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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: 39 min 27 sec ago

With No Deal On Budget, Legislative Session Goes Long

Mon, 2015-04-20 03:44

The Alaska Legislature missed its adjournment deadline on Sunday night, after failing to reach agreement on the state’s budget. APRN’s Alexandra Gutierrez reports.

It was certain by 8pm that the Legislature would not be gaveling out. A conference committee still had not met on the state’s operating budget, and the usual buzz and urgency of the last day of session was missing entirely.

Taking a break outside the Capitol, House Speaker Mike Chenault explained the hold up was a vote to draw from the constitutional budget reserve to fill a multi-billion-dollar deficit. Without support from the Democratic minority, the Legislature is short at least three votes to tap the rainy day fund.

“We get through it by negotiating with our minority on what they need to get out of here for a three-quarter vote,” said Chenault. “But yet, in turn, we’re not going to add millions of dollars back into the budget that we don’t agree with.”

Making a deal of that scale is already hard enough, but compromise was further delayed by personal circumstances. That Sunday morning, the daughter of Democratic Minority Leader Chris Tuck and conservative talk radio personality Bernadette Wilson was born. Tuck flew back to Anchorage to meet the seven-pound Penelope Grace. Chenault, a Nikiski Republican, said that obviously could not be helped.

“He’s got a new baby girl,” said Chenault. “It might have been not the right time, but he did what I would have done in his place. And I would have gone back and seen my wife and my child.”

There are a few big sticking points in the negotiations. Democrats would like to see education funding restored, and they would like for the Legislature to expand Medicaid. They also want reverse some cuts to the ferry system, public broadcasting, and pre-kindergarten.

Chenault says that if an agreement cannot be reached, a government shutdown is possible.

“That’s not something we want to see with our state employees. I don’t believe that’s what the minority wants to see either,” said Chenault. “That’s, I guess, the nuclear option, if you want to call it that.”

On the Senate side, Majority Leader John Coghill also spoke of dire consequences if a deal failed. The North Pole Republican said the Legislature could try to fund government using the permanent fund earnings reserve, which requires a simple majority instead of a three-quarter vote.

“There’s a huge political reluctance to take that money, because it has huge impacts on the dividends,” said Coghill. “But I can tell you, that may be the very next thing we’ll have to do.”

But House Democrats have objected to the compromise being described in such stark terms.

“The permanent fund earnings is a deadly game,” said Rep. David Guttenberg, a Fairbanks Democrat. “If they’re going to play that game, I’m not going to participate in it.”

Democrats believe their conditions for supporting a budget reserve draw should not come as a surprise.

“We talked about Medicaid expansion and reform. We talked about education that doesn’t cut kids and opportunities. And we talked about seniors,” said Rep. Scott Kawasaki, a Fairbanks Democrat. “I mean we’ve talked about the same thing from the beginning.”

Negotiations will continue Monday.

While the legislative session is scheduled for 90 days by statute, the Alaska Constitution allows lawmakers to meet for 121 days without calling for a special session. Last year, the Legislature also gaveled out late, taking 95 days to complete their work.

Categories: Alaska News

After Tense Lead-Up, Legislature Confirms Walker’s Cabinet

Mon, 2015-04-20 03:36

After a five-hour session, the Legislature has confirmed all of Gov. Bill Walker’s cabinet appointments.

Most of the high-level appointments made it through with unanimous support. But Attorney General Craig Richards saw significant — though not fatal — pushback from the Legislature. His prior litigation against oil companies concerned some members of the Republican majority in the Legislature, while his actions on same-sex marriage troubled a few Democrats in the minority. He ultimately survived with a 36-23 vote.

Alaska National Guard Adjutant General Laurie Hummel, Natural Resources Commissioner Mark Myers, and Revenue Commissioner Randy Hoffbeck also received a smattering of no votes, but were ultimately confirmed.

The confirmation session had been a point of contention between Gov. Walker and the Legislature. Amidst disagreements over a bill that would limit the governor’s ability to pursue an alternative gasline plan, the Legislature had cancelled the vote on Walker’s appointees. On Thursday, Walker issued an executive proclamation ordering lawmakers to consider his nominations, only to rescind that order after getting assurances from legislative leaders that confirmation would happen before the session’s end.

At a press availability on Sunday evening, Walker thanked the Legislature for keeping that commitment.

“They did exactly what they said they were going to do, and I appreciate that as far as the timing of things,” said Walker.

While Walker’s cabinet survived intact, five appointments to boards and commissions were rejected.

