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Get Alaska statewide news from the stations of the Alaska Public Radio Network (APRN). With a central news room in Anchorage and contributing reporters spread across the state, we capture news in the Voices of Alaska and share it with the world. Tune in to your local APRN station in Alaska, visit us online at APRN.ORG or subscribe to the Alaska News podcast right here. These are individual news stories, most of which appear in Alaska News Nightly (available as a separate podcast).
Updated: 59 min 55 sec ago

Federal Subsistence Board Seeks Change To Rural Determination Process

Tue, 2015-02-24 11:19

Nome in 2002. Photo: Mildred Pierce via Creative Commons.

What makes a community rural? That’s a question the Federal Subsistence Board has grappled with for years.

In past policy, the board weighed population size against factors like industrial development and infrastructure. But, ultimately, the definition of rural has been slippery in Alaska, where many communities exist outside the developed road system.

Now, the Federal Subsistence Board is trying something new. Rather than drawing a complete picture of what it means to be rural, the board wants to draw the empty space, by defining what it means to be non-rural.

The Subsistence Board’s Regional Advisory Council (RAC) for the Seward Peninsula met in Nome yesterday to discuss changes to the rural determination process — and to gather public comments. Jeff Brooks is a social scientist with the Office of Subsistence management. He described the proposed non-rural emphasis as a way to simplify the process at a local level.

“The burden of proof would not be on the community to prove that it’s rural,” said Brooks. “It would be on somebody else to prove that it’s non-rural.”

Under the proposed rule, communities that identify as rural wouldn’t have to explain why they’re rural — in fact, they wouldn’t have to explain anything at all. Only urban, or non-rural, communities would be defined for regulation purposes. And even then, the burden would be on policy makers not on community residents.

“I guess the general sense was, it’s easier to say which communities are non-rural than it is to say which communities are rural,” said Carl Johnson with the Office of Subsistence Management. He said while the board hasn’t yet developed its definition for non-rural, there will likely be less ambiguity when it comes to hub communities with larger populations — but remote .

That increased clarity may allow subsistence users in the region to breathe a little easier. After all, the distinction between rural and non-rural is no light matter — under Title VIII of the Alaska National Interest Lands Act (ANILCA) — it protects a community’s right to participate in subsistence hunts.

For Marie Katcheak, the term “rural” isn’t a matter of policy at all. It’s part of her identity.

“I hold my status as a rural person. That’s something that I never want to give up. And I shouldn’t have to give up,” she told the council.

Like many, Katcheak worries about the impact of increased development in communities that rely on a rural status — and a subsistence-based way of life. While the federal managers can do little to predict an outcome, or address those fears, Brooks says he understands that “rural” is more than just a policy buzzword.

“I understand, and many people in the room do, that rural status is more than just a label. It’s tied to your identity. And it is scary for towns that see potential growth in the future,” said Brooks.

The Federal Subsistence Board will continue to collect comments on the proposed change through April 1. The next Regional Advisory Council meetings will take place in Naknek on February 24, and in Bethel on February 25.

Comments can be submitted online, by searching docket number FWS-R7-SM-2014-0063, or by mail:
Office of Subsistence Management
1011 East Tudor Road, MS 121
Anchorage, AK 99503

Categories: Alaska News

Bethel Police Investigate Suspected Homicide

Tue, 2015-02-24 11:14

State Troopers are investigating a suspected homicide in Kotlik. 28-year-old Jerald Fancyboy was found dead Saturday in a home.

Trooper spokesperson Megan Peters says no arrests have been made. The troopers’ major crimes unit travelled to Kotlik to investigate, along with state troopers from St. Mary’s and elsewhere.

“They’re there to investigate the death and the circumstances surrounding the death. At this point we are investigating it as a homicide, it’s an ongoing investigation and we’ll see what the outcome ultimately is,” Peters said.

Peters is not sharing any other details at this stage.

“With our investigators there, they are trying to determine the cause and circumstances overall. A lot of times with investigations we will not put information out right away because it’s not confirmed yet. We might get one report that it was one thing and through investigation, interviews, and evidence, find out later it was nothing like that at all. Until we have information that is confirmed, we’re going to keep it close,” Peters said.

Fancyboy’s body was sent to the state medical examiners office for an autopsy.

Categories: Alaska News

With Troop Cuts Looming, Anchorage Officials Turn Out Crowd

Tue, 2015-02-24 00:27

Several hundred people turned out to show support for the military in Alaska and speak against potential troop reductions at an event Monday night.

Pentagon officials toured Anchorage for much of the day leading up to a concert packed with boosters at the Dena’ina Center downtown.

John McLaurin is the Deputy Director for managing force reductions nation-wide, and explained to the crowd that community support factors into decisions regarding cuts.

“Ya’ll were incredible,” McLaurin said at the beginning of the public listening session. “That assemblage outside before coming in here is something I’ve never seen before. You should be very proud of yourself because I am flat out impressed.”

