding 100% of expansion until the end of 2016, then the match gradually decreases to 90% in 2020.

Four Republican lawmakers voted for it, but not Liz Vazquez. The Anchorage Republican says the committee didn’t hear enough expert testimony on how Medicaid expansion would impact the state budget:

“Yes we have public comments but we have not vetted these issues sufficiently and shame on us for passing a piece of legislation that is basically an octopus.”

Vazquez calls the bill “irresponsible.”

Fairbanks Democrat Adam Wool says nearly 30 states have already expanded Medicaid and seen an economic boost. He says beyond the economic argument, it’s important to give Alaskans who can’t afford insurance peace of mind:

“Someone that came in on Saturday brought up something I hadn’t heard yet and it was empowerment. He mentioned the empowerment you get when you have the security of getting insurance and I can speak to that because I went for many years without insurance.”

Wool says even when he was insured, his deductible was so high, he avoided going to the Doctor. He says his family is now covered under an Affordable Care Act plan.

The bill next goes to the House Finance Committee. The Senate is scheduled to have its first hearing on its version of the Governor’s Medicaid expansion bill Wednesday afternoon.

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

Categories: Alaska News

NOAA Report Shows Slight Increase In Cook Inlet Beluga Population

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2015-04-01 17:22

A new report from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration shows a slight increase in the Cook Inlet Beluga whale population. But, the whales haven’t bounced back as fast as scientists hoped when they were placed on the endangered species list in 2008.

Download Audio

The latest survey from June of last year showed 340 Cook Inlet Beluga whales. More than the 312 that were counted during the last survey in 2012, but still not as many as researchers would like to see.

Beluga close-up, photo from NOAA, accessed via Wikimedia Commons.

“It hasn’t declined drastically, but it also hasn’t begun to recover, which I think is an issue of concern,” Dr. Rod Hobbs, a research biologist working out of Seattle, said.

You’ll find his name on about two decades’ worth of Cook Inlet Beluga abundance studies. Unsustainable subsistence harvests from the 90’s have been pointed to as the main culprit in the population drop off. And Hobbs says tighter regulations since 2005 seem to have helped curb the decline at least a little.

“The population at the end of the period of unrestricted hunting was around 350 whales and it has not increased from that,” Hobbs said.

He says they expected a rebound after the hunt was closed. But that hasn’t happened. And in fact, a gradual decline has continued, averaging about one percent a year.

“And when we project the population into the future using a fairly complicated population model, it appears there’s a pretty significant risk of that population going extinct,” Hobbs said.

So there are clearly other variables posing a risk to the beluga population. It’s not all due to over hunting. What those other risks are? Well, they’re still working on it. A recovery outline was put together in 2010 as part of the endangered species listing. It named four threats to Belugas: over harvest, killer whales, mass strandings and the big one: anthropogenic noise from coastal development in Cook Inlet. Put another way, noisy stuff humans are doing. That could be making it more difficult for the whales to communicate and, by extension, survive. Hobbs says Cook Inlet is a pretty noisy place to begin with, but it’s only gotten louder the past few years with a dramatic uptick in oil and gas development. NOAA and the National Marine Fisheries Service have spent several years working on a final recovery plan. It’s going through internal reviews right now, and should be released by this summer.

Categories: Alaska News

Youth Courts of Alaska Students Train to be Leaders

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2015-04-01 17:21

The United Youth Courts of Alaska is notable for encouraging youth leadership in the legal system and students’ own communities. Branches from across Alaska flew into Kodiak last Thursday for the 20th Annual United Youth Courts of Alaska Conference.

Download Audio

In Alaska, some minors may face their classmates when being sentenced for misdemeanors and crimes. Youth Court students train as attorneys, bailiffs, and judges in order to issue sentences to fellow students who have committed either status offenses, like possession of tobacco, or crimes like theft. Deborah Bitanga is a senior at Kodiak High School and the vice president of the Kodiak Teen Court Bar and the board.

Students across Alaska gather in Kodiak for Youth Court training conference. (Photo by Kayla Desroches/KMXT)

She says community service is one possible sentence.

“We also give them essays, and some creative ones is creating a powerpoint or doing a research about the negative affects of a marijuana or other drugs with the body,” says Bitanga. “Like, for stealing, we could research on how stealing could affect the economy of the town or something like that.”

Youth Court students learn about creative sentencing as part of their training at the Annual Youth Court Conference. They fly to a different location every year, and this time they chose Kodiak.

Students meet for two whole days of speeches and forums designed to inform and educate them about the court system and the young people they sentence.

Among the forums this year are “The Youth Brain,” “Creative Sentence” and “Restorative Justice.”

Darlene Turner is the program manager for Kodiak Teen Court. She says that the key phrase is “restorative” justice as opposed to punitive justice.

“There’s not just the consequences but competency development so that the person is being educated. Not just them, but their parents,” says Turner.

She says youth attorneys communicate with the off enders’ families. One of the forums this year is “Parenting with Love and Limits,” where students learn how to speak with families and suggest solutions like a counseling program.