Verne Rupright, a former mayor of Wasilla, was kicked out if his post at the Commercial Fisheries Entry Commission on a 19-40 vote. They rejected Michael Gallagher, who had been appointed to the Alaska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, on a 33-26 vote. Board of Fisheries nominee Robert Ruffner narrowly failed on a 29-30 vote. Legislators denied their former colleague Joe Paskvan, who represented Fairbanks in the Senate for four years, a seat on the Alaska Gasline Development Corporation Board on a 28-31 vote. Chris Cooke’s appointment to the Mental Health Trust Authority was even closer — the Senate President briefly stated that Cooke was confirmed, before correcting himself and noting that the nomination failed by one vote.

Walker says he does not have any immediate plans for replacing those appointees, but would like to fill the board vacancies quickly.

Categories: Alaska News

Key Issues Linger As Legislative Session’s End Closes In

Fri, 2015-04-17 17:29

The Alaska State Legislature is scheduled to gavel out on Sunday, before the stroke of midnight. But many of the issues lawmakers have delved into – the budget, Medicaid, marijuana – are still unsettled. APRN’s Alexandra Gutierrez joins us to talk about what the end game for the legislative session looks like.

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Lori: Is everyone in a frenzy trying to get things done before Sunday?

Alexandra: If you walked through the Capitol right now, it wouldn’t look like it. It’s almost eerie. Hallways are empty. Committee hearings being delayed and interrupted, and in many cases canceled. It’s almost like being in the eye of the storm. Caucuses are meeting behind closed doors to hash out last minute deals, and there’s a sense that things are happening but people don’t want to talk lest they blow those deals up. One of the things that’s really striking is you have fewer lobbyists trolling the halls going into the final stretch of session. There was one I spoke to who suggested it was because we were in a budget deficit. When there’s no money to spend on projects, there’s nothing to really run around over.

Lori: Passing a budget is the Legislature’s biggest obligation right now. Where do we stand there?

Alexandra: Yesterday, the House Finance Committee removed language from the capital budget that would have authorized the state to spend money from its constitutional budget reserve. That’s the state’s $10 billion rainy day fund, and a three-quarter vote in both the House and the Senate is required to tap it. In the Senate, the Republican majority has a large enough membership that they’re okay there. But in the House, the Republican majority is going to need to pull four votes from minority members to get it through.

Another thing of note is that more than $40 million was added to the capital budget in support of the Knik Arm Bridge project. This was a bit of a surprise, given that Gov. Bill Walker has said

Lori: Are we seeing much public pressure on the Legislature to get specific things done?

Alexandra: Yesterday, there was a rally to encourage Medicaid expansion on the Capitol steps. And then today, we just had a totally surreal situation where two protests on very different issues were happening simultaneously. You had a bunch of high school age students offering public testimony on cuts to education, because money for schools was stripped out of the budget and put to a vote before the public could comment on it. And then on the other side of the street, you had anti-abortion protesters displaying some pretty graphic imagery. If

Lori: Does it look like we may go into extra innings?

Alexandra: The governor has said getting Medicaid expansion through is a must-have for him, and that he’s willing to call legislators back if they don’t pass it. So, we could see a special session there. Legislators also have the option of just extending the session by a month, because even though a citizen’s initiative a few years ago capped the session limit to 90 days, the Constitution still allows them to meet for 121 days. Now, there’s a question of logistics tied up in all this. Most legislators have leases that end by May 1st, and a lot have cars ready to ship on the ferry. That might serve as an incentive to get work done.

Categories: Alaska News

UAF To Cut Several Low-Enrollment Programs

Fri, 2015-04-17 17:25

The repercussions of reduced state funding are hitting home at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. And some academic programs are going away.

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Categories: Alaska News

AK: An Artist On A Quest To Bring Otter To The Runway

Fri, 2015-04-17 17:24

This spring, Sitka artist Peter Williams took a trip to New York City, to show his work during fashion week.

A designer and marine mammal hunter, Williams makes everything from hats to earrings from sea otter and sealskin. He’s been trying to break into the lucrative fashion world for years, and he’s got a larger goal in mind – bringing Alaska Native designs to luxury buyers worldwide.

Williams says that one way to save a traditional art form, is to create a market for it.

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Peter Williams with models Jerica Young, Denise Reed and Anthony Flora at TechStyle NYC, during Fashion Week in February. (Photo by Carol Green)

When people walked into the TechStyle Lounge, in an airy loft space in Manhattan during February’s fashion week, one of the first things they saw was a display of seal and sea otter earrings, headbands, and cuffs from Shaman Furs.

That’s the business name of Sitka artist Peter Williams. Anthony Flora was modeling one of Williams’ seal and otter vests.

“I don’t think anyone has walked by without touching something, I’ve been asked if I can be touched twenty times,” Flora said.

Williams was in New York as part of an effort to introduce his work – and marine mammals in general – to the upscale fashion industry, which sometimes takes a little explaining – especially in an industry with a famously ambivalent relationship with fur. Williams has his pitch down.