The visit is part of the military’s draw-down of 120,000 troops by 2018. Alaska could lose 11,100 Army positions, bringing thousands more dependents and family members out of state, as well.

State and local officials are pushing hard to insulate Alaska from that. All three members of the congressional delegation testified. Senator Dan Sullivan even joked he was missing votes in Washington, D.C. to plead Alaska’s case in person. Senator Lisa Murkowski echoed the message officials in Anchorage have worked to coordinate with their counterparts in Fairbanks.

“We in Alaska are important to the Army,” Murkowski said over a video-feed. “The strength of our nation is our Army, and the strength of our Army resides right here in Alaska.”

The City administration and Anchorage Economic Development Corporation along with Visit Alaska have taken the lead bringing civic and business leaders together to stress the financial importance of the military to the state. But many members of the public like retired Colonel Peter Goldberg feel it is the lifestyle available in Alaska that causes so many service members to stay and maintain relations with the Armed Forces.

“Ask yourself if it is the kind of place that would encourage you to re-enlist,” Goldberg said during the three minutes of testimony he was allotted, going on to rattle off a list of activities, from hunting to scuba-diving, available in Alaska. “The recreation here is superb–this is a paradise.”

In spite of all the praise, Pentagon officials have hard choices to make in the months ahead as they visit all 30 of the communities that stand to be hit by base reductions. The criteria they use to make those decisions involve looking at strategic position, cost, and global mission, among other qualitative and quantitative metrics. Art Bell was the commander of American Legion Post 1 in Anchorage and is skeptical community input will carry much weight.

“My honest opinion is that this is a dog and pony show,” said Bell in between handing small flags to attendees on their way off the escalator. “The Department of Defense is here tonight because they’re required by law to be here and have public hearings. I don’t believe that’s going to influence the final decisions. I do believe we will lose troops in Alaska from both bases. But I do believe that’s a mistake.”

Though Lieutenant Governor Byron Mallott addressed the audience, Governor Bill Walker was not on hand. Earlier in the day he met personally with the head of the Army in Washington DC, and will be in Fairbanks when officials hear from the public Tuesday.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: February 23, 2015

Mon, 2015-02-23 17:54

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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With School Choice Resolution, Legislature Revisits Voucher Question

Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN – Juneau

With a crowd of charter school students in the gallery, the Alaska State House used a school choice resolution as a proxy for a debate on vouchers.

Walker Files Bill Creating Marijuana Control Board

Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN – Juneau

Just one day before marijuana possession becomes legal in Alaska, Gov. Bill Walker has filed legislation to create a marijuana control board.

Marijuana Legalization Questions Linger

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

A lot of questions remain about how marijuana legalization will work.

Bethel District Attorney Fired By State

Ben Matheson, KYUK – Bethel

Bethel’s District Attorney has been fired by the state of Alaska. While working in the office Sunday, June Stein received a letter from a Deputy Attorney General of her quote “impending release.”

As Budgets Shrink, State Eyes Cuts to Film Incentives

Lauren Rosenthal, KUCB – Unalaska

For the last seven years, Alaska’s offered financial incentives to draw filmmakers and reality TV crews to the state. But as lawmakers scramble to fill a widening gap in the budget, Alaska’s film tax credit program is on the chopping block.

Judge Hears Arguments On Stay In Education Lawsuit

Leila Kheiry, KRBD – Ketchikan

Ketchikan Superior Court Judge William Carey heard arguments Friday over whether he should approve a stay of his January decision that the State of Alaska’s requirement that local communities provide a specific amount for public education violates the Alaska Constitution.

Holly Brooks Wins American Birkebeiner Ski Race

Lori Townsend, APRN – Anchorage

Holly Brooks won the 51 kilometer American Birkebeiner ski race in Hayward Wisconsin this Saturday. Brooks is leading the International Ski Federation- or FIS– Marathon Cup- competing in long distance races in Europe, the U.S and later this spring- Russia. She gave up her spot on the U.S. Ski team to pursue an overall win on the Marathon Cup this season.

DEC, Coast Guard Respond To Statter Harbor Oil Spill

Casey Kelly, KTOO – Juneau

State environmental officials and the U.S. Coast Guard are investigating an oil spill at Statter Harbor in Juneau’s Auke Bay.

ANSEP Builds Bridges For Middle Schoolers To Science Education

Anne Hillman, KSKA – Anchorage

Middle School students from around the state are participating in the Alaska Native Science & Engineering Program at UAA this year. Forty-eight students from the Lower Yukon and Northwest Arctic Borough completed the two-week residential program on Friday but their learning doesn’t stop there.

