Alaska News Nightly: December 20, 2010

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90-Day Legislative Session Up for Debate
Jay Barrett, KMXT – Kodiak
As the first year of the 27th Alaska State Legislature draws near, the 90-day session approved by voters in 2006 is in danger of being modified by the politicians it was intended to apply to. Prior to the 2008 session, legislators had 120 days to complete the people’s business. Now, Kodiak’s Gary Stevens, the senate president, said he would introduce legislation to modify the session length during at least one of the two years a legislature is comprised of.

He says that would allow the legislators to deal with the backlog of bills that would otherwise expire if not address in the second year of the two-year legislature.

Former Fairbanks Representative Jay Ramras was a supporter of the 90-day session when he was in the State House. He would not say what he thought of Stevens’ alternating year idea, but thinks the debate over any change will be lively.

Voters approved the initiative in November 2006 by a margin of 3,843 votes, or just 1.6-percent. The 90-day limit went into effect with the start of the 2008 legislative session.

While the legislature is required to abide by voter initiatives, they may change them after a two-year waiting period.

Several legislators earlier this year floated the idea of shortening the session. So far, Stevens says reaction from his colleagues has been positive:

The new legislative session – for 90-days – kicks off on Tuesday, Jan. 18.

Murkowski Supporting ‘Don’t Ask Don’t Tell’
Libby Casey, APRN – Washington DC
Senator Lisa Murkowski broke ranks with most Republicans this weekend to support repealing Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, the policy that bans gays serving openly in the military, and the DREAM Act, to let young illegal immigrants earn citizenship through college or military service. Her votes lined up with those of Alaska’s Democratic Senator, Mark Begich.

Senators Continue Work on START Treaty
Rosemarie Alexander, KTOO – Juneau
The U.S. Senate continued work tonight on the Strategic Arms Reduction or START Treaty, three amendments were defeated that would have changed it. A final vote is expected this week and President Obama today expressed confidence that it would happen.

President Obama and Russian President Dimtry Medvedev signed the START Treaty in April.  It would reduce the number of strategic nuclear warheads both nations could possess.  But it must be ratified by the Russian Parliament and a two-thirds vote of the U.S. Senate.

Going into the debate, Alaska’s senators heard a strong message from home.

New Director Selected for BOEM
Associated Press
James Kendall has been selected to serve as the acting director of the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement’s Alaska Outer Continental Shelf Region.

Kendall takes over his new duties beginning Jan. 1.

The current director of the Alaska region, John Goll, is retiring after 41 years.

Kendall now serves as the chief of the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management’s environmental division, where he was responsible for overseeing the bureau’s $30 million applied environmental and socio-economic research program.

Before that, he was head of the bureau’s environmental sciences section for the Gulf of Mexico.

Total Lunar Eclipse Taking Place Tonight
Adam Kane, KDLG – Dillingham
Many people around the world will become amateur star gazers tonight, looking up at the sky to witness one of the most unique astrological events of the year.

Petersburg Union Preparing for Possible Strike Vote
Matt Lichtenstein, KFSK – Petersburg
The union that represents most of Petersburg’s city workers is now preparing for a potential strike vote. Negotiators for the Petersburg Municipal Employees Association say they still hope to avoid a strike. But the union and the City have remained at odds over wages and leave time since contract talks started last February. The employee’s old contract expired in March and, with little progress since then, the union is now asking the state to clarify which employees would be allowed to strike if they take that step.

Kodiak Man Acquitted of Murder
Jacob Resneck, KMXT – Kodiak
A 31-year-old Kodiak man has been acquitted of second degree murder after a jury returned a not guilty verdict. But the jury did convict Chawn D. Summerall of felony assault and he will likely remain incarcerated until he is sentenced this spring.

Summerall was one of two men accused in the 2008 beating death of 41-year-old Darrell Cavaness of Kodiak. The jury spent late Thursday, all-day Friday and just a couple of hours Monday deliberating before returning its verdict shortly after 10 a.m.

Neither the prosecutor nor defense attorneys that had argued the case were present for the reading of the verdict but heard the decision through a conference call.

Present in court was Josh Fitzgerald, a court-appointed attorney representing Summerall. He would not speculate on the type or length of sentence Summerall faces when sentenced.

It was on the night of Jan. 22, 2008 that Cavaness was found beaten unconscious in an apartment on Natalia Way in the city of Kodiak. He died about a week later in an Anchorage hospital.

An earlier indictment against Summerall was thrown out after a judge ruled prosecutors had presented hearsay as evidence. Charges were refilled against Summerall and the murder trial began Dec. 6.

Also indicted is 31-year-old Joshua Erickson, who faces a charge of second-degree murder. Prosecutors had decided to try the men separately and that trial is scheduled to begin in March.

Wind Power Comes to Sitka
Robert Woolsey, KCAW – Sitka
Wind power has arrived in Sitka.

Mt. Edgecumbe High School and the US Coast Guard have collaborated on the installation of a wind turbine on the Sitka Channel alongside the cutter Maple.

The project has been seven months in the making. It is the third turbine in Alaska installed under the national Wind for Schools program run by the U.S. Department of Energy.

KCAW’s Robert Woolsey attended the ribbon-cutting ceremony on a recent breezy afternoon.