“Alaska Natives are exempt from the marine mammal protection act, and we’re allowed to hunt marine mammals so we’re allowed to hunt marine mammals for food clothing and to make arts and crafts for sale, like this,” Williams said.

He’s tried a couple different spiels. This one seems to get the key points across: it’s legal; it’s special; it’s Alaskan.

Fashion editor John Nubian stopped by TechStyle on a break from the runway shows uptown. He was impressed.

Nubian: “I just came from Lincoln Center today and there were, like, two fur shows. Dennis Basso, which is, like, the biggest American fur designer. And, you know, this is, like, on par with that.”

Williams: “Oh, wow, thanks.”

Williams’ signature piece is a man’s vest. The top third – or yoke, in fashion terms – is harbor seal. Below that is sea otter. The back is wool. He sews it himself.

The price tag? $1,500.

And that’s the key issue.

“Part of why I do what I do, and part of trying to bring seals and sea otters — to higher end fashion, is to get, try to get a living wage, for doing arts and crafts,” Williams said.

Peter Williams shows off one of his signature seal and otter vests during New York Fashion Week. (Photo by Carol Green)

His prices are a too high for craft fairs or Etsy, he says. He has pieces in a few shops in Sitka; he has a website, but he needs a bigger market – one where customers don’t blink at paying $1,500 for a vest.

And that means finding a way to sell outside Alaska.

“We keep cultures and traditions alive by having them be able to be relevant in the present moment,” Williams said. “And the younger generation needs to be able to make a living in order to continue arts and crafts and traditions.”

There are some major hurdles to clear. Like, for starters, being a one-man shop based on an island in Southeast Alaska, far from any fashion capital, or being pretty much the only person trying to do this. Williams estimates there are a few dozen people in Southeast working seriously with sea otter. They sell almost exclusively locally.

And then there’s the more fundamental issue of trying to explain what he’s about to a fashion world that has almost no context.

“How do I bottle and explain thousands of years of culture and customs and connection with the land?” Williams said. “And that’s something that’s very challenging to say to someone who, like, grew up in New Jersey — no offense.”

None taken

“….and who lives in the city, and may not know that Alaska Natives are still around, or that there is such a thing as Alaska Natives,” Williams said.

Williams knows what he’d like to get across. If he had to sum it up in one word, it would be “connection.” His work is all about being connected: to a specific place, to nature, to the animals he is hunting, to culture, to heritage.

So he has a product people can’t keep their hands off. He has a story that seems custom-made for this era of conscious consumerism.

What he needs is a lucky break. And that’s why he took the gamble, flew across the country, and put down the money for a slot at TechStyle.

Williams’ big hope for the trip was to connect with buyers – ideally, buyers for small New York boutiques.

Instead, he says, he got a lot of good feedback and spoke to a lot of reporters. His dream remains frustratingly elusive.

He was, however, being profiled for the British paper, The Guardian, by a writer he met a few years ago in Sitka.

Guardian photographer, Tim Knox, decided to take Williams and the models out onto the High Line, the downtown park, for a snowy photo shoot.

“Might just, like, run down there, you put the coats on, take the coats off, put the coats back on…so we get something really cool looking and really interesting,” he said.

Knox, for one, is on board with fur.

“First trade, innit? One of the oldest trades? That and prostitution,” he said, laughing.

Ignore the British humor, but he’s right. And Williams is hoping this old trade can become a modern vocation.

Categories: Alaska News

49 Voices: Wayne Constantine

Fri, 2015-04-17 17:23

This week, we’re hearing from Wayne Constantine, who is Athabascan and lives on a homestead on the Stony River.

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Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: April 17, 2015

Fri, 2015-04-17 17:22

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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Key Issues Linger As Legislative Session’s End Closes In

Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN – Juneau

The Alaska State Legislature is scheduled to gavel out on Sunday, before the stroke of midnight. But many of the issues lawmakers have delved into – the budget, Medicaid, marijuana – are still unsettled. APRN’s Alexandra Gutierrez joins us to talk about what the end game for the legislative session looks like.

Arctic Priorities Questioned on Eve of U.S. Chairmanship

Liz Ruskin, APRN – Washington DC

The United States assumes chairmanship of the Arctic Council next week, kicking off a two-year window to assert American priorities in the region. The U.S. and other member nations have committed to making the Arctic a “zone of peace.” But now, some Arctic watchers wonder if the U.S. needs to add an item to its Arctic priority list:  get tough with Russia.

Refined Fuel Tax Measure Heads To Governor’s Desk

Zachariah Hughes, KSKA – Anchorage

Though discussion of new revenues hasn’t gone far in the Legislature this session, today the Senate passed a measure taxing refined fuels.