Haines Artists Collaborate On Sixth Percent For Art Mosaic

Emily Files, KHNS – Haines

Alaska law requires one percent of construction costs for public buildings go toward paying for art installations. An artist couple in Haines has found success with the program by creating mosaic murals for schools. They’re now working on their sixth project – a mosaic for the Valley Pathways School in Palmer.

Categories: Alaska News

Marijuana Legalization Questions Linger

Mon, 2015-02-23 17:48

Alaska’s voter approved ballot measure legalizing marijuana takes effect Tuesday. Alaskans 21 and older will be able to grow, share and consume small amounts of marijuana on private property, but a lot of questions remain about how legalization will work.

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Categories: Alaska News

Bethel District Attorney Fired By State

Mon, 2015-02-23 17:47

Bethel’s District Attorney has been fired by the state of Alaska. While working in the office Sunday, June Stein received a letter from a Deputy Attorney General of her quote “impending release.”

Stein says she plans to continue working until March 9th, that’s the date the state set as her last day. She’s served as Bethel’s district attorney since 2009. A spokesperson for the Department of Law was not able to comment Monday afternoon.

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Categories: Alaska News

Judge Hears Arguments On Stay In Education Lawsuit

Mon, 2015-02-23 17:45

Ketchikan Superior Court Judge William Carey heard arguments Friday over whether he should approve a stay of his January decision that the State of Alaska’s requirement that local communities provide a specific amount for public education violates the Alaska Constitution.

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Kathryn Vogel is an Assistant Attorney General with the Alaska Department of Law, and she argued on behalf of the state. Participating by phone from Juneau, she argued that the state clearly would be irreparably harmed if a stay is denied, the borough would not suffer if a stay is approved, and that the state believes it has a good chance of succeeding in its appeal to the Alaska Supreme Court.

Those are the three legal elements needed for a stay to be approved.

Ketchikan Gateway Borough officials attend Friday’s hearing in Judge William Carey’s courtroom.

In his January decision, Carey ruled that municipalities should not be required to pay for public education because the required local contribution is essentially a tax earmarked for a special purpose. Carey said that is a violation of the state Constitution.

Soon after his ruling, the state filed an appeal with the Supreme Court, and asked for a stay pending the high court’s decision in the case. Vogel said the stay is extremely important because the Legislature needs to know now what to do about funding public education for the entire state.

“This invalidation is without sufficient time or sufficient information,” she said. “We’re 30 days into a 90-day (legislative) session. The governor’s budget and the governor’s revised budget did not provide for any other source of funding to help fill the gap that required local contributions currently fill.”

The state funds the largest portion of the annual bill for public schools, but historically, boroughs and first class cities have been required to pay the equivalent of a 2.65 mill property tax. That’s what Carey ruled is unconstitutional, but the state wants the requirement to remain in place until the Supreme Court finally decides the matter.

Vogel said the borough wouldn’t necessarily be even a dollar worse off than it is now if the stay is approved. That’s because it’s unknown how the state would respond to that aforementioned funding gap.

“We don’t know, if there was some other solution for raising revenue, how much it would cost the people of Ketchikan or the borough,” she said.

Vogel concluded with the argument that the state has a likelihood of success with the Supreme Court.

“It’s a road they’re not going to want to go down, in terms of invalidating local funding pf public schools,” she said.

Carey interrupted: “Maybe it’s not a road I may have wanted to go down, but I had to look at the legal issue and that was my determination.”

Vogel responded that the Supreme Court is in a different position, and might not feel as bound to its own prior case law as the lower court.

The borough’s attorney, Louann Cutler, had a different take on pretty much everything Vogel argued. Cutler said there is no irreparable harm to the state, because the Legislature is free to provide as much or as little for public education as it wants.

“The Legislature legislates; the court makes legal decisions,” she said. “You’ve already made a difficult one, and you’ve got to make another difficult one after you’ve heard our arguments, but defendants have not met their burden to establish that a stay is necessary just because there’s a lot of money at stake.”

Cutler pointed out that nobody from the Legislature has intervened or submitted an affidavit on the state’s behalf in this case, nor have any school districts or members of the public. She said that all of the state’s claims of harm are possible scenarios, not proven facts.

“This is nothing more than Chicken Little tactics, and it’s based solely on rank speculation about non-parties to this litigation,” she said.

Cutler said the borough would be harmed by a stay, though, because there is no realistic way to recoup the required local contribution once it’s been paid.

Cutler also argued that the state is not likely to win the case on appeal, unless the Supreme Court decides to overturn prior related decisions that a dedicated tax is illegal.

The state also has argued that the Constitution allows for state-local cooperative programs, but Cutler said this is not really a cooperative program.

“How hard is it going to be to convince the Supreme Court that this is a voluntary state-local cooperative effort, when it is a required local contribution, that if it isn’t made, school districts get penalized?” she said.

During her arguments, Vogel cited some case law that hadn’t been brought up before, and Judge Carey said he’ll need time to review it and Cutler will need time to respond.

