Alaska News Nightly: November 30, 2010

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Senators Review Pentagon Report Regarding ‘Don’t Ask Don’t Tell’
Libby Casey, APRN – Washington DC
Alaska’s Senators are both reviewing a Pentagon report unveiled Tuesday on the effects of repealing the law banning gays in the military.  It concludes that getting rid of “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” presents little risk to the troops’ ability to carry out missions, and says 70 percent of service members surveyed believe it would have little or no effect on their units.

It’s up to the Senate whether or not to repeal “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” as part of the Defense Authorization bill.  Senator Mark Begich supports getting rid of the anti-gay policy, and points to American allies in Iraq and Afghanistan who do not have such policies and have not had problems, either in their own ranks or when working with U.S. troops.  He says it’s time to move forward.

Begich sits on the Senate Armed Services Committee, which will take testimony on the study Thursday from Defense Secretary Robert Gates, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mike Mullen, and top military leaders.

Republicans are largely against repeal.  But Senator Lisa Murkowski could be a possible swing vote; she’s said she wanted to wait for the study’s results and make sure repeal wouldn’t hurt troop morale and recruitment.  Tuesday evening Murkowski hadn’t yet had a chance to scrutinize the newly released report, but said her top military staffer was reading it, and she plans to dig into it.

Murkowski has said Democrats should not rush passage of the Defense Authorization bill and its repeal of “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell.”  She’s calling for deliberations on the Senate floor; but the Lame Duck session must wrap up by the end of the year and there’s much on the agenda.

Senate Passes New Food Safety Bill
Libby Casey, APRN – Washington DC
Gridlock may be the prevailing theme on Capitol Hill, but Senator Lisa Murkowski and 14 other Republicans joined with Democrats – including Senator Mark Begich – to pass a bipartisan Food Safety Bill Tuesday morning.  It’s the biggest change in the laws governing food production in 70 years.

It requires more inspections of food manufacturers and processing plants, sets new standards for imported food, and gives the Food and Drug Administration the authority to recall contaminated food – right now the FDA can only ask companies to voluntarily do so.

Consumer groups support the bill, as do large food growers.  Small local farmers have had concerns that it would be too burdensome for them, but a Democratic amendment exempts small farmers who sell locally and make less than a half-million dollars.  Alaska Senator Mark Begich says the “small farmer’s amendment” pushed by Montana Senator Jon Tester alleviated his concerns, so he signed on as a co-sponsor.

Senator Lisa Murkowski says there are Alaska-oriented amendments she inserted during the committee process.  One calls for the FDA to do a study on the transportation of food in rural and frontier areas, and another directs the FDA to update the Fish and Fisheries Products Hazards and Control Guidance, which helps seafood processors develop their Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points.  It was last updated nine years ago.

The House has already passed similar Food Safety legislation, but now the Senate language goes back to the House for final approval.

River Bean is the owner of Arctic Organics in the Mat-Su Valley. He says he was relieved there was an exemption for small farmers since the scares over food contamination and recalls all stemmed from large corporate farms and the processors not small growers.

Bean says he’s hopeful the law will help the FDA better supervise large agricultural businesses.

Bean says he’d like to say small family farms are making a resurgence but he says it’s still very difficult for small farmers to compete with corporate growers.

Anti-Earmark Legislation Fails in Senate
Libby Casey, APRN – Washington DC
Attached to the Food Safety bill was an attempt by Senator Tom Coburn to ban earmarks. It failed on a vote of 39 to 56, and both of Alaska’s
Senators voted against it.  Even though it failed, it was a stronger anti-earmark showing than the Senate has had in the past.

Murkowski Asks to Intervene in Miller Suit
Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Anchorage
The venue change of candidate Joe Miller’s lawsuit against the state of Alaska has put a new wrinkle in the ongoing saga of Alaska’s U.S. Senate election.  Senator Lisa Murkowski, who has claimed victory in her write in campaign for her seat in Congress, has asked to intervene in the suit, although at this time, it is not certain if the courts will allow that.

Bob DeArmond (1911-2010) Created ‘Window into Past’
Robert Woolsey, KCAW – Sitka
Robert DeArmond is being remembered this week as among the foremost of Alaska’s historians, although DeArmond himself might not have seen it that way.

DeArmond died last Friday (11-26-10) in the Sitka Pioneer’s Home, where he had resided for the last 19 years.

Friends say the 99-year-old DeArmond was averse to the label “historian,” and instead saw himself simply as a researcher of past events, with no desire to argue for a particular point of view. Whatever the case, DeArmond had a lifelong passion for detail that was likely unequaled in Alaska.

State Offering Grants to Help Combat Domestic Violence
Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Anchorage
The State of Alaska is offering grants to rural areas as part of the state’s initiative against domestic violence.  Melissa Stone, behavioral health director for the state Department of Health and Social Services,  says recent studies link traumatic childhood experiences to drug and alcohol abuse, tobacco use and even to obesity as adults.  Stone says the state is seeking  ideas from rural areas on how to build violence-free communities.

Three or four grants are being offered as part of Governor Sean Parnell’s statewide initiative to end Alaska’s epidemic of domestic violence and sexual assault within a decade.  Stone says the grants are intended to link stakeholders and to expand the breadth of prevention services.

Primary grants of $500,000 will go to a regional or community coalition that can serve several surrounding smaller towns and villages. The original grant could be expanded to as much as one million dollars over three year.  Two to three additional grants of around $200,000 will go to additional communities.

Successful applicants will need to bring forward new ideas, demonstrate community involvement in assessing regional issues and identify results they intend to accomplish.

Sitka Priest Removed From Public Ministry
Ed Ronco, KCAW – Sitka
The priest of St. Gregory Catholic Church in Sitka has been removed from public ministry while authorities investigate questionable material found on a parish computers.

ASRC, North Slope Borough May Fight Polar Bear Habitat Designation
Jake Neher, KBRW – Barrow
Arctic Slope Regional Corporation and North Slope Borough officials are considering filing suit against the U.S. Department of Interior over its decision to designate a vast area of Alaska’s north coast as critical habitat for polar bears.