Anchorage Church Officials Lead Rally For Medicaid Expansion

Annie Feidt, APRN – Anchorage

Hundreds of Anchorage residents gathered in Cuddy Park Thursday night to rally for Medicaid expansion.  The event was organized by AFACT, Anchorage Faith & Action Congregations Together- a coalition of local churches. Organizers hope the rally will make a difference as lawmakers enter the final days of the legislative session.

UAF To Cut Several Low-Enrollment Programs

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

The repercussions of reduced state funding are hitting home at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. Some academic programs are going away.

AK: Fur Fashion

Rachel Waldholz, KCAW – Sitka

This spring, Sitka artist Peter Williams took a trip to New York City, to show his work during fashion week.  A designer and marine mammal hunter, Williams makes everything from hats to earrings from sea otter and sealskin. He’s been trying to break into the lucrative fashion world for years. And he’s got a larger goal in mind: bringing Alaska Native designs to luxury buyers worldwide. Williams says that one way to save a traditional art form, is to create a market for it.

49 Voices: Wayne Constantine

This week, we’re hearing from Wayne Constantine, who is Athabascan and lives on a homestead on the Stony River.

Categories: Alaska News

Refined Fuel Tax Measure Heads To Governor’s Desk

Fri, 2015-04-17 16:14

Though discussion of new revenues hasn’t gone far in the Legislature this session, the Senate on Friday passed a measure taxing refined fuels.

Sen. Peter Micciche speaks on the floor of the Alaska Senate, Feb. 10, 2014. (Photo by Skip Gray/Gavel Alaska)

The bill updates how the state saves money designated for oil spill prevention and response. In the past, taxes were collected by the barrel and placed into a fund. Under House Bill 158, though, about one cent per gallon of gasoline is charged at the point of sale.

Soldotna Republican Peter Micciche says that while the 1989 Exxon-Valdez disaster casts a long shadow, most of the spills the state pays to clean up are small, involving refine gasoline products.

“I hope you can support this environmental surcharge, it’s less than a penny per gallon, less than a penny per day per Alaskan, and the effort is about keeping Alaska clean and spill free,” Micciche said.

The measure received opposition from some senators over unfairly collecting a tax from customers who may never spill fuel. Chugiak Republican Bill Stoltze says the measure plays favorites by levying a new tax burden on consumers, but not the aviation or commercial fishing industries.

“I am going to try to exercise a discipline of not creating new revenues and protecting bureaucracies at a time when we’re still nowhere near finished,” Stoltze said. “I’m not trying to make a hard-fast line in the sand, but it’s a line in the sand that I certainly just don’t want to rub off when it’s convenient.”

The bill passed the senate with a vote of 13-7 and now heads to the governor’s desk for signature.

Categories: Alaska News

Arctic Priorities Questioned on Eve of U.S. Chairmanship

Fri, 2015-04-17 16:01

The United States assumes chairmanship of the Arctic Council next week, kicking off a two-year window to assert American priorities in the region. The U.S. and other member nations have committed to making the Arctic a “zone of peace.” But now, some Arctic watchers wonder if the U.S. needs to add an item to its Arctic priority list:  get tough with Russia.

Russia has been flexing its military might in northern skies and waters, and Swedish authorities last year reported a near miss with a Russian spy plane. Nordic ministers this week described Russia as the greatest threat to northern Europe’s security. Yet the U.S. says it still wants Russia to be its partner in the Arctic. Heather Conley, an Arctic expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, says she’s unsure what to make of it.

“I am struggling with the concept of ‘partner,’ yet I’m seeing extraordinary aggressive actions, missing civilian airliners, a lot of military exercises in the Arctic,” Conley said.

Speaking at a forum in Washington, Conley says she’s increasingly concerned the U.S. government isn’t focusing enough attention on Russia’s behavior.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski, at the same forum, said she’s committed to the Arctic “zone of peace” concept, but it requires that countries respect each other and Russia hasn’t been living up to that standard.

“And it causes me to wonder if they are not taking advantage of the fact that we have said, we want to be your friend. We want to be your partner in all of this. Well, if you want to be a partner, then you behave like one,” she said.

The senator says the U.S. government needs to send an equally strong message to Russia to let it know its actions are unacceptable.

“And as much as we want to be working together, we want to collaborate on scientific opportunities, we want to collaborate in areas of the environment, let’s not say one thing on the one hand and then our actions take us in a different direction,” she said. “We need to call Russia out when Russia needs to be called out.”

Murkowski was the keynote speaker at the Arctic forum, sponsored by the Center for Strategic and International Studies. Her main message was that the Obama Administration should place a higher priority on the well-being of Arctic people, rather than giving climate change top billing.  Murkowski, though, says she agrees climate change, and how to adapt to it, is a valid Arctic issue.