Carey said he understands that the state is anxious to get a decision, and he will work on the case over the weekend. As for a ruling on the stay?

“I want to get a decision done on this, obviously as soon as possible,” he said. “I’ll shoot for Monday. That’s all I can say.”

State attorneys also have filed a motion for a stay with the Alaska Supreme Court, but the high court announced that it would wait and see what Carey decides before making its own ruling on that motion.

About 20 people sat in the audience at Friday’s hearing, most representing the Ketchikan Gateway Borough. They included the mayor, Assembly members, borough manager, assistant manager, clerk and finance director, and the superintendent of the Ketchikan School District.

Categories: Alaska News

Holly Brooks Wins American Birkebeiner Ski Race

Mon, 2015-02-23 17:44

Holly Brooks atop the Birkebeiner podium. (Photo courtesy Holly Brooks)

Holly Brooks won the 51 kilometer American Birkebeiner ski race in Hayward, Wisconsin this Saturday. Brooks is leading the International Ski Federation – or FIS – Marathon Cup – competing in long distance races in Europe, the U.S and later this spring- Russia. She gave up her spot on the U.S. Ski team to pursue an overall win on the Marathon Cup this season.

Brooks has won the Birkie one time before and finished second by a few inches another year. She says this year’s race was a great experience.

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Categories: Alaska News

Haines Artists Collaborate On Sixth Percent For Art Mosaic

Mon, 2015-02-23 17:41

Sharon Svenson works on the “Taking Flight” mosaic.

Alaska’s Percent for Art in Public Places statute mandates that one percent of construction costs for public buildings are set aside to pay for art installations.

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An artist couple in Haines has found success with the program by creating mosaic murals for schools. Sharon and John Svenson created their first Percent for Art mural back in 2008 for Haines School. Since then, they’ve built mosaics for a pool in Juneau and schools in Juneau and Valdez.

Now, they’re working on their sixth Percent for Art project – a mosaic for the Valley Pathways School in Palmer.

“The sound of it is important,” Sharon Svenson said as she cut strips of bright green glass for a 14-by-4-foot mural she and her husband John are making. They started in January and they’re partway done.

“We’re calling it Taking Flight,” John said. “It’s a bunch of ravens on this big panel, and behind the ravens are circular shapes, which could be suns. And in the middle we’ve taken a bunch of strips of colors, and then twisted it and given it this radical swirl.”

Black shards of glass form ravens against bright yellow, pink and green patterned background. The glass is shipped up in sheets from Oregon. The Svensons cut and smooth it into the shapes they need.

Sharon demonstrates how she grinds a square of glass into a circle. She holds up the little green circle that took about two minutes to make. So many tiny pieces go into such a large mosaic. It takes a long time.

The Svensons work about five hours each day for about four months on each project. They meticulously cut, smooth and glue colored glass onto a huge piece of plywood. This kind of work has been their main job for the past few years.

“We take the ideas back and forth, back and forth,” Sharon said. “And then he can actually put it on paper better than I can.”

“I’ll go out and drop the wall size on a sheet of paper and just start drawing on it,” John said. “And you get the cartoon all drawn, then we prepare the plywood. Then you start cutting glass up. Basically you transfer it from the cartoon to the plywood piece by piece.”

Sharon has been a mosaic artist, or mosaicist, for about 15 years.

“It’s colorful. It’s the depth of the color and the sparkle. It’s shiny. It’s beautiful,” she said.

These Percent for Art projects are some of the largest mosaics she’s ever made. She says it is slow work. But when the project is finished, she says it’s “thrilling.”

“It’s awesome, it’s totally awesome,” Sharon said. “I still go into Haines School and go ‘Wow did I do that?’”

Before these projects, John worked primarily as a painter. John and Sharon started working together because the mosaics are too huge for just one artist. They say they’re a pretty good team, they don’t conflict much over creative visions.

The Svensons run a gallery called Extreme Dreams where they sell their artwork. John says usually you just hope your pieces will sell. But with these, there’s more certainty and stability, which is why they keep applying for the projects.

“They pay well,” Sharon said.

“When you’re bound by contract, it’s pretty serious stuff,” John said. “But you know in the end you’re gonna get paid for it.”

The Svensons charge $500 per square foot for their mosaics. The projects usually total between $30,000-$60,000.

“I would say if we could pocket a third of what we’re charging that’s pretty good,” John said. “We’re working in a really expensive medium.”

Once the mosaic is done, the Svensons transport it to the school and install it.

“We never breathe a sigh of relief until it’s on the wall,” John said. “And that’s the high moment of the whole thing. Like, ‘yes we’re absolutely done.’ It’s darn tense.”

Sharon says after all the hours of cutting glass and laying out tiles, they’re glad to see the project done. And they get to watch the excitement of the students when they see the murals for the first time.

