Jeff King is the winner in this year’s Kobuk 440. King crossed the finish line at 12:12 am Sunday morning, followed by Tony Browning and Hugh Neff.
K440 board President Liz Moore says the trail conditions were generally good, although there was low or no snow in some areas and icy conditions caused some sleds to tip over when the wind picked up. She says there were 8 rookie teams this year.
“This year a lot of the rookies that came out are trying to get mileage to qualify for the Iditarod race,” Moore said. “A lot of those qualifying races earlier in the season were canceled due to lack of snow.”
The Kobuk440 is the final Iditarod qualifying race of the season.
The race course is completely off the road system.
Inmate Found Dead At Eagle River Women’s Jail
The Associated Press
A 24-year-old inmate at a women’s prison has been found dead in her cell.
The Alaska Bureau of Investigations Major Crimes Unit announced today that the inmate was found dead last Thursday in her cell at Hiland Mountain Correctional Center in Eagle River.
Correctional officers found Amanda Kernak unresponsive during a routine security check at 1:35 a.m.
Authorities say no foul play is suspected, and the State Medical Examiner’s Office took custody of the body.
A Department of Corrections spokeswoman says Alaska State Troopers are investigating Kernak’s death.
Legislature Passes Bill Limiting Medicaid Payments For Abortion
Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN – Juneau
The Legislature has narrowly passed a bill putting limits on state Medicaid payments for abortion.
House Passes Minimum Wage Bill, As Initiative Sponsors Cry Foul
Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN – Juneau
As initiative sponsors cried dirty tricks, the House narrowly passed a minimum wage bill that has the potential to knock their proposition off the ballot. The night only got more tense when the Speaker of the House fired back on the floor.
NTSB Advances Investigation Into Fatal Training Flight Crash
Ben Matheson, KYUK – Bethel
The National Transportation Safety Board has finished its on-scene investigation into the crash that killed two Hageland Aviation pilots last week.
John Luther Adams Wins Pulitzer For ‘Become Ocean’
The Associated PRess
Former Fairbanks resident John Luther Adams has won a Pulitzer Prize for his composition “Become Ocean”
Adams’ work has long been inspired by the natural world he’s experienced, and the Pulitzer committee was attracted to the real-world feel of “Become Ocean,” which was informed by the waters off the coast of Alaska and the Pacific Northwest.
The committee said the composition is a “haunting orchestral work that suggests a relentless tidal surge, evoking thoughts of melting polar ice and rising sea levels.” The piece was commissioned by the Seattle Symphony, which debuted the work in June.
How Many People Have Signed Up Insurance Under Obamacare?
Annie Feidt, APRN – Anchorage
Want to know how many people have signed up for private insurance under Obamacare? Like the law itself, the answer is exceedingly complicated. The administration is tracking the number of plans purchased on healthcare.gov and on the state exchanges. But the federal government isn’t counting the number of people buying plans directly from insurance carriers.
Museum Experts Sift Through The Arctic’s Largest Butterfly Collection
Emily Schwing, KUAC – Fairbanks
It will be a few months before butterflies flit through the air in Interior Alaska, but the Museum of the North at the University of Alaska Fairbanks was recently filled with them. The museum is working to catalogue the second-largest collection of Arctic butterflies and moths in the world. It’s the largest private collection of its kind. Eventually most of the specimens will be passed on to the Smithsonian.
HB23 Would Allow Public Financing Of KABATA
Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Anchorage
With a 16-4 vote on Saturday, the state Senate approved House Bill 23, allowing public financing of the Knik Arm Crossing. The approval moves the $892 million project forward by updating the project’s financial model. The bill allows funding for the bridge to come from three public entities: one third from bonds, one third from National Highway System funds, and the final third from federal loans.
YK Delta Residents Speak On Possible King Salmon Fishery Closure
Charles Enoch, KYUK – Bethel
Facing the possibility of a total closure of the King salmon fishery this summer and new dip-net openings, people from the Yukon Kuskokwim Delta are speaking up on all sides of the issue.
Jeff King Wins Kobuk 440
Lori Townsend, APRN – Anchorage
Jeff King is the winner in this year’s Kobuk 440. King crossed the finish line at 12:12 am Sunday morning, followed by Tony Browning and Hugh Neff.