“But it cannot be our sole and singular focus. And it cannot be held over or held against the people of the Arctic,” she said. “It should not be used as an excuse to prevent those who live in the Arctic from developing the resources available to them in order to create a better standard of living.”

Murkowski also addressed what other senators have called the irony of the Arctic: that rapid Arctic warming gives access to more petroleum, which, when burned, will bring on more warming. At a hearing last month on Arctic issues, a Democratic senator and a liberal independent asked why Arctic Slope witnesses favored oil development when their communities are the most vulnerable to climate change. Murkowski says the question ignores what resource development has brought to the North Slope, from medicine to search-and-rescue, and home heating.

“There is no irony in the people in the Arctic benefiting from the economic opportunities that are available in their region,” she said. “But there is an irony in deliberately limiting their economic future while claiming that somehow it is for their own good and somehow in their best interest.”

The Arctic Council meeting is next week in Canada. Russia’s foreign minister has declined to attend.

 

 

Categories: Alaska News

Anchorage Church Officials Lead Rally For Medicaid Expansion

Fri, 2015-04-17 13:35

photo credit: Jonathan Casurella

Hundreds of Anchorage residents gathered in Cuddy park Thursday night to rally for Medicaid expansion. The event was organized by AFACT, Anchorage Faith & Action Congregations Together- a coalition of local churches. Organizers hope the rally will make a difference as lawmakers enter the final days of the legislative session. 

The crowd squeezed together on the amphitheater bleachers, holding up signs that read, “Expand Medicaid: Save Money, Save Lives” And “We Are Our Brother’s Keepers.” Pastor Julia Seymour from Lutheran Church of Hope started things off with an new version of an old song.

“For Medicaid expansion I’m gonna let it shine, For Medicaid expansion, I’m gonna let it shine….”

The crowd was diverse: Samoan, Hispanic, Alaska Native, young and old. Some had health insurance. Others did not, like Tara Devlin, who spoke at the rally. Devlin graduated from college and then started a preschool last year. When she went to sign up for insurance on healthcare.gov, she found out she earned too little to buy subsidized insurance. In most other states, she would have been able to enroll in Medicaid.

photo credit: Jonathan Casurella

Some Republican lawmakers say the state can’t afford to add Alaskans to the Medicaid system, even with the federal government paying most of the bill. Devlin thinks they’re wrong:

“It’s an investment in healthy Alaskans and it’s an investment in young people like me who want to start businesses and be here for the rest of my life and put my kids through the schools here. By not investing in me it makes people like me want to leave.”

Medicaid expansion would give federal health insurance to up to 40,000 low income, mostly childless adults in Alaska.

The local chapter of Americans For Prosperity has been making the argument against expansion this session. State Director Jeremy Price is considering organizing his own rally. He questions a recent poll showing even in the most conservative areas of the state, more Alaskans support expansion than oppose it. Price thinks many Alaskans don’t understand what expansion means and because of that, the state should wait:

“Let’s focus on something that Alaskans agree on. We see reform as something that Alaskans agree on. Supporters of expansion and opponents of expansion both agree on reform. So let’s focus on that. Let’s pass reform first.”

Price says it’s clear the Medicaid system is broken.

Towards the end of the rally at Cuddy park, Pastor Julia Seymour led the crowd in a prayer for every elected official in Juneau.

“After each name we will respond, may light and truth guide them…”

Seymour went to Juneau last month and met with several lawmakers to make the case for Medicaid expansion. She says she learned a lot from the trip. She thinks some lawmakers are paying attention to misinformation instead of the truth about Medicaid expansion. But she is willing to be patient:

“The bible tells us that faith, hope and love go on and do not end. And I’m keeping the faith and I’m hopeful, but my love for some of the leaders is waning now and then.”

Seymour thinks her trip to Juneau did make a difference though. And she hopes the rally can too:

“If it doesn’t make a difference, we really have to question whether our leaders our representing the people of Alaska. We vote them in not to hold to their own agendas but to pay attention to what we lift up as the issues of our community.”

If Medicaid expansion doesn’t pass this legislative session, Seymour says there will be a lot of grieving by people like her who expect to see it happen. But she won’t abandon the fight. She says she can’t give up until all Alaskans have some kind of health safety net.

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

Categories: Alaska News

UAF Chancellor Brian Rogers To Retire This Summer

Fri, 2015-04-17 12:24

University of Alaska Fairbanks Chancellor Brian Rogers plans to step down this summer.

Rogers, who was a top candidate to replace retiring UA system President Pat Gamble, announced his intention to leave the university Thursday, citing health issues he attributes to stress including that brought on by the process of cutting UAF’s budget.