“In Valdez they sort of did a double take,” John said. “Little hands would go up, they’re pointing at things in it. The principal later said the reaction has been ‘way cool.’”

Sharon and John plan to keep working on one percent program commissions. They have two more in Juneau already booked, which will keep them busy for the rest of the year.

One day, Sharon hopes she’ll have the time to make a mural like this for their own home.

Categories: Alaska News

‘Youth Speak Out’ Event invites suggests on improving the community

Mon, 2015-02-23 17:26

Suggestions on the Youth Wall at the Northway Mall. Hillman/KSKA

The NAACP and Global Block are trying to get youth to speak up about their needs and what they want from the Anchorage community. They hosted an event Saturday at the Northway Mall.  Though icy streets and sidewalks kept the crowds small, forty youth posted ideas on a wall. They said they wanted things like more activities, youth centers, go karts, places to feel safe, and a clean environment.

University student Joycelyn Weaver says kids need more things to do in order to keep them off the streets, but they also just need adults to listen to them.

“I feel like sometimes when we speak to adults about what we think, it’s not all the way taken seriously. And it could be the way that we’re approaching it. I think it’s just finding the right adult to listen to you and hear your problems. It’s important because once that one adult hears you, they tell other adults and it becomes like a gang of adults who are willing to do something and make a difference.”

George Martinez with the Global Block Foundation helped coordinate the event. ”So what we were able to do is have some local artists, local DJs to create this celebratory environment really about framing the opportunity for young people’s voices to be heard and they can leave a mark on the city with their suggestions.”

Martinez says the event was a continuation of the conversation started with the school district earlier this month on how to help young people of color succeed. He says they will host similar events in the future.

Categories: Alaska News

ANSEP builds bridges for middle schoolers to science education

Mon, 2015-02-23 17:12

Helpers add weights to test the strength of the ANSEP student bridges. Keto/KAKM

Middle School students from around the state are participating in the Alaska Native Science & Engineering Program at UAA this year. Forty-eight students from the Lower Yukon and Northwest Arctic Borough completed the two-week residential program on Friday but their learning doesn’t stop there.


A group of middle schoolers crowd around two balsa wood bridge models. A box hangs from each one and two helpers are slowly adding weights to see how much the structures can hold. Each falls into the box with a clunk until suddenly they go too far. The bridges splinter simultaneous sending bits of wood into the gasping crowd. They all cheer at the spectacle.

“And that’s a good example of why we wear safety glasses,” says program director Josephine Mattison. 

The students are testing their final engineering projects to measure the strength of different design types. Most of the bridges held five to ten times more than the students anticipated.

Jaye Chandler from Scammon Bay, Pius Hoover II from Emmonak, and Emily Harry from Alakauk were on the winning team. Their bridge held 187 pounds including the 15 pound box that held the weights. They say they liked planning the bridge.

“Map out the designs, like a blueprint,” they advise.

But Pius and Jaye say the camp was about more than just the final project.

“Meeting new people,” says Pius.

“Meeting the new people, building the computer, and making the bridge,” chimes in Jaye. Emily nods and grins in agreement.

Yeah, you heard that right. They built computers, too, by putting together wires, motherboards, and chips. They get to keep their new equipment, but in return they have to promise to finish Algebra I before starting high school. An Urban Institute evaluation of the program shows that so far, 77 percent of middle school participants have followed through.

Mattison says ANSEP aims to spark the kids’ interest in math and science early, then keep them interested during high school.

“And so we want students to commit to that higher level math track to better prepare them for those higher level math and science classes at high school, which will better help them enter university prepared.”

Wilma Destor with the Lower Kuskokwim School District says the program is motivating her students to stay active with math and science. She says they’ve gone on to the high school accelerated program and participated in statewide science competitions.

“When they get home they inspire other students. They become leaders in their school and in their classroom. And they say ‘Hey, you need to do this. We need to perform well in class because we want you to participate in the ANSEP program because it’s a very, very good program.’”

And what do the kids say they want to do and be in the future?

“Go to college and become a teacher,” says Mary Ford from Hooper Bay.

“A civil engineer,” says Pius.

“Probably get a job. Like a high paying job,” says Lanny Oktoyak from Emmonak. What kind of high paying job? “Maybe an engineer.”

The ANSEP Middle School Program started in 2012. They’re running five sessions this school year and three more in the summer.


Categories: Alaska News

With School Choice Resolution, Legislature Revisits Voucher Question

Mon, 2015-02-23 17:08

With a crowd of charter school students in the gallery, the Alaska State House used a school choice resolution as a proxy for a debate on vouchers on Monday. APRN’s Alexandra Gutierrez reports.

The resolution was offered by Wasilla Republican Lynn Gattis, and it designates the last week in January as Alaska School Choice Week. The motion specifically recognizes such options as traditional public schools, private schools, charter schools, and home education.

