Alaska News Nightly: April 11, 2012

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Governor May Call Special Session

Dave Donaldson, APRN – Juneau & The Associated Press

Governor Sean Parnell says he will call Alaska lawmakers into special session if the Senate passes an oil tax bill by Sunday. The Session is under a statutory deadline to adjourn by that day, but with a key piece of legislation still pending in the Senate, Parnell says he wants to make sure the House has time to evaluate the version that emerges.  The Governor this morning met with House and Senate leadership teams to discuss the end-of-session items, and Senate President Gary Stevens says the tax plan that is expected to be approved by the Finance Committee Wednesday did not face the opposition that earlier versions have drawn.  Parnell says he also wants action on the operating and capital budgets and an in-state gas pipeline bill, as well as full funding for his performance scholarship program. Stevens says the original goal was to have the tax bill through the Senate and to the House for consideration by the end of the day.

Senate Passes Capital Projects Budget

Dave Donaldson, APRN – Juneau

The Senate unanimously passed a $2.6 billion capital projects budget Wednesday – a bill that Finance Co-Chairman Bert Stedman (R-Sitka) says is another step toward keeping Alaska’s economy going well.

“Some would see a sizeable appropriation bill, some would see as not big enough. Mr. President, I think it’s just about right.  It’s similar to where we were a year ago in overall appropriations.  It’s the balance the state of Alaska as a whole can absorb very well. We could keep our road construction projects, our building projects and our planning all kind of rolling along so we don’t have dips in our economy,” Stedman said.

He said the Senate version adds $721 million to the budget the governor introduced, and still leaves room for House members to add their own priorities. The Senate received and made decisions on 1,800 project requests from communities across the state – which would have represented $3.8 billion in more spending.

“The concentration on the capital budget was to grow our economy and to help it diversify and lower the cost of living for Alaskans.  And in doing so we concentrated on energy and other enhancements to further that endeavor and also to create jobs,” Stedman said.

The bill passed on a 20-0 vote and has already been sent to the House.  Work is already underway on their version of the bill.

Sea Ice Slowly Beginning To Recede

Stephanie Jocye, KUCB – Unalaska

The Arctic has crossed the threshold from winter into spring. Scientists at the National Snow and Ice Data Center announced last week that Arctic sea ice reached its maximum extent on March 18 and is slowly beginning its summer retreat. But the Bering Sea had record ice extent for part of the winter.

State Rep. Sharon Cissna Will Run Against Rep. Don Young

Annie Feidt, APRN – Anchorage & Rosemarie Alexander, KTOO – Juneau

State Representative Sharon Cissna is running for Don Young’s seat in Congress. She filed her paperwork with the Alaska Public Offices Commission this morning. Cissna is a Democrat who currently represents the University/medical district in Anchorage.

She says her main issue will be reforming the Transportation Security Administration. The TSA has been a target of Cissna’s since she refused an invasive pat-down at the Seattle airport last year. She ended up taking the ferry to Juneau instead. She says Congressman Young hasn’t done enough to change the way TSA handles airport screenings.

“He hasn’t put forth the kind of oversight responsibility that Congress has to stop jobs that are being done very, very poorly. That are actually hurting Americans. And that’s what’s happening with TSA. And he has not gone after them and that’s his job,” she said.

Cissna was elected to the legislature 14 years ago and has been in the house minority ever since.

Congressman Don Young issued an e-mail statement today saying he “welcomes Representative Cissna to the race and is looking forward to the campaign season.”

Anchorage resident Geran Tarr is running for Cissna’s seat as a Democrat. Tarr is 36 years old and teaches biology at the University of Alaska Anchorage. She says making sure Alaska gets its fair share of oil taxes will be a focus for her, along with education.

“One of the things that excites me about my district is that there are gobs of children. A lot of young families so education is a primary concern for folks. And making sure their kids have good schools and educational opportunities,” she said.

Cissna’s current district 22- used to be comprised mostly of the University/medical area in Anchorage, but under the redistricting plan will include the Mountain View neighborhood. The new district is 17.

Anchorage Assembly Votes Against Independent Council To Investigate Election

Daysha Eaton, KSKA – Anchorage

The Anchorage Assembly has voted ‘no’ on appointing an independent council to investigate the Municipal Election and called a special work session to review the situation. The announcement comes a week after polling places ran out of ballots.

Rhonda Matthews holds her right to vote dear. She’s voted in every election since she was 18, except when she was stationed overseas with the Air Force. She is one of the people who contact the ACLU of Alaska to report that she was not able to vote during the municipal election.

“I don’t care what side of the politics you’re on, it has to do with the right to vote and I was denied that,” Matthews said.

Matthews first went to her voting precinct at Klatt Elementary School just after 7 pm on April 3. That’s where she says she was turned away by an election worker in the parking lot who told her they’d run out of ballots and directed her to vote at the Alaska Club on O’malley. Matthews explains what happened next.

“When I arrived, I noticed that the parking lot was very crowded and that some people were exiting the building that appeared to be quite frustrated. I went inside and when I got to the voting table I told the poll employee that I was from Klatt Elementary and had been sent to this location. I was told that I couldn’t vote there but didn’t specify why. I was told I could vote at the airport,” she said.