Rogers, a UAF graduate, has been chancellor for 7 years, and affiliated with the university system for decades, including 8 years as a regent. He plans to officially end his tenure in August.

Meanwhile President Gamble, who had planned to retire this spring, has agreed to stay on a little longer as regents consider candidates to replace him. A message from Regents chair Jo Heckman says Gamble agreed to remain on the job for a few extra months to allow more time to vet candidates to replace him. She also cites the importance of Gamble’s knowledge as the university undergoes downsizing.

Categories: Alaska News

Land Into Trust And The Future Of Tribal Sovereignty In Alaska

Fri, 2015-04-17 12:00

Alaska tribes can now ask the Interior Secretary to take land into trust, a legal designation called Indian Country. What would this mean for the future of tribal sovereignty? How would Indian Country status affect Alaska Native Corporations and the relationship between tribes and the state?

HOST: Lori Townsend

GUESTS:

  • Mark Trahant, Atwood Chair for Journalism, University of Alaska Anchorage
  • Callers statewide

PARTICIPATE:

  • Post your comment before, during or after the live broadcast (comments may be read on air).
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  • Call 550-8422 in Anchorage or 1-800-478-8255 if you’re outside Anchorage during the live broadcast

LIVE Broadcast: Tuesday, April 21, 2015 at 10:00 a.m. on APRN stations statewide.

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

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Categories: Alaska News

State’s New Child Adoption Rules Signal Thaw With Native Groups

Thu, 2015-04-16 19:12

Since 2008, the state has been in litigation with the Native Village of Tununak over the fate of a young girl in a case where parental rights were terminated. The state has held that because the girl’s grandmother did not file formal adoption paperwork in time, she lost the preference she would have been granted under the Indian Child Welfare Act.

Now, Gov. Bill Walker has rolled out emergency regulations that seek to prevent situations like this in the future. As APRN’s Alexandra Gutierrez reports, Native groups have long fought for the change.

With Julie Kitka, the president of the Alaska Federation of Natives by his side, Walker announced at a press conference that the state would make it easier for Alaska Native children to remain with extended family or with tribal members in adoption cases.

“We are going as far as we can with the emergency regulations, up to the statutory limitations now.”

With the way the Indian Child Welfare Act works, those groups get preference in adoption cases. But as it stands now, they have to exercise that right through prescribed application notices and legal proceedings.

That’s not always easy in villages where there are often no attorneys. Health Commissioner Val Davidson tried to convey just how challenging the whole process is by asking reporters questions in Yup’ik.

“I asked you in Yup’ik, ‘If you’re a person who wants to step forward, come now. Now is the time. Now is the only time you can do that,'” Davidson said after two seconds of silence. “That’s what families face in Alaska every day.”

Under the new regulations, which are effective immediately, individuals who get custody preference would be able to express their intent to adopt a child in need of aid in less formal ways. They could do it in person, over the phone, by post, or even just by e-mail. The administration has also drafted a bill that would put those rules into statute. If the legislation passes next year, it would make the policy more likely to hold in future administrations.

Alaska Federation of Natives President Julie Kitka thanked the governor for the change, and said it signified a shift in relations between the state and tribes. She said the new rules would have a noticeable impact on families.

“It’s real. It impacts children in our state today,” said Kitka.

But it won’t affect one child — the now seven-year-old Baby Dawn in the Tununak case. At the same time the administration is changing its stance on adoption cases, it is staying firm in its position in that litigation — which was one of the reasons for the regulatory change in the first place. In that case, a non-Native foster family adopted Dawn before her grandmother asserted her position under the Indian Child Welfare Act. The state argued that the Office of Children’s Services behaved appropriately

On Wednesday, the same day that the regulations were signed, Attorney General Designee Craig Richards filed in a brief in the Tununak case that went against the village’s desires. While the brief acknowledged that the state was moving toward more flexible policies for child placement, it still held its position that a child’s grandmother lost her adoption preference when she did not give a formal notice that she wanted to take the girl in.

Walker does not think that’s inconsistent, saying that the regulations cannot be applied retroactively.

“We can’t change, we can’t rewrite what was in place at that time,” said Walker. “We can rewrite the future.”

Walker added that Richards was involved in the drafting of the new regulations, despite his position in the Tununak case.

The plaintiffs in the case remain committed to a rehearing.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: April 16, 2015

Thu, 2015-04-16 17:42

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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Battle Over Medicaid Spills Onto Capital Steps

Zachariah Hughes, KSKA – Anchorage

Governor Bill Walker spoke at a rally today in favor of Medicaid expansion outside the capital in Juneau. The event is another strategy from the administration to get lawmakers to bring the issue to a vote in the Legislature.