“This truly comes down to a parents right to how they choose to educate their child,” said Gattis.

Resolutions do not create statutes or carry real legislative weight — they’re mostly a way for lawmakers to express their feelings on a matter. But because legislation that would allow public funding to go to private schools has been introduced in the past, the discussion over school choice week took on added significance.

Rep. Andy Josephson, an Anchorage Democrat, objected to the resolution because of its connection with National School Choice Week. He said that because of its funders, the movement struck him as less grassroots and more astroturf.

“The National School School Choice Week is actually very corporate. It is very pro-voucher. It’s generally — generally – anti-labor,” said Josephson. “It absolutely has an objective at least partially to privatize education.”

Josephson pointed to financial support from the Friedman Foundation for Education Choice and from the Walton family, who owns the Wal-Mart chain.

Anchorage Democrat Max Gruenberg had some concerns that a line in the resolution about “providing children with multiple educational options” could be read as the Legislature supporting school vouchers.

“That basically could be read and would be read, if this resolution is read carefully, with this Legislature getting into areas that have significant constitutional questions,” said Gruenberg.

But Majority Leader Charisse Millett, an Anchorage Republican, pushed back on these interpretations of the resolution, arguing that the opposition was reading text that was not there.

“I guess I might have a different copy of the resolution,” said Millett. “I think I’m pretty sure I’m looking at the right one. But nowhere in my resolution, Mr. Speaker, do I see wording of constitutional amendments, or vouchers, or religious schools, or anything of that nature.”

The resolution ultimately passed 21 to 14, with all members of Democratic minority opposing the motion, along with Kodiak Republican Louise Stutes.

During the last Legislature, Sen. Mike Dunleavy, a Republican from the Mat-Su, introduced a constitutional amendment that would have allowed state funding to go to private educational institutions. The legislation made it through hearings in the Senate, but did not have enough support to be scheduled for a vote on the floor.

Dunleavy has no plans at this time to reintroduce that amendment.

Categories: Alaska News

Walker Files Bill Creating Marijuana Control Board

Mon, 2015-02-23 16:55

Just one day before marijuana possession becomes legal in Alaska, Gov. Bill Walker has filed legislation to create a marijuana control board.

The board would handle the regulation and licensing of marijuana retailers. It would be independent of the Alcoholic Beverage Control Board, but the groups would share the same staff within the Department of Commerce, Community, and Economic Development.

Advocates for the marijuana industry have asked that the two substances be regulated separately to reduce potential industry conflicts.

The governor filed the bill on Monday. Walker has already included $1.5 million in his budget for the cost of regulating marijuana.

Marijuana possession becomes legal on February 24, because of an initiative passed by voters in 2014. Under the ballot measure’s implementation timeline, marijuana retailers are not expected have licenses until 2016.

Categories: Alaska News

Central Council of the Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska OKs Same-Sex Marriage

Mon, 2015-02-23 16:17

Southeast Alaska’s largest tribal organization has authorized its courts to perform same-sex marriages.

The Central Council of the Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska announced its new policy Monday.

It defines legal marriage to be with another person, regardless of gender.

President Richard Peterson, in a press release, said the council is, quote, “exercising our self-determination and sovereign authority and making sure that we provide for equal treatment of our tribal citizens.”

Old rules allowed tribal courts to conduct marriages, though it wasn’t a regular practice. The council’s new policy is expected to encourage its courts to perform same-and opposite-sex marriages.

Its directive also includes divorces.

The council said its action adds to a growing list of tribes amending or adopting rules to recognize gender equality.

Freedom to Marry, based in New York City, lists nine tribal governments in the Pacific Northwest, the upper Midwest and Oklahoma that OK’d same-sex marriages during the past half-dozen years.

President Evan Wolfson said he’s sure there are more.

“Members of the tribes know what it’s like to experience discrimination,” Wolfson said. “They know what it’s like to be shoved outside, to be looked down on.”

“And I think what tribal authorities are saying is that, out of that history, we know it’s important that we not commit the same kinds of discrimination, that we not isolate people, is that we not harm them.”

The central council claims a membership of nearly 30,000 Tlingit and Haida Indians in and outside Alaska.

Categories: Alaska News

DEC, Coast Guard Respond To Statter Harbor Oil Spill

Mon, 2015-02-23 16:13

State environmental officials and the U.S. Coast Guard are investigating an oil spill at Statter Harbor in Juneau’s Auke Bay.

Sarah Moore is a spill prevention coordinator with the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation. She says people first noticed a rainbow sheen and heavy, black oil in the harbor sometime Sunday.

“It looks to be some kind of a used motor oil is our best guess at (this) time, and we’re still trying to identify the source,” she says.

The Coast Guard notified DEC of the spill after receiving a report around 7:30 last night. By the time officials arrived, Moore says it was too dark to start cleanup.