By the time she was directed to the airport, Matthews says it was 7:45pm, and with polling places closing at 8pm, there wasn’t enough time, so she gave up and went home. She’s one of more than 150 voters across at least 54 precincts that submitted affidavits to the ACLU this past week. Monday, the Municipal clerk apologized in a memo, saying they had sufficient ballots, but did not allocate enough of them to individual precincts. The clerk’s office is still reviewing more than 6,000 questioned ballots that resulted because polling places ran out of official ones. But nobody knows how many people like Matthews just gave up and didn’t vote at all.

“How many voters did not get to vote? Was it 50? Was it 500? Was it 5000? We don’t know; to speculate is grossly inappropriate,” Mittman said.

That’s Jeffrey Mittman, the Executive director of the ACLU of Alaska. He says independent council should be appointed to investigate. Monday Municipal Attorney Dennis Wheeler issued a preliminary opinion this week, saying it appeared likely the election would be validated, based on a similar case back in 1989.  The Anchorage Assembly has the power to appoint an outside investigator. Assembly Chair, Debbie Ossiander started off Tuesdays’ regular Assembly meeting by apologizing.

“I deeply regret that polling places ran out of ballots during this municipal election. Every voter must be allowed to vote. No voter should be turned away. And for as long as I’m a member of this body, I will commit to making sure that a situation like this never happens again,” Ossiander said.

Assembly members Elvi Gray-Jackson and Harriet Drummond proposed a resolution that would appoint a special council. Gray-Jackson.

“I really believe that this is the right thing to do. As I mentioned these letters that we got from the ACLU are compelling and madam chair, if I might, I would like Mr. Mittman from the ACLU to come sit at our podium so that the rest of the people in this community can hear just how compelling their letter are,” she said.

Mittman briefed the Assembly, but they voted the resolution down 7-4. Some said they may reconsider once they see reports by the Municipal Clerk and the Election Commission at a work session on the election set for Friday. That’s something Rhonda Matthews says she hopes will happen.

“It would be nice to know how many people didn’t get to vote. I’m not sure how many everybody is outspoken as I am and willing to come forward and say what happened to them,” Matthews said. “I think it should be, it should be a re-vote, no matter what the outcome and the cost, because I think my rights and freedom to vote do not have a price tag on them.”

The Anchorage Assembly special work session on the Municipal Election is set for noon on Friday, April 13.

USCG Crewman Gives Account Of Ghost Ship Sinking

Matt Lichtenstein, KFSK – Petersburg

The Ghost Ship was not easy to sink. That was the experience for the crew of the Coast Guard cutter Anacapa. They’d practiced with their deck gun but never used it to actually scuttle a ship. The Petersburg-based cutter gained worldwide notoriety last week when she was ordered to sink the derelict, Japanese fishing boat off the coast of Southeast Alaska. Back in Petersburg, several of the Anacapa’s crew gave a first-hand account to Matt Lichtenstein, who filed this report.

North Slope Accident Kills Doyon Drilling Worker

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

There are still few details about a North Slope oil field accident that killed a Fairbanks man.  Doyon Drilling worker David James, originally from Ft. Yukon, died in the accident at a offshore drilling rig site Monday. Roberta Quintavell, senior vice president and chief operating officer for Parent company Doyon ltd, says she can’t share any details of what happened, but adds the incident is being taken seriously.

The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration is among the agencies investigating the offshore accident.

Senate Passes Immunization Program Bill

Dave Donaldson, APRN – Juneau

Alaskans are on their way to getting immunizations again.  The Senate Wednesday passed a House bill reinstating the adult and children’s immunization program – at least temporarily.  The program was disassembled in 2009. Nome Democrat Donnie Olson said federal funding has dropped by 84 percent and all adult vaccinations have be stopped – as well as many vaccinations offered to children.

“This program has held at bay a number of terrible diseases that are not just like threatening,  but they’re also life altering.  Frequently these diseases cause death.  I’m speaking mainly of meningococcal meningitis, some of the rotaviruses, influenza as well as pneumococcal,” Olson said.

The bill provides about $5 million annually for the program for the next three years and offers protection to uninsured and underinsured children children. He says there’s still a risk of disease outbreaks, but the program makes the basics available to everyone.

“For the children under nineteen, they include all the vaccines required by the state of Alaska for school attendance, plus rotaviruses, influenza and pneumococcal.   For adults you’re getting influenza, pneumococcal, T-Dap and Zoster.  With that I want to urge people to have a positive vote on this very necessary legislation,” he said.

The Senate did not change the bill from the version that passed the House, so it can now go next to the governor for action.

House Approves Knik Arm Crossing Fund

Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Anchorage

The state House Wednesday approved a bill creating a Knik Arm Crossing Fund that critics say could put the state on the hook for about $2.9 billion dollars over the next three decades.

Unofficial Election Results Indicate Approval Of Nome Annexation Of Nushagak Fishery

Mike Mason, KDLG – Dillingham

The margins are slim and there are still votes to count but it looks like

Dillingham residents have approved Proposition One to annex the local Nushagak commercial fishing district into the city limits and also approved the second proposition to impose a 2.5 percent raw fish tax. Both measures gained about 50 more votes in favor than those opposed.  But, the final results won’t be known till tomorrow.

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