Alaska News Nightly: November 23, 2010

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Planned Parenthood Working to Overturn Parental Notice Law
Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Anchorage
Planned Parenthood of the Great Northwest is suing the state in an effort to overturn the parental notice law, which requires underage girls seeking abortions to notify their parents.  Clover Simon is vice president of the organizations’ Alaska chapter, says the litigation is aimed at preventing the law from going into effect on Dec. 14 while the law is being challenged.

The law affects young women 18 years of age or under. Simon says the law is vague, and places an undue burden on both physicians and patient.  Simon says the law is too burdensome on any minor choosing to terminate a pregnancy without notifying her parents.

The parental notification law was passed by Alaska voters this past June, when it appeared on the primary ballot.

Those in support of the law say that complications posed by abortion pose a health risk that parents need to be aware of.

Bill MacAllister , spokesman for the state Department of Law, says state attorneys have the complaint and are reviewing it.  He had no further comment at this time.

Freezing Rain Still Keeping Many Alaskans Inside
Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks
The icy weather system that’s shut down schools, government and other facilities from Anchorage to Fairbanks and beyond, continues to dump freezing rain on the region.  National Weather Service Meteorologist Eric Stevens says Fairbanks is enduing an historic winter rain event.

The rain has water running over ice slicked streets, and driving continues to be dicey. Fairbanks North Star Borough Mayor Luke Hopkins also describes the ice storm as “a historic weather event” and is encouraging residents to stay home.

A winter storm warning remains in affect, and the Weather Service’s Stevens says the forecast doesn’t call for much improvement.

Stevens says the rain has not resulted in any serious flooding.  He says the snow pack can absorb a lot of water, and river levels are low.  He says things should begin to dry out later Wednesday, and there’s a chance for a little snow on Thanksgiving.

Anchorage schools were closed today and in the Mat Su valley, Trooper Spokeswoman Megan Peters says the Valley School district is closed also.

Peters says the main thoroughfares in Anchorage are less treacherous than yesterday but the side streets and parking lots are very icy. School officials expressing concern about side road and trail conditions for students have decided not to take chances.  Icy conditions are a significant safety concern for students who walk to school or to bus stops. The school districts in Fairbanks, Anchorage and the Mat Su Valley will all be closed again tomorrow. With the Thanksgiving holiday coming up, that means the kids are free until Monday.

NANA Elders Will Receive $2,000 Next Year
Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Anchorage
NANA elder shareholders will be $2,000 richer come next year.   The trustees of NANA’s Elders settlement trust have voted to approve the 2011 distribution.   Kevin Thomas, chief financial officer for NANA Regional Corporation, says the trust was formed two years ago to pay an annual distribution to shareholders who are 65 years or older.

Thomas says around 622 elders will be benefitting from the distribution.

Many elders live on a fixed income.  The distribution of $1,500 comes with an additional $500 for taxes, and elders are encouraged to reserve the extra for their 2012 taxes.  It is the result of a contribution from NANA Regional which was approved last week.

He says this year’s distribution tops previous years’.

Elders on direct deposit will receive their dividends in Feb. 4 of next year.   Elders not on direct deposit will receive checks later in the month.

Angoon Voting on Mayoral Recall
Ed Ronco, KCAW – Sitka
Angoon residents are voting today on whether to recall the city’s mayor, Albert Howard. The recall petition accuses Howard of exceeding his authority as mayor by entering into a deal to develop hydro power projects on Ruth Lake and Scenery Lake in Thomas Bay. Angoon is a village of about 430 people on Admiralty Island in Southeast Alaska.

Former Young Aid Sentenced
Libby Casey, APRN – Washington DC
A former aide to Alaska Congressman Don Young was sentenced Monday for taking money in exchange for information from corrupt lobbyist Jack Abramoff.

Mark Zachares pleaded guilty in 2007 to taking gifts from Abramoff and his associates in exchange for insider intel.  At the time he was working for Representative Young on the House Transportation Committee.  Monday, he was sentenced in U.S. District Court to 12 weekends in jail, four years probation, 200 hours community service and fines totaling $4,000.