She says the sheen was originally estimated at 500 feet by 1,000 feet in size, but it’s hard to tell how much oil spilled. By this morning, she says the heavier oil was mostly collected in the corners of the floats in Statter Harbor.

Moore says a variety of tools are being deployed to soak up the spill.

“We have the sorbent material, which is referred to often as diapers. And it’s that white, thick material that collects just the oil and not water, and so we’ve been using that in a lot of the corners,” Moore says. “We’ve also been using something that’s called snare, which looks a lot like a high school cheerleader’s pompom… And then we’ve also been using just some regular containment boom to keep it in as small an area as possible.”

Moore says the oil most likely came from a vessel. DEC and the Coast Guard are investigating the exact cause.

She says there have been no reports of impacts to wildlife.

Categories: Alaska News

As Budgets Shrink, State Eyes Cuts to Film Incentives

Mon, 2015-02-23 10:16

For the last seven years, Alaska’s offered financial incentives to draw filmmakers and TV crews to the state. But as lawmakers scramble to fill a widening gap in the budget, Alaska’s film tax credit program is on the chopping block.

Governor Bill Walker has proposed eliminating three positions from the Alaska Film Office. Without auditors and accountants to help review information from production companies, the program would essentially go on hiatus.

It’s currently set to expire in 2018. Until then, the Film Office has permission to give out up to $200 million worth of tax vouchers to producers who spend enough on local labor and other expenses. Their credits can be sold to other companies looking to reduce their state tax bill.

So far, about 10 percent of the credits have been handed out. But rather than leave the door open on the rest, Senator Bill Stoltze of Chugiak has introduced a bill to cut the incentive program altogether.

In testimony to the Senate Labor and Commerce Committee, Stoltze said the state can’t afford to do otherwise.

“It’s not like there’s $170 [million] or $180 million just sitting there,” Stoltze said. “[But] it’s further exposure to our treasury as tax credits and subsidies are approved. I don’t think it’s sustainable.”

This isn’t the first time Stoltze has made that argument — or attempted to repeal the tax credits. Despite recent changes, Stoltze and other lawmakers have still questioned whether the program creates jobs for Alaskan crew members.

According to the Film Office, about 90 residents worked on shows or films that qualified for incentives last year. By comparison, those productions had 60 employees come from out of state. It’s not clear how many hours they worked or how long their jobs lasted.

Stoltze said that film production has clear financial rewards for Alaska’s service industry, like hotels and caterers.

“There are Alaskans that have participated and benefited,” he said. “But it’s up to you as policymakers to determine whether this is the most appropriate way to spend scarce resources.”

The Labor and Commerce Committee will be taking public testimony on the bill on Feb. 24.

Categories: Alaska News

Ketchikan Child Allegedly Caged, Bound By Grandparents

Mon, 2015-02-23 10:12

On Tuesday, Ketchikan police officers did a welfare check at a Woodside Drive home after getting a tip that a little girl was allegedly restrained at night by her grandparents.

Deputy Chief Josh Dossett said officers arrived at the home and found the girl, approximately 5 years old, in what he described as an improvised cage.

“It was a large-size clothes hamper put on its side with a gate,” he said. “The gate was wire-tied to the front of the hamper.”

Dossett said officers found that the girl’s legs also were restrained, using tape and straps.

Police called the state Office of Children’s Services, and that agency sent case workers to remove the girl from the residence.

While there, police located what they say was a marijuana grow operation. Dossett said they obtained a warrant, and seized about 54 marijuana plants, plus processed marijuana.

“I don’t have the amount of just the processed,” he said. “The total on the marijuana on the plants and the (processed) I believe was about 3 pounds.”

Police charged 46-year-old Eric Riley and 52-year-old Penny Riley with fourth-degree misconduct of a controlled substance and contributing to the delinquency of a minor.

Dossett said information about the child’s restraint has been sent to the District Attorney’s office for review and possible additional charges.

Categories: Alaska News

Board of Fisheries Nominee Withdraws

Fri, 2015-02-20 17:28

Governor Bill Walker’s nominee to the Board of Fisheries has withdrawn his name from consideration.

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A spokesperson for Senate Majority Leader John Coghill’s office confirmed the withdrawal of Dr. Roland Maw but couldn’t provide additional details.

Maw went through the first half of his confirmation hearing before the Senate Resources Committee Monday.

His confirmation has been mired in talk of the tension between commercial and sport fishing interests in the state. Maw’s nomination saw strong support from many commercial fishermen and wariness from many charter groups.

Maw could not be reached for comment.

Walker will now have two seats on the Board of Fisheries to fill by April 1.

Categories: Alaska News

Anchorage Man Indicted On Sex Trafficking, Sexual Assault, Weapons Misconduct Charges

Fri, 2015-02-20 17:27

An Anchorage man was indicted by a Grand jury this week on multiple charges involving sex trafficking, sexual assault and weapons misconduct.

