Alaska News Nightly: April 15, 2011

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Final Days of Session Remain Unclear
Dave Donaldson, APRN – Juneau
The legislature should be going into the final two days of this year’s session tonight.   However, it became obvious that the House and Senate are simply too far apart on several key pieces of legislation – especially the capital projects budget that the Senate Finance Committee has been dealing with.

Board Releases Version of Redistricting Map
Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Anchorage
One thing is for certain, the Redistricting Board’s draft of Alaska’s new election map is bound to raise complaints.   The Board released its version of the map this week, to comply with a mandate to redraw state House and Senate districts to better reflect new census figures.

Proposed District Changes Draw Rise from Kwethluk
Angela Denning-Barnes, KYUK – Bethel
The State’s redistricting proposals move some villages around in the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta. A few move from the enormous Interior District 6 to West Coast’s District 39. The Lower Kuskokwim’s District 38 expands East to include villages near Fairbanks.  And five of that district’s villages move South to the Bristol Bay-Aelutian District 37.

One of them is the Kuskokwim village of Kwethluk, and some villagers already have strong feelings about it

Legislature Passes FASD Awareness Day Resolution
Casey Kelly, KTOO – Juneau
The Alaska Legislature has passed a resolution proclaiming September 9, 2011 FASD Awareness Day.

FASD stands for Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders, the name given to the range of conditions caused by mothers drinking alcohol while pregnant. Experts say Alaska has one of the highest FASD birth rates in the country.

Earlier in April, a first of its kind conference focusing on FASD and sexuality was held in Juneau.

Park Service Rethinking Strategy Along Yukon River
Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks
The National Park Service says it’s making changes to how it handles law enforcement in the Yukon Charley Rivers National Preserve.  The preserve was the scene of two incidents last summer in which rangers enforcing boating regulations roughed up uncooperative locals on and along the Yukon River.  National Park’s spokesman John Quinley says the agency is advising rangers to take a different approach.

Quinley says the toned down style is being incorporated into seasonal ranger training.

Quinley says the agency is also shifting the emphasis from on the Yukon River to shore side interactions.

Last week,Yukon Charley Preserve officials met with Eagle residents to talk about law enforcement.  The community has requested the rangers involved in last year’s incidents, be replaced. Eagle resident Anne Millard says the meeting did not go well.

Quinley says no decision has been made on who will fill the Yukon Charley Preserve ranger positions. Millard says if the agency refuses to replace the rangers, locals will likely appeal to the Congressional delegation.

Millard says the National Park Service has agreed to meet with a local committee to talk more about the rangers and other law enforcement issues.  The Park’s Quinley says the agency has decided to station an experienced ranger supervisor in Eagle this summer to watch over the activities of seasonal field rangers.

Taylor Highway Opens for Season
Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks
The Taylor Highway has been opened up for the season. The 160 mile long, mostly gravel road from the Alaska Highway near Tetlin to Eagle is closed for the winter.  The state finished clearing ice and snow this week, officially opening up the road for the spring summer season.  There are still slick spots and anyone travelling the road is advised to have chains and survival gear.

House Passes Governor’s Scholarship Bill
Dave Donaldson, APRN – Juneau
Friday, the state House unanimously passed and sent to the Senate Governor Parnell’s bill relating to funding the merit-based Performance Scholarship program.   The bill sets up the mechanism for future legislative appropriations or for donations to the fund.

The only debate on the measure was over an amendment that would have expanded the program to include those students who do not graduate from a traditional high school that offers all the requirements for the scholars.

Anchorage Democrat Les Gara offered an amendment providing a way for more time for graduates to meet the scholarship’s standards if the standards could not be met before graduation.

Gara was joined by Big Lake Republican Mark Neuman, who said many school districts have already announced they will not qualify for the program. He also said that unforeseen things can happen even to the talented students and they should be given another opportunity.

The amendment failed, however.  Chickaloon Republican Eric Feige said the bill was not before members to try to take care of all the issues or problems with the scholarship. He said it’s up to the teachers to come up with a way to give students courses that are not offered in their local communities.

Gara’s amendment failed.  The bill is now ready to be considered by the Senate.

Kobuk 440 Leaders Resting in Ambler
Susan Bucknell, KOTZ – Kotzebue
The Kobuk 440 is underway. By 4:00 o’clock Friday afternoon, eight teams were into the Ambler Checkpoint; Ken Anderson arrived first at 1:37, then Chuck Schaeffer at 2:07, followed closely by Cyndi Barrand and Pete Kaiser. John Schandelmeier pulled in at 2:58, followed by Hugh Neff and Brent Sass. Richie Diehl reached the Ambler checkpoint at 3:42.

Seventeen teams are in the 440 mile middle distance race. The race has a 12-dog limit, and 20 total hours of rest time are required at checkpoints along the trail. The guaranteed purse this year is $50,000, with the winner taking $12,000.

There was a surprise at the start line on Thursday, with John Schandelmeier on the runners instead of his wife Zoya Denure, who injured her knee.

At last report, the teams into Ambler are still there, resting in the heat of the day. In the long Arctic daylight, with bright sun reflecting off the snow, dogs can get overheated. Also, trails get soft, so mushers save energy by resting during the hot hours, running early in the day, or at night.

Obama Appoints Yup’ik Woman to Nation Advisory Council on Indian Education
Joaqlin Estus, KNBA – Anchorage
President Obama has appointed a Yup’ik woman to serve on the National Advisory Council on Indian Education, where she wants to make cultural knowledge a higher priority.

Effort to Ban Cell Phones While Driving Comes to Halt
Associated Press
An effort to ban cell phone use while driving has been brought to a screeching halt.

The House Judiciary Committee on Friday killed House Bill 22 by Juneau Republican Rep. Cathy Munoz after members questioned the need for the ban.

Committee chairman Carl Gatto, a Republican from Palmer, says cell phones are often used by people to make emergency calls. He also seemed skeptical of claims that talking on a cell phone while driving was distracting.