One of the  vital skills Youth Court members take away from lectures is a fine  tuned understanding of the offenders and their situations.

And Turner says that it’s very appropriate for young people to sentence their peers.

“Youth listen to youth much better. They speak to each other better,” says Turner. “So a lot of times a youth offender will certainly talk to their attorneys and tell them things that they would never tell you or me.”

Turner says that students also learn to be leaders.

“The more you empower a youth to do something, the more they achieve.”

The Youth Court changes the students on both sides of the case. Eli Heinrich from Kenai is in his fourth year of Youth Court. He says that the greatest benefit is the affect the Court has on the young offenders.

“It’s kind of a system that gives kids a second chance with the record and the effects of what they’ve done wrong,” says Heinrich. “Which is probably the best aspect of youth court. It keeps them out of the adult court, it keeps the misdemeanor off the record.”

Youth Court students had a chance to exchange those thoughts at this weekend’s Conference. Madison Stites from Fairbanks is in 8th grade and has been training for Youth Court for five months.

“The conference is for all of us to come together and see what our experiences are together and how we can improve all of this and make our youth system better,” says Stites.

The conference concluded on Saturday night and the visiting Youth Court groups flew back on Sunday.

Categories: Alaska News

Avalanche Fatality Blamed On Underestimation Of Slide Potential, Insufficient Safety Gear

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2015-04-01 17:20

A report on a fatal avalanche near Cantwell last month says the victim and other snowmachiners underestimated the snow slide potential.  The expert review points to atypical terrain, and blames the deadly accident on failure to recognize a hazard, and insufficient safety gear.

Download Audio

Categories: Alaska News

How A Juneau Kid Turned His Passion Into A Profession

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2015-04-01 17:19

Jon Devore started skiing and skydiving as a kid growing up in Juneau. Now, he skydives, speedrides and performs Hollywood stunts for a living.

Download Audio

In the film “The Unrideables: Alaska Range” a former Juneau kid makes aggressive ski turns, flips and literally flies off snowy cliffs.

Jon Devore started skiing and skydiving in Juneau. Now, he’s turned his passion into a profession by skydiving, speedriding and performing Hollywood stunts for a living.

Unrideables is a documentary on speedriding, a combination of big mountain skiing and high speed parachute flying.

“I have spent my whole life waiting for this moment – an opportunity to pioneer and ski mountains that were previously thought unrideable,” Devore says in the film.

The 39-year-old grew up in Juneau.

“If you didn’t get outside and do something, you’d go crazy living here,” Devore says. “And as a kid, whether it was scuba diving, skiing, kayaking, climbing – I went out and did everything that this beautiful area offers.”

He started skiing Eaglecrest Ski Area at age 5 and, as a young adult, spent summers river raft guiding. His first time skydiving was in Juneau.

“When I was a senior in high school, a guy rolled through the town offering tandem skydiving and I was his first client,” Devore says.

After that, he was hooked. Devore moved to Arizona in 1995 to pursue skydiving full time. He became part of a group that was perfecting, what was at the time, a new style of skydiving – free flying.

“Most people think skydiving is belly to earth falling flat. Well, we were taking it into three dimensions whether we were standing up vertically and having our feet go first, or going head down towards the earth or everything in the middle,” he says.

Devore worked as a skydive coach and competed in world skydiving meets. After a little while, “the world of Hollywood and the stunt world started calling.”

He coordinates, films and performs aerial stunts.

“We did all the wingsuit scenes in Transformers 3 where we were flying our wingsuits through downtown Chicago through all the buildings having the robots chase us.

In “Furious 7,” part of the “The Fast and the Furious” series, Devore is an aerial cameraman forcars that are dropped out of an airplane. He’s the lead actor’s stunt double in the remake of “Point Break,” due to come out in December. The original movie was what first inspired him to skydive.

Devore is the manager of the Red Bull Air Force Team, which performs in about 60 shows a year doing stunts like skydiving into a Seattle Seahawks game or into a concert. In his 20 year career, Devore only recently experienced his first injury – a torn ACL.

But he says he’s had close calls. During a movie shoot in New Zealand, DeVore was supposed to jump out of a helicopter, land on a big mountain, cut his parachute off and ski down. He had been practicing for weeks, but while filming,

“My parachute didn’t open, my lines came out and they tied around my ski boots and bindings, so I basically tied myself up in the sky and my parachute never inflated. It was just being towed like a piece of garbage. And I took that all the way into the ground and impacted at probably 95-100 miles an hour, almost pure free fall speed,” Devore says.

Devore was positive he was going to die. All he could think about was his wife. His curled up his body and hit the ground on his back.

“Two minutes later, I stood up and didn’t have a broken bone, zero injuries, nothing,” Devore says.

The mountain he landed on was part of the Invincible Snowfields.

Despite the close calls, Devore loves what he does and is sticking with it for as long as he can. He has friends in their late 60s and early 70s still skydiving. He says, he may one day bring the sport back to Juneau and, just maybe, change some kid’s life.

Categories: Alaska News