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Xavier Lanell Cook Benson is facing 12 counts related to what law enforcement officials allege in a written release, was a brutal and exploitative sex trafficking and prostitution operation in Anchorage, Juneau, Kenai and Fairbanks. 

Adam Alexander is an attorney with the state’s office of special prosecutions. He says Benson will have to meet a high bar to get out on bail.

“He would have to post a hundred thousand dollars cash on the performance bond,” Alexander said. ”He would have to secure the assistance of a bail bondsman on the cash corporate appearance bond and he would have to propose a third party custodian to the court for the court’s approval.”

Alexander says investigations such as this that involve Anchorage police and the FBI are complex and often long term.

“The commercial sex trade is, in many cases, fueled by physical and emotional exploitation,” Alexander said. ”And people often times, and I’m not speaking to Mr. Benson here specifically, but people often times, who operate prostitution enterprises, target vulnerable people and at the same time are becoming increasingly sophisticated.”

If convicted, Benson faces up to 60 years in prison.

Categories: Alaska News

After Providers Lobby, Walker Reverses Cuts To Homeless Programs

Fri, 2015-02-20 17:26

The Glory Hole, Juneau’s emergency homeless shelter and soup kitchen, is temporarily closed due to a burst pipe and flood Sunday night. (Photo by Casey Kelly/KTOO)

Advocates for the homeless in Alaska are rejoicing after Gov. Bill Walker released an updated budget proposal that restores funding for housing and homelessness services statewide.

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The governor had initially zeroed out the funding in light of the state’s multibillion dollar shortfall. But the Alaska Coalition on Housing and Homelessness leaned on the administration to restore it.

It’s mid-morning at The Glory Hole, Juneau’s emergency homeless shelter and soup kitchen.

Ralph Jackson and his girlfriend are sipping coffee, and waiting for lunch to be served in a couple hours. Jackson says they’ve been homeless for about nine months, ever since they got kicked out of an apartment in Petersburg for what he says was a trumped up noise violation. He says The Glory Hole is the first place to really help them out.

“They’re giving us some insight, you know, as to what kind of jobs we can get, and housing especially,” he says.

Jackson says he plans to apply for a dishwashing job at a Juneau restaurant. And he says he and his girlfriend hope to get into subsidized housing.

“We’re on a waiting list, and it’s six months to a year… all we can do is just wait,” he says.

In the meantime, Jackson says they’re grateful for The Glory Hole’s services. In addition to help finding jobs and housing, the shelter offers free meals and a warm, dry place to hang out when it’s cold and wet.

Executive Director Mariya Lovischuk says those services would have taken a $96,000 hit under Gov. Walker’s original state spending plan. She says that’s about a fifth of the shelter’s budget.

“If we did not have that funding it would be really, really devastating, because we already operate on a very bare bones budget,” Lovishchuk says. “And I think we do utilize all of the funding sources that are available to us really, really efficiently.”

The governor’s amended fiscal year 2016 budget funds the state’s basic homeless assistance program at $7.7 million. In recent years, that program has covered operating expenses for nearly 40 service providers statewide and helped thousands of homeless individuals and families. The updated budget also includes $1.5 million for special needs housing grants, aimed at helping nonprofits and developers build affordable housing for low income Alaskans.

Sue Steinacher is director of NEST, the Nome Emergency Shelter Team, which gets about two-thirds of its funding from the state.

“At a time where the state’s economic troubles are making life harder for others, it’s really critical that we provide that safety net,” says Steinacher.

Under the initial budget proposal, Steinacher says there was a real possibility the shelter would have closed.

“Given that the governor has put this money back… I feel much more confident about next winter and the shelter having enough operating funds,” she says.

Scott Ciambor co-chairs the Alaska Coalition on Housing and Homelessness. He says members mobilized to make sure Walker’s office knew the importance of the funds to homelessness programs across the state.

“It’s not something that the coalition has had to advocate for in the past. So there was some scrambling, as you would imagine,” Ciambor says.

He says their message was simple: In a state where affordable housing is hard to develop and doesn’t exist at all in some communities, many people rely on shelters.

“It’s everything from, you know, the chronic homeless population that have been kind of living this lifestyle for a long time,” he says. “But it’s also a lot of families, who just typically need some rental assistance to make sure that they don’t become homeless.”

In a release, Walker’s Budget Director Pat Pitney said taking the homeless money out “was an unintended consequence of submitting a stripped-down capital budget.” She called putting it back in “a cost-effective way to address issues that could be costly for our communities,” including money spent on law enforcement and social services.

Ciambor says the coalition also met with lawmakers in recent weeks. As the legislature continues to craft the final budget for next fiscal year, he says it’s an opportunity for the group to talk about the importance of homeless services statewide.

KNOM’s Matthew Smith contributed to this report.

Categories: Alaska News