The National Transportation Safety Board has finished its on-scene investigation into the crash that killed two Hageland Aviation pilots Tuesday.
Derrick Cedars, of Bethe,l and Greggory McGee, from Anchorage, died in Tuesday’s crash.
The Cessna 208 went down in a willow patch near Three Step Mountain, 30 miles southeast of Bethel. A post-crash fire destroyed the airplane and burned nearby bushes.
Investigators are releasing few details beyond that.
“The wreckage unfortunately was what we would refer to as very fragmented, and obviously there was a post crash fire, so a lot of the components coming out there will be in smaller pieces,” Clint Johnson, the Chief of the Alaska Regional Office of the National Transportation Safety Board, said. ”So they’re going to be slingloading the parts and pieces in its entirety back to Bethel.”
The wreckage will then be flown to Anchorage within the next week.
“They will do a wreckage lay out and be able to go though each one of those components with a fine tooth comb,” Johnson said. “We’ll be able to document each and every piece of the wreckage that comes back.”
The investigator in charge, Chris Shaver, documented the aircraft and what troopers call a “large debris field.” Back in Bethel, he conducted interviews with Hageland as well as family and friends of the pilots. A Cessna investigator also visited the crash scene, and State Troopers Thursday brought back the pilots’ remains. A team from Pratt & Whitney, the engine manufacturer, will inspect the engine once it’s transported to Anchorage.
There was also what’s known as a Transportation Disaster Assistance Investigator in town Friday to help the families and co-workers of the pilots who were killed. The crash occurred just before 4 p.m. in clear and calm weather as the two pilots conducted a training flight. NTSB officials say they don’t know who was flying at the time.
“There were obviously two qualified pilots at the controls, each one of the of them had controls, that’s going to be a little bit tough to determine for absolutely sure,” Johnson said. “Again, with details like that, once Chris gets back and we start taking a look at the wreckage, we might be able to determine that, but right now, that’s pretty much an unknown.”
The report from the NTSB is expected soon.
The Alaska Senate unanimously passed Erin’s Law this morning. The law provides age-appropriate sexual abuse education to children in public schools.
Erin’s Law would educate children in public schools to speak up if something inappropriate happens. It also trains teachers and trusted adults to recognize signs that a child is being abused.
RELATED: Legislature Weighs ‘Erin’s Law’
Republican Senator Lesil McGuire brought forth a Senate bill identical to the House version first sponsored by Democratic Representative Garan Tarr. McGuire testified that Erin’s Law was the first step toward eliminating sexual abuse of children in Alaska.
“We lead the nation. This is one of those places where I hope a decade from now that we’ll be not leading the nation that we will completely flip the statistics. And I think this is gonna be a big part of it, Mr. President, is asking that our schools put age appropriate education about good touch, bad touch, good secrets, bad secrets,” McGuire said.
Sponsors expect that training would reach more than 90 percent of Alaska’s youth who attend public schools and the adults who spend a lot of time with them.
Erin’s Law, named after 29-year-old Erin Merryn from Illinois, who was sexually abused as a child and has made it her goal to pass the law in all 50 states.
The law includes two-year delay for implementation. Governor Sean Parnell supports Erin’s Law.
The House version sits in the Finance Committee. The law has been passed in 12 states and is pending in 25 others.
Hydaburg and Annette Island school districts were among three Alaska Native groups that received advanced telecommunications technology grants through the U.S. Department of Agriculture-Rural Development office.
Hydaburg School District was awarded $500,000 to purchase video conference equipment for distance learning and training, in cooperation with the University of Alaska Southeast. According to USDA, the equipment will serve schools in the Hydaburg, Southeast Island and Craig districts.
The equipment also will be used for staff professional development, virtual field trips, education for all community members and to connect Alaska Native students with other Native American students in the U.S.
Annette Island School District was awarded about $400,000 for video conferencing to connect Metlakatla students with other rural Native students.
The third recipient was the Council of Athabascan Tribal Governments, which received about $260,000 for video conferencing equipment to rural clinics. The equipment will allow face-to-face medical consultation.
