Alaska News Nightly: March 17, 2014

Individual news stories are posted on the APRN news page. You can subscribe to APRN’s newsfeeds via emailpodcast and RSS. Follow us on Facebook at and on Twitter @aprn.

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Legislature Rejects Measure Extending Benefits To Military Same-Sex Partners

Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN – Juneau

Three years ago, the United States Congress repealed “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and allowed gay men and lesbians to openly serve in the military. Their husbands and wives are also entitled to the same federal benefits they would get if they were straight. But in Alaska, these spouses are not recognized because of a ban on gay marriage that was added to the State Constitution. Today, the Alaska House wrestled with that tension when it took up legislation extending a small perk to military families. A measure adding same-sex partners into the bill was rejected.

Austerman: Talks Under Way On Pension Issue

The Associated Press

A co-chair of the House Finance Committee says he and fellow majority members are discussing possible options for addressing the state’s pension obligation.

Representative Alan Austerman, a Republican from Kodiak, says “everything” is on the table, including possible contribution increases by municipalities, a proposal from Governor Sean Parnell and extending the time horizon for payments.

Austerman could not say when a firm proposal might be put forth. The session is scheduled to end April 20.

Parnell proposed taking $3 billion from savings and putting it toward addressing the state’s nearly $12 billion pension shortfall. Response to the idea has been mixed. Some lawmakers support a big cash infusion to help lower annual payments while others are wary of taking so much from savings.

Austerman says the Senate is having its own conversations.

State House Condemns Statement By EPA Chief

Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN – Juneau

The Alaska State House unanimously condemned language used by the chief of the Environmental Protections Agency to describe gifts she received in the state.

In the process of describing the strictness of ethics guidelines, Gina McCarthy said she received a jar of moose meat in Alaska that could “gag a maggot.” She also acknowledged throwing away a pin she was given in North Pole, and used an expletive to describe the action.

In the “Sense of the House” they passed on Monday state representatives express concern that those comments indicate an anti-Alaska bias.

McCarthy apologized to Alaska’s congressional delegation last week. Members said they were disappointed by the comments but accept the apology.

IRS Gives a Little on Air Taxi Tax

Liz Ruskin, APRN – Washington DC

The IRS has given a sliver of ground in how it has applied tax rules to air taxi flights. Senator Mark Begich is calling it a win for small air carriers, but Joy Journeay of the Alaska Air Carriers Association says the concession is less than it appears.

State Files Suit Against Feds Over ANWR

Liz Ruskin, APRN – Washington DC

The state of Alaska filed a lawsuit last week against the federal government for rejecting Gov. Sean Parnell’s application to explore the geology of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. The U.S. Interior Department says the window for such oil and gas exploration in the refuge closed in 1987. The 1980 law that created the refuge left it to a future Congress to decide whether to allow petroleum development on the coastal plain, and Congress has repeatedly rejected the idea. Parnell argues the law still allows exploratory activity. The case was filed in U.S. District Court in Anchorage.

Guide Critically Injured In Avalanche Near Haines

Margaret Friedenauer, KHNS – Haines

A heliskiing guide remains in critical condition as of Monday afternoon after being buried in an avalanche near Haines over the weekend. It’s the third heliskiing accident in as many years to injure or kill extreme mountain skiers in the area.

UAA Students Illuminating Domestic Violence, Sexual Assault Issues

Lori Townsend, APRN – Anchorage

Students at University of Alaska Anchorage are organizing a panel discussion this week to highlight the problem of domestic violence and sexual assault in Alaska. The conversation is part of the national “No More” campaign that uses a blue circle with a white dot in the middle as a symbol to increase awareness of the issue.

2014 Iditarod Trail Awards Banquet Takes Place In Nome

Laureli Kinneen, KNOM – Nome

The 2014 Iditarod Trail Awards Banquet was held last night at the Nome Recreation Center. Hobo Jim entertained the crowd as they ate prime rib and cake. And emcee of the evening – John Handeland – presented the awards earned by those who raced, and survived Iditarod 42.

Nome Health Groups Hold Vaccination Drive Amid Iditarod Festivities

Zachariah Hughes, KNOM – Nome

Health groups took advantage of Iditarod visitors last week by holding a vaccination drive at the Nome Recreation Center.

‘Let The Games Begin!’ Gala Opening Ceremony Celebrates Diverse Cultures

Tim Ellis, KUAC – Fairbanks

The 2014 Arctic Winter Games officially got underway Sunday, with a gala opening ceremony before a standing-room-only crowd at  the Carlson Center.  A full slate of competition – and a weeklong array of cultural events – begins today.