Zachares’s sentence had been delayed because he was working with federal investigators to try and trap bigger fish, but a prosecutor told the judge Monday he’s no longer needed.

Court documents show that Zachares helped the FBI in their investigation after he was busted, turning over information about two Congressman federal officials won’t name.

Last week Representative Young refused to comment to APRN about Zachares’s case and who the Congressmen might be. No charges are being brought because of Zachares’s information, but prosecutors say it was good.  They’re blaming the high amount of evidence needed to bring corruption charges against elected officials.

This summer the U.S. Supreme Court limited the scope of what’s called the “Honest Services Law,” which is used to prosecute corrupt officials and executives.

Zachares used to live in Alaska, where he attended the University of Alaska Anchorage and played on the school’s basketball team.  He could’ve been sentenced to up to two years in prison.

Begich Gains Leadership Role With Senate Democrats
Libby Casey, APRN – Washington DC
Alaska’s Mark Begich says his new post on the Senate’s Democratic leadership team will give voice to more moderate members of the caucus.  Last week Alaska’s junior Senator was named to the Number Five slot in the Democratic leadership team.

Begich says he didn’t seek out the job, and doesn’t plan on changing his style or message to fit any mould.  His title is “Chairman of the Steering and Outreach Committee.”  That means he’s charged with reaching out to groups both inside and out of the beltway.

Begich says he hopes to use his new post to get differing viewpoints before his fellow Democrats.  He cites his pro-development stance, and says he’d also like to see a lot of Alaskans included in outreach. And he says his background should bring in business interests.

The Steering Committee is made up mostly of the chairs of major Senate committees, giving Begich face-time with some of Congress’s most powerful leaders.  They meet a few times a month with groups from around the nation.

Begich replaced Debbie Stabenow of Michigan for the job, who moved up to the Number Four post.  The Democratic leadership mostly remained the same with Nevada’s Harry Reid as the Majority Leader, Dick Durbin of Illinois in the Number Two job of Whip, and Patty Murray of Washington as Conference Secretary.  New Yorker Chuck Schumer got an expanded role as the head of a new branch that will work on the Democrats’ message.

Senator Lisa Murkowski had a leadership role on the Republican side of the Senate, also in her caucus’s “Number Five” slot.  But she had to give it up when she ran her write-in campaign.

ACLU Waiting on Results of Fight Over Illegal Campsites
Len Anderson, KSKA – Anchorage
Attorneys for the American Civil Liberties Union and the Municipality of Anchorage are waiting to learn the victor of the latest round in the legal fight over the illegal campsites scattered throughout the city.  That is, if there is a victor.

Campbell Says Allegations By Miller Are ‘Baseless’
Associated Press
Alaska Lt. Gov. Craig Campbell says allegations made by Republican U.S. Senate candidate Joe Miller in a state lawsuit are “baseless.”
Miller sued yesterday in Fairbanks, claiming elections officials have improperly gauged voter intent by accepting ballots with minor misspellings.

Campbell rejects the notion that elections officials acted improperly. He also says Miller claims fraud and irregularities occurred, but has not provided any examples.

Campbell says in a prepared statement that Miller’s allegations if left unanswered could make members of the public lose trust in a lawful, reliable and consistent election process.

Ferry Chief Retiring After 37 Years in the System
Ed Schoenfeld, CoastAlaska – Juneau
Alaska’s ferry chief is retiring. Jim Beedle will leave his job as Department of Transportation deputy commissioner for marine operations at the end of December.

Former Sitka Resident Admits to 22-Year-Old Murder
Robert Woolsey, KCAW – Sitka
A former Sitka resident has admitted to murdering her husband 22 years ago, and disposing of his body.

45-year-old Jane Reth entered a guilty plea this  Monday (11-22-10) in Sitka Superior Court to a charge of Murder in the 2nd Degree.

The charge has been reduced from Murder in the 1st Degree. Additonally, Reth will no longer face a separate felony charge for tampering with evidence.

A word of caution: Some listeners may be disturbed by details in this story.