The Sitka Tribe of Alaska has hired a new general manager. Lawrence SpottedBird, currently of Washington State, will start work on Monday.
STA’s previous manager, Ted Wright, resigned in October, after about two years on the job. Tribal Attorney Allen Bell has been serving as the interim manager since then.
Speaking with KCAW on Thursday, SpottedBird, a member of the Kiowa Tribe of Oklahoma, said he has spent the last 34 years working with tribes and Native American entrepreneurs on business and economic development. He currently runs a consulting firm, SpottedBird Development.
“I consult with primarily tribes and Native American individuals in business development, with a focus on federal contracting development, looking for opportunities in contracting with the U.S. federal government,” SpottedBird said. “A lot of tribal governments and Native American entrepreneurs are taking advantage of the many incentive programs in the federal government and developing contracting enterprises to do so.”
SpottedBird has also spent time in Southeast Alaska: from 1999 to 2000 he served as general manager of Shaan Seet, the village Native corporation in Craig, on Prince of Wales Island.
Tribal Council Chairman Michael Baines said SpottedBird’s background in economic development is exactly what the Sitka Tribe needs. One key priority for STA in coming years will be finding new sources of revenue, Baines said.
“Getting a solid footing financially and budgetarily is very important,” he said. “So I will be focusing on looking at ways to address the budget and financial situation that any tribe – or any government really – faces around the country.”
Baines said the Council received about sixteen applications for the position, and flew in three finalists for interviews. All of the finalists came from outside of Sitka.
SpottedBird will be formally introduced to the Tribal Council and public at 6 p.m. next Wednesday, April 16, at the Sheet’ka Kwaan Na Kahidi, immediately before the council’s regular meeting.
The Alaska Legislature has finalized work on a bill that would name November 14th as Walter Soboleff Day in Alaska. He was a revered Tligit elder and religious leader.
Senator Fred Dyson from Eagle River carried House Bill 217 on the floor of the Senate and spoke eloquently about his friendship with Soboleff.
“Here’s a man who lived with dignity. He had a tremendous impact on individuals wherever he went. He was a magnificent example for all of us.”
Walter Soboleff was a well-known Tligik language translator and scholar and he was the first Native Alaskan to be ordained as a Presbyterian minister. The members of the Alaska Senate voted unanimously Saturday afternoon in favor of House Bill 217, which passed the House in late March. The bill now goes to the desk of Governor Sean Parnell for his signature.
As initiative supporters cried dirty tricks, the House narrowly passed a minimum wage bill that has the potential to knock their proposition off the ballot. The night only got more tense when the Speaker of the House fired back on the floor. APRN’s Alexandra Gutierrez reports.
The fight over the minimum wage bill got so ugly on Sunday night, legislators joked that they preferred debating abortion.
For about three hours, Democrats who have long advocated for increasing the minimum wage spoke against the bill, while free market Republicans said they had seen the light and believed the minimum wage should be increased as quickly as possible.
More than policy, the conversation focused on motive and trust. Fairbanks Democrat Scott Kawasaki acknowledged he was in an unusual position of voting against a measure he liked, because he believed the intention was to manipulate the upcoming elections. He’s worried that Republicans’ end goal is to keep minimum wage supporters from coming out to vote in August, when a referendum to repeal the new oil tax law is also on the ballot.
“It’s a strange vote, and it’s going to be difficult to justify to my voters,” said Kawasaki. “I simply think this is a disingenuous piece of legislation. I think it was brought into session in the last week of session in order for this to pass, so this issue can be taken off the ballot.”
The minimum wage bill was introduced a little over a week ago, and it was modeled after the initiative. It bumps up the rate over the course of two years, then pegs the wage to inflation.
Because of a sour history regarding the last minimum wage initiative, bill supporters added a number of provisions to make it more appealing to skeptics. In 2002, the Legislature preempted a minimum wage initiative, only to gut it a year later. So this time, bill supporters added a letter of intent saying they wouldn’t touch the policy for two years. They also adopted one amendment to outdo the initiative’s increase, hiking the current minimum wage of $7.75 to $9 in the first year, and then $10 the year after. They adopted another to make the wage go into effect earlier.
