Alaska News Nightly: March 24, 2011

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Kott Conviction Thrown Out, New Trial Ordered
Associated Press
A federal appeals court has thrown out the conviction of another former Alaska lawmaker charged in a wide-sweeping corruption probe.
The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals today vacated the conviction of former House Speaker Pete Kott, and ordered a new trial. Kott’s corruption case arose during maneuverings around oil tax legislation in 2006. He was convicted by a federal jury of conspiracy, extortion and bribery and sentenced to six years in federal prison.

Kott went to prison but was released when prosecutors acknowledged they failed to turn over favorable evidence to the defense – the same issue that led to the reversal this month of the government’s case against former lawmaker Vic Kohring and the earlier collapse of a corruption case against the late-U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens.

Testimony On Oil Tax Overhaul Begins
Rosemarie Alexander, KTOO – Juneau
Public testimony is being taken today and tomorrow on Governor Parnell’s plan to reduce oil production taxes. For weeks, two House committees have been hearing about the bill from administration officials, the oil industry and the business community, but tonight is the first opportunity for the public to speak.

The House Finance Committee teleconference runs until 8:00 p.m. Another teleconference for public testimony is scheduled for Friday from 3:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m.

Parnell’s House Bill 110 reduces the amount of taxes oil companies would pay – in the hope it would spur more investment in Alaska. While oil company representatives support the plan, they’ve given no assurances their companies would put more in Alaska in exchange for lower production taxes.

Meanwhile, Governor Parnell again chastised the Senate for doing nothing on the legislation. It’s being heard in the Senate Resources Committee, but Parnell says it’s not moving fast enough.

Even if oil companies promised more investment, it would be years before any new oil reached the pipeline.

Senate President Gary Stevens has been sitting through Senate Resource hearings on Parnell’s legislation and says the committee will set it aside in favor of a bill sponsored by Senator Tom Wagoner. Senate Bill 85 bill does not change the oil tax regime.

While some legislators believe Wagoner’s bill could jump start production again, Stevens says there’s no guarantee any oil tax bills will pass this session. Under Parnell’s legislation, the state would forego an estimated 2 million dollars a year in oil tax revenue, based on current prices.

“We just can’t give away the farm, Stevens says.

New Discovery Questions Land Bridge Theory
Lorie Townsend, APRN – Anchorage
An archeological find in Texas will help rewrite the history of when and how the first Americans arrived in Alaska. The site includes thousands of artifacts that date back more than 15,000 years. That means the popular theory that Clovis humans crossed the Bering Land Bridge into Alaska 13 thousand years ago is dead.

Dr. Mike Waters, at Texas A&M University, discovered the site in Texas, north of Austin. He and colleagues uncovered about 16,000 artifacts, and he says the sheer volume of the find makes it very unique.

Local Milk Production Bounces Back
Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Anchorage
The loss of Alaska’s Matanuska Maid dairy at the end of 2007 devastated dairy farmers in the Matanuska Valley. Now, more than three years later, the state’s milk production has recovered from a low in 2009, when Alaska milk production dropped 17%, to rebound at the end of last year. As KSKA’s Ellen Lockyer reports, the Matanuska Creamery in Wasilla can take much of the credit for that upswing, although the plight of the dairy farmers is still far from over.

Democrats Look To Grow Denali KidCare
Josh Edge, APRN – Anchorage
Alaska Senate Democrats are restarting an effort to expand access to the Denali KidCare program. The Senate Health and Social Services Committee held a hearing regarding the legislation Wednesday afternoon. A similar piece of legislation was vetoed by the Governor last year.

Parnell Stands Behind Judicial Council Pick
Associated Press
Governor Sean Parnell says he stands behind a controversial nominee for Judicial Council. Senate Judiciary Committee members called into question the objectivity of Don Haase after reading posts appearing under his name on the Alaska Eagle Forum’s blog.

Haase, a Valdez oil terminal worker and former candidate for the state House of Representatives, said he did not write the posts and only posted them in his capacity as president of the conservative group.

The seven-member Judicial Council is responsible for forwarding nominations to fill open judge positions to the governor. Parnell told reporters he has confidence in Haase and believes he can be objective.

Strange Snowballs Appear in Village
Angela Denning-Barnes, KYUK – Bethel
Hundreds of strange snow balls showed up in the Bering Sea village of Tuntutuliak. One resident thinks she knows how it happened.

Southeast Herring Fisherman Face Slow Start
Melati Kaye, KCAW – Sitka
Every year, the Sitka Sound Sac Roe herring fishery kicks off Southeast Alaska’s spring commercial fishing season. Last year, March 24 marked the fishery’s first opening. This year, despite the fact that seiners and tenders have already filled town harbors, biologists are seeing signs of a slower start to the season.