 

As Deadline Looms, Gov. Walker Says Legislature Could Gavel Out On Time

Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN – Juneau

With the legislature scheduled to gavel out by midnight on Sunday, Governor Bill Walker has seen very few pieces of legislation make it to his desk. APRN’s Alexandra Gutierrez sat down with Walker yesterday afternoon to get his take on how the session is progressing. Walker said he thinks it’s still possible for lawmakers to get their work done on time.

 

Emergency Regulations Strengthen Indian Child Welfare Act

Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN – Juneau

Since 2008, the state has been in litigation with the Native Village of Tununak over the fate of a young girl whose parental rights were terminated. The state has held that because the girl’s grandmother did not file formal adoption paperwork, she lost the preference she would have been granted under the Indian Child Welfare Act. Now, Governor Walker has rolled out emergency regulations that seek to prevent situations like this in the future. The action is a win for Native groups in the state.

 

Petitioners ask Governor to Stop Supporting Same-Sex Marriage Bans

Anne Hillman, KSKA – Anchoraeg

More than 1,200 Alaskans have signed a petition asking Governor Walker to withdraw Alaska’s support for an amicus brief defending same-sex marriage bans.

 

Coast Guard Says Remains Of Missing Alaska Pilot Found

The Associated Press

Searchers have found the remains of the pilot of a plane that went missing in Alaska’s Prince William Sound.

 

FBI Looks Into Bethel Incident

Ben Matheson, KYUK – Bethel

FBI staff were in Bethel recently on a fact finding mission related to an incident in which a former Bethel police officer arrested a man in a parking lot of an AC store.

 

Interior Secretary Sally Jewell Defends Federal Land Management

Liz Ruskin, APRN – Washington DC

Interior Secretary Sally Jewell today defended the federal government’s land management and brushed off calls from legislators in Alaska, and other states, to seize federal lands.

 

Oil Price Likely To Dip Again After Brief Surge

Liz Ruskin, APRN – Washington DC

The price of Brent Crude hit above $63 a barrel today, the highest it’s been this year. That gives Alaskans something to cheer about. But the head of the U.S. Energy Information Administration told a Senate panel Thursday two political events on the horizon would likely bring the global price down.

 

Ninth Circuit Denies Big Thorne Injunction

Leila Kheiry, KRBD – Ketchikan

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has denied an emergency motion for an injunction that would have delayed the Big Thorne Timber Sale pending an appeal of a lower-court ruling.

 

Anchorage Students Rally Against Education Funding Cut

Anne Hillman, KSKA – Anchorage

More than 150 high school students walked out of class this afternoon to attend an impromptu rally in downtown Anchorage. They are protesting the legislature’s proposed $47.5 million cut to education.

 

Juneau School District Seeking Special Election For School Bonds

Lisa Phu, KTOO – Juneau

The Juneau School District wants a special June election asking voters to approve a bond for school renovations before a law stopping state reimbursements for school construction takes effect. The governor still hasn’t signed the bill, but if he does, the school district has 90 days before it becomes a law to hold an election. Even if all goes smoothly and the district beats the countdown, it’s still unclear if it will get reimbursed.

Categories: Alaska News

Anchorage Students Rally Against Education Funding Cuts

Thu, 2015-04-16 17:27

Student protesters asking the legislature to increase education funding. Hillman/KSKA

More than 150 high school students walked out of class Thursday afternoon to attend an impromptu rally at the Anchorage Legislative Information Office. They are protesting the legislature’s proposed $47.5 million cut to education.

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West High Junior Charlie Lowell led the crowd, sending a message to Alaska’s state legislature.

“They’ve been encouraged to even cut education further,” he shouted into his bullhorn.

“Boo!!” responded the sign-toting crowd.

“So we’re here today to let them know they can’t cut away our future! They can’t take our education away from us! Save our schools!”

Lowell helped organize the protest through word of mouth and didn’t let parents or teachers know until the last minute.

Students at the protest say their teachers had mixed reactions — many supported the idea but others were skeptical that any students would actually show up.

Tenth graders Sonja Barnard, Salem Collins, and Tessa Meeno protest education budget cuts. Hillman/KSKA

“I think in general teenagers get a bad rap for being rebellious and like idiots,” said West High sophomore Tessa Meeno. “And we truly do know what’s going on, and we’re not oblivious to what’s happening.”

West High tenth grader Joseph Mazeck said they need to speak up to protect what they love. “I love going to school, and I love participating in school events. You know, I play baseball for West and I don’t want to see that go away because of money.”

The legislature needs to send their final budget to the governor by the end of session on Sunday.