Rep. Craig Johnson, an Anchorage Republican, said the package was better than the one voters would see on the ballot.
“We are guaranteeing that the minimum wage will be increased,” said Johnson. “Whether you believe or not we’re going to change it, you’ve got to make that decision on your own. But we can guarantee that the minimum will be higher than the ballot initiative, enacted quicker than the ballot initiative.”
The minimum wage bill ultimately passed 21-19, with nine members of the majority caucus breaking ranks and siding with the minority. Some of those opponents from the majority said they did not like the politics surrounding the bill, while a couple had concerns that increasing the minimum wage could hurt businesses.
The bill has been a priority for House Speaker Mike Chenault. While the Nikiski Republican was one of the legislators who gutted the minimum wage law after passing it, he says he’s “matured” in the decade since and would oppose any effort to weaken the bill that’s currently before the Legislature.
Shortly after the vote, Chenault stepped down from the dais so he could freely comment on one of the initiative sponsors. He suggested that organized labor, which has contributed to the minimum wage initiative, was leaning on legislators inappropriately.
“We will not be coerced, threatened, or strong-armed into any other decision,” says Chenault.
Chenault also pointed legislators to a photograph of Ed Flanagan — a former labor commissioner and lead organizer of the initiative — taken at the bill’s only hearing. In the photograph, Flanagan is holding up a notepad, with a dollar sign scribbled on it.
Chenault said he did not know what Flanagan was trying to communicate, but that flashing a symbol like that at lawmakers was wrong given the Legislature’s history with bribery convictions.
But Flanagan says Chenault is taking things out of context. He says he was trying to get the attention of a legislators to ask why the bill had not gotten a fiscal note. That would have slowed the process down by requiring the bill to get another hearing, instead of just the one that was scheduled.
Flanagan says Chenault approached him after the hearing — something this reporter witnessed at the time — and explained what he was trying to communicate with the notepad. Now, Flanagan thinks Chenault is using the incident to distract from the vote itself.
“I think it’s a smokescreen,” says Flanagan. “He got a 21-19 vote. That’s pretty embarrassing for the Speaker in his majority, and it’s because of the hypocrisy that this vote represents.”
The bill now gets sent to the Senate, where members of leadership have said they are reluctant to take the bill up.
The Legislature has narrowly passed a bill that putting limits on state Medicaid payments for abortion.
The bill defines the term “medically necessary,” so it only covers physical harm – not psychological harm. Doctors would need to choose from a list of conditions like epilepsy and sickle cell anemia before the state covers the cost of the procedure.
Advocates for the bill, like Anchorage Republican Gabrielle LeDoux, said the point was to keep the state from paying for elective abortions.
“We’ve got the right to travel, but it doesn’t mean the government buys us a ticket to Paris,” said LeDoux. “We’ve got the right to bear arms, but the government doesn’t buy us a Sturm Ruger.”
Critics of the bill believe it will make it harder for low-income women to have access to abortion. Rep. Geran Tarr, an Anchorage Democrat, also suggested that the bill will not save money, because the law will inevitably end up in court.
“Litigation will cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, just as it has in the past,” said Tarr.
The Department of Health and Social Services introduced similar abortion regulations last year, but a judge put a stay on them after a lawsuit was filed on the grounds that the regulations violate the Equal Protection Clause.
The bill ultimately passed 23-17, splitting mostly on party lines. Republicans Lindsey Holmes of Anchorage, Paul Seaton of Homer, and Alan Austerman of Kodiak broke with their party and voted no.
The bill passed the Senate last year, with a provision establishing a women’s health program. Because the House stripped that program, the bill was sent to Senate for concurrence on Monday morning. The Senate passed the bill 13-7, nearly on the same margins as before. ***Sen. Lyman Hoffman, a Bethel Democrat, changed his vote to no after the family planning language was taken out. Sitka Republican Bert Stedman and Juneau Democrat Dennis Egan also joined a bloc of Anchorage Democrats in voting no.
The bill will now be sent to the governor for his signature.
This story has been updated to reflect the Senate’s concurrence vote.