Alaska News Nightly: January 6, 2012

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New Bills Given To Legislature

Dave Donaldson, APRN – Juneau

Legislators today released thirty new bills that will be formally read into the record when the House and Senate convene later this month.   They will be added to those already on the table from last year’s legislative session.  Covering a wide range of topics, some promise to be controversial – and some might be welcomed by the public.

Fairbanks Democrat Scott Kawasaki wants to make it illegal for political campaigns to use automated, pre-recorded phone messages — or robocalls — to contact voters.   And Chugiak Republican Bill Stolze wants to make illegal the substance sold as “Bath Salts” – a synthetic form of Cathinone that effects user in a way similar to meth.

Another higher profile bill would remove doubts that it is illegal to send or read text messages when driving.  Anchorage Democrat Les Gara and Haines Republican Bill Thomas have jointly sponsored the bill.   Gara says the bill came about after some judges followed the logic of a Kenai magistrate who raised doubts about the existing law banning the use of screens in moving vehicles.

Rep. Thomas and I have talked about it.  You’re a moving weapon if you’re looking at a keyboard when you’re supposed to be driving.  You’re driving a 3000-pound car while you’re essentially playing a game.  We have to shift the public’s attitude from this is some socializing,  which I understand,  to realizing that you’ve become a weapon now, and you can kill somebody.

He says the bill is specific — it does not relate to any other cell-phone bills that are pending in the legislature.

A constitutional amendment will be up for consideration – this one by Anchorage Democrat Bill Wielechowski — would automatically put two-thirds of any excess reserves directly into the Constitutional Budget Reserve fund, which would protect it from being spent by a simple majority vote of the House and Senate.  That would only happen if voters approve the measure during this fall’s elections.

And Anchorage’s Johnny Ellis has a bill that would put $2-Billion toward covering the anticipated shortfall in state pension needs.  He would also put another $2-Billion directly into the body of the Permanent Fund.

The 30 new bills will be referred to committees on January 17th,  when the legislature begins its ninety day session.

Australian Company Wins Mat-Su Coal Lease Bid

Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Anchorage

The Alaska Mental Health Trust Authority Lands Office has announced the winning bid for a Matanuska Valley coal lease.  Greg Jones, Executive Director for the Trust Lands Office, says an Australian company got the nod.

Riversdale submitted a bonus bid totalling 3 million dollars.  Jones says there’s still some loose ends before finalizing the award.

Jones says he was surprised by the amount of interest in the lease offering.   Usibelli Coal, Alaska Mining and Energy, and Arctic Coal LLC also bid on the lease.

The 9,927 acre lease is located near Chickaloon, and it is believed to contain low sulfur, bituminous coal.  The lease is four dollars per acre per year, adjusted at five year intervals.  The Trust will receive a royalty of five percent of the gross value of any coal mined and sold.   But  Jones says at this point, the lease only gives Riverdale limited rights.

Riverdale must apply for an exploration permit through the state Department of Natural Resources in order to evaluate the lease area and determine if  the coal resource can be mined.

But some citizens of the Matanuska Valley are opposed to coal mining near homes.  Coal mining opponents says coal dust poses a threat to health and the mining activity noise disrupts quality of life for those who live nearby.   Jennifer Harrison, executive director for Chickaloon Village Traditional Council, says the Council is against coal mining.

Harrison says the coal lease area is too  close to homes.

Jones says Trust lands leased for development provide income for state mental health and alcohol and drug dependency programs.

Western Alaska Residents Receive State Assistance For Storm Repairs

Angela Denning-Barnes, KYUK – Bethel

The Bering Sea in November brought a series of storms affecting coastal communities from the Aleutians to Northwest Alaska. Some YK Delta villages clocked winds of close to 100 miles an hour. Now, the State is reaching out to residents with grant money to help them pay for some of the damages.

Ft. Wainwright Training Center Named After Fallen Fairbanks Soldier

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

A training center at Ft. Wainwright has been named for a soldier from Fairbanks who was killed in Afghanistan.  The Training Support Center was dedicated yesterday (Thurs) in memory of Sergeant Joel Clarkson.

Renda, Healy Begin Moving Through Ice

Ben Matheson, KNOM – Nome

The Renda and Healy have been moving through the ice since midnight. With the vessels 2 and a-half days out, the operation is now moving into its critical phase as people and equipment mobilize to Nome.

AK: Sprouts

Annie Feidt, APRN – Anchorage

Fresh, locally grown, vegetables are getting easier to find in Alaska in the summer. But they are still very scarce in the winter. An entrepreneur in Anchorage is starting to change that though. He is growing sprouts, basil and making tofu in a small windowless building in Spenard. Alaska Sprouts mostly sells to local restaurants right now, but is hoping to expand into the retail market.

300 Villages: Delta Junction

Now it’s time for 300 villages, AK’s weekly trip around the state.  Can you guess what city closes its offices when the temperature hits 40 below zero?  If you guessed Delta Junction, you’re right.  It’s a thriving community at the crossroads of the Richardson and Alaska Highways. We spoke with Mary Leith, a school librarian and Delta Junction’s volunteer mayor.