Categories: Alaska News

Battle Over Medicaid Spills Onto Capital Steps

Thu, 2015-04-16 17:26

Gov. Bill Walker, I-Alaska, during a Medicaid expansion rally at the State Capitol, April 16, 2015. (Photo by Skip Gray/360 North)

Governor Bill Walker spoke at a rally today in favor of Medicaid expansion outside the Capital Building in Juneau. The event is another strategy from the administration to get lawmakers to bring the issue to a vote in the Legislature.

Standing on the capital steps in sporadic drizzle, Anica Ord of Juneau said that as a recent college graduate she falls into the coverage “donut hole” for health insurance.

“Medicaid expansion would help young people like myself who want to getting their financial feet on the ground, and want to live and work here in Alaska,” Ord said, before issuing a very modern political call to arms: “Snap a picture, text it, tweet it, Facebook it—do the social media thing. And let’s get this bill to the floor for a vote.”

That prompted many of the hundred or so rally attendees, along with a handful of democratic lawmakers, to begin snapping selfies with their phones.

Governor Bill Walker told the crowd expanded healthcare coverage is both an economic and moral necessity for the state.

“Multiple polls show overwhelming support for expanded Medicaid. Healthcare is not a partisan issue, it’s an Alaskan issue, and we’re going to accept it,” Walker said over growing applause.

But Republicans lawmakers say the state isn’t ready, and that there is no use expanding Medicaid when the state’s current version of the healthcare system is not working.

“To throw another 20,000-plus people into a system that is already not functioning properly could really hurt the state a lot,” said Representative Steven Thompson, a Republican from Fairbanks, during a majority press briefing earlier in the day. “We need to be careful that we have things that are going to work before we start adding 20,000 to 40,000 people to a system that’s already broken.”

Thompson doesn’t believe the issue will not come to a vote this session. But Governor Walker says he will call back the Legislature if the expansion plan doesn’t come to pass.

Juneau resident Pat Sidmore attended the rally, and thinks the politics are obscuring the very real need to give health coverage to more low income Alaskans.

“My sign said that ‘when elephants fight it’s the grass that suffers,’” Sidmore said. “We have a unified government: a Republican governor, a Republican legislature, that’s the elephant symbol, and they’re fighting over this thing, and people are getting hurt.”

After his rally speech, the crowd of supporters started singing Walker “Happy Birthday.” He turned 64.

Alexandra Gutierrez contributed reporting to this article.

 

 

 

 

Categories: Alaska News

As Deadline Looms, Gov. Walker Says Legislature Could Gavel Out On Time

Thu, 2015-04-16 17:25

Alaska Gov. Bill Walker speaks to reporters during a press conference Jan. 27, 2015. He was discussing a draft plan released earlier in the day by the U.S. Department of Interior that would block oil development in the Beaufort and Chukchi seas. (Photo by Skip Gray/360 North)

With the legislature scheduled to gavel out by midnight on Sunday, Governor Bill Walker has seen very few pieces of legislation make it to his desk. APRN’s Alexandra Gutierrez sat down with Walker yesterday afternoon to get his take on how the session is progressing.

Walker said he thinks it’s still possible for lawmakers to get their work done on time.

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Categories: Alaska News

Petitioners ask Governor to Stop Supporting Same-Sex Marriage Bans

Thu, 2015-04-16 17:24

More than 1,200 Alaskans have signed a petition asking Governor Walker to withdraw Alaska’s support for an amicus brief defending same-sex marriage bans.

The attorney general signed the brief two weeks ago. The NAACP, Christians for Equality, and Alaskans Together for Equality all signed the petition.

Comments support equality for all citizens. The U.S. Supreme Court will hear oral arguments about the constitutionality of such bans on April 28. They’ll issue a final decision by this summer.

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Categories: Alaska News

Coast Guard Says Remains Of Missing Alaska Pilot Found

Thu, 2015-04-16 17:22

Searchers have found the remains of the pilot of a plane that went missing in Alaska’s Prince William Sound.

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The Coast Guard says the man’s remains were recovered after being found Wednesday evening.

Responders say the wreckage of the man’s Cessna 180 were partially submerged off the coast of Culross Island.

Anchorage station KTUU reports the pilot’s family identified him as 53-year-old Dale Carlson of Wasilla.

The search was launched after the pilot reported engine trouble Tuesday afternoon near Perry Island, 60 miles southwest of Valdez. The Coast Guard says the pilot stated he might have to set the plane down.

The Coast Guard says searchers included Alaska State Troopers and the National Guard. The Coast Guard says responders searched for 27 hours in rough weather.

Categories: Alaska News

Interior Secretary Sally Jewell Defends Federal Land Management

Thu, 2015-04-16 17:20

Interior Secretary Sally Jewell today defended the federal government’s land management and brushed off calls from legislators in Alaska, and other states, to seize federal lands.

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Categories: Alaska News

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