Alaska News Nightly: March 3, 2011

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Florida Judge Puts Stay on Own Health Care Order
Lori Townsend, APRN – Anchorage
The Florida judge who ruled the federal health care legislation to be unconstitutional in January, released a second ruling in the case today – putting a stay on his own order, saying the Affordable Care Act is currently law and states must abide by it until it is finally upheld or thrown out on appeal. The judge wrote that it would be ‘extremely disruptive and cause significant uncertainty’ to halt implementation. The judge told the Obama administration that they must appeal his order within seven days, or his prior ruling will stand.

Alaska was one of the states that was a party to the suit. When Judge Roger Vinson first ruled the act unconstitutional, Governor Sean Parnell declared that decision the law of the land, saying the state would no longer implement aspects of the federal act. He said he based his decision on Attorney General designee John Burns legal counsel. But Governor Parnell didn’t see today’s ruling as a big setback.

Governor Sean Parnell speaking on today’s ruling on the federal health care legislation.

State Senator Hollis French, who has been critical of the Governor’s position, is happy with today’s ruling. He says the way is now clear for the state and lawmakers to start implementing the reforms the act puts into place.

The U.S. Department of Justice indicated today they will immediately appeal Judge Vinson’s decision and seek an expedited hearing.

Coast Guard Admiral Pushing for US Ratification of Law of the Sea Treaty
Casey Kelly, KTOO – Juneau
As his tour in Alaska winds down, Rear Admiral Christopher Colvin, commander of the Coast Guard’s 17th District, says it’s imperative the United States ratify the Law of the Sea Treaty.

Right now the U.S. has exclusive control of the ocean bottom up to 200 miles off Alaska’s northern coast. The treaty would push it to 440 miles.

Colvin says China is already exploring areas north of the United States’ exclusive economic zone off Alaska – areas that would be off limits to the Chinese under the Law of the Sea.

Colvin has been the head of Coast Guard District 17, encompassing all of Alaska, since July 2009. In May he’ll be transferred to he Coast Guard’s Pacific Area Command in Alameda, California, where he’ll be second in charge of Pacific operations.

Last week U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski told the state legislature she’ll push for ratification of the Law of the Sea Treaty this spring or summer. She says Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chair John Kerry and President Obama are behind the measure. But some in Congress are still opposed to it.

160 nation states and the European Union have ratified the Law of the Sea. The United States is one of 18 countries that have signed, but not ratified it.

Murkowski this week also asked Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano for an update on the Coast Guard’s ice breaker fleet. The president’s budget proposal calls for decommissioning the Polar Sea, which would leave the U.S. with only one ice breaker for the next two years – the Healy, which can’t break heavy ice. The Polar Star, which does have heavy ice breaking capability, is expected to return to service in late 2013.

Woman Sentenced to 55 Years in Prison for Murder
Ed Ronco, KCAW – Sitka
A woman who admitted to killing her husband in Sitka 22 years ago is going to jail until she’s at least 70 years old. 46-year-old Jane Reth received a sentence of 55 years in prison, with 19 years suspended. That leaves 36 years to be served, but with good behavior, she could be released in 24 years. The grisly 1988 killing was solved by state cold-case investigators who used a combination of a recorded phone call and DNA evidence.

KCAW’s Ed Ronco has the story. First, though, a word of warning: This story includes some graphic details that might be upsetting to some listeners.

Board of Fisheries Wades Through Proposals
Annie Feidt, APRN – Anchorage
The Board of Fisheries is meeting in Anchorage this week, wading through hundreds of proposals that affect fisheries in Cook Inlet. Commercial interests, guides and subsistence and personal use fishermen all say they are after the same thing: a healthy resource. But that is where agreement ends and the contentious debate begins.

23-Year-Old Hoping to Improve Iditarod Time
Angela Denning-Barnes, KYUK – Bethel
62 mushers are making final preparations for the Iditarod. The ceremonial start of the 1,100 mile race begins Saturday morning in Anchorage. Pete Kaiser of Bethel will be there wearing Bib number 49. It will be the second Iditarod for the 23-year-old, and as Angela Denning-Barnes reports, he hopes to do better this year.

Kobuk 440 Rebounding After Tough Financial Times
Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks
Organizers of the season’s final mid-distance mushing race says things are shaping up after some rough financial times. The primary sponsor of the Kobuk 440, the Kotzebue Dog Musher’s Association was drained of assets by an employee last year and the race has been scrambling to stay afloat, but organizer Chuck Schaefer says Regional Native Corporation Nana has stepped up to support the April event.

Schaefer says the race has also picked up support from Nova Gold and Tec Mining. Schaeffer says no mushers are signed up yet, but that most wait until after the Iditarod.

Interior Homesteader, Poet Passes Away
Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks
Former Alaska poet laureate John Haines has died.  The interior homesteader spent decades in the bush, an experience that inspired much of his work and garnered broad recognition.