Alaska News

Never mind the rain, Sitkans take to the skies to view eclipse

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2017-08-22 09:33
Fly him to the moon: Sitkan Brant Brantman takes in Monday’s eclipse from the air between Portland and Minneapolis — a trip that was set in motion by listening to the song “Why Does the Sun Shine?” as a child. (KCAW photo/Cindy Edwards)

While millions of Americans went out of their way to travel somewhere to watch Monday’s eclipse for a few minutes, a few people took to the skies to watch it for hours.

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Sitkans Cindy Edwards and Brant Brantman were on a regularly-scheduled flight from Portland to Minneapolis on Monday. Although their vacation to visit friends was planned fairly recently, the journey itself was almost a lifetime in the making.

Their flight left Portland an hour before totality, just as the eclipse started. And it only got better.

“We actually sat in the front seat on the right side of the plane. We were looking south as we flew east, looking right at the eclipse,” Edwards said. “And it was so cute because the flight attendants in the front and the back — we kept giving them our glasses, because we were giving them the play-by-play. So we’d give them the glasses and get up and move, and little by little all the people on the plane who would look up looking interested, and we’re like, C’mon! So the plane was just constantly streaming up to that front seat, putting on our glasses and looking out. Because we had such a long viewing of the eclipse. I couldn’t believe it. It was consistent across the 3-and-a-half hours of the flight. We had the eclipse the whole way.”

Edwards said that even the pilots came back and checked out the eclipse from their front row seats.

That everyone got such an excellent look at the event was much more than coincidence. Edwards said her husband, Brant Brantman, has had plans in the works for well, a long time.

“The trouble started when Brant was a young child and he had an album all about the galaxy. And all of the songs on the album were about the sun and the moon and the stars, and it started a trend he has been following all his life,” Edwards said. “He is so enamored by space. He did the work. He figured out that we’re going to go 520 miles per hour east, and he knew what time it was all going to happen. He was watching videos. He was a nerd.”

Although their flight path did not cross the totality, Edwards and Brantman were pretty close — more than 90-percent. Edwards says there was just a sliver, and it never got completely dark. Yet she witnessed something that Earth-bound viewers can only imagine.

“With just a thin hair, it was light out. But as you looked across the landscape you could watch it getting darker and darker. And you could see way off on the southern side of the plane, you could see dark in the distance,” Edwards said. “It wasn’t a fine line and then pure darkness, but it was definitely dark out there. Okay, they’re probably in totality.”

She says the sky was a palette of blues, like an impressionist painting.

And the question all of us far from the eclipse have for those who went to extraordinary effort to see it: What does it all mean?

KCAW – Did you have a personal spiritual catharsis of any kind watching this?
Edwards – (Laughs) I think it’s one of those moments where you realize how little you are. You know when you were a little kid laying in the field looking up at the stars and you just felt so teeny-weeny? It definitely felt like that.

Music: Why Does the Sun Shine? – Tom Glazer

Warning to parents: This is the actual song that hooked Brant Brantman on space. Keep an eye on your credit card accounts, and be alert for any air travel booked between Dallas and Buffalo in 2024.

Categories: Alaska News

Meet the machine handling Anchorage’s next election

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2017-08-21 18:36
Anchorage’s newest piece of equipment to handle the upcoming Vote By Mail system arrived in several boxes and cost $610,599 to purchase (photo: Zachariah Hughes – Alaska Public Media)

Though still a few months away, Anchorage is getting ready for its first election set to be conducted by mail. In April, as residents pick a mayor and weigh in on a controversial public bathroom measure, they won’t be heading to the usual polling locations. Instead, they’ll be sending envelopes to a white, rectangular sorting machine that arrived at the city’s election center Monday morning.

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Moving trucks backed up to an expansive warehouse that’s largely empty, save for clusters of new election equipment and computers. Half-a-dozen workers used wrenches and drills to take apart shoulder-high wooden crates. The cargo inside was metal sorting trays and a boxy machine that resembles a filing cabinet.

The official name is the Bell and Howell Envelope Intake and Signature Verification System, Deputy Clerk Amanda Moser explained. Moser is responsible for overseeing much of the multi-year process converting Anchorage to a Vote By Mail election system. The Bell and Howell machine cost the municipality $610,599, and the Anchorage Assembly voted to include an additional $56,790 contract for installation and continued support.

This particular piece of equipment is a crucial part of the new order. Voters will now get ballots sent to them 21 days before an election. They can turn ballots in at any time, either by mail, putting them inside giant metal deposit boxes distributed across town, or at a drop-off site. When the envelopes arrive at the election center by Ship Creek, the Bell and Howell machine starts comparing signatures to those on record, and sorting valid ballots to tabulate the votes.

“We’ll be able to do this process for weeks before the election, and we’re going to be scanning the results but not finalizing them,” Moser said. “So on election night we will be able to report results as the polls close.”

The change only affects local municipal elections, like those for mayor, assembly and school board seats, along with bonds and ballot propositions. For state and federal elections in November there will still be 122 polling sites set up across the city.

Part of the reason the city started looking into Vote By Mail in 2014 was to save on the expense of staffing so many locations and maintaining the equipment. Local officials are hoping to increase turnout in local elections, which has been between just a third and a quarter of eligible voters in recent years.

The traditional voting model also depends on the participation of hundreds of trained election workers.

“We’re really beginning to see a lot of those folks retire,” Moser said. “It’s getting harder and harder to have enough workers to make election day happen.”

Three states have already implemented Vote By Mail systems — Oregon, Washington and Colorado. The clerk’s office has been looking to them as models while it designs procedures of its own, and tries to get voters ready for the big change in how Anchorage residents pick their local government.

More information on the Municipality’s Vote By Mail system is available here.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: Monday, Aug. 21, 2017

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2017-08-21 18:06

Stories are posted on the APRN news page. You can subscribe to APRN’s newsfeeds via email, podcast and RSS. Follow us on Facebook at alaskapublic.org and on Twitter @aprn

Listen now

Potential initiatives would enshrine Medicaid expansion, ACA provisions in state law

Andrew Kitchenman, KTOO – Juneau

While Congress has debated repealing the Affordable Care Act, some doctors want to make sure that at least parts of the law remain in place in Alaska. They’re sponsoring two initiatives that could be on the ballot next year.

Gov. Walker and Lt. Gov. Mallott officially register for reelection run

Andrew Kitchenman, KTOO – Juneau

Governor Bill Walker registered today as a candidate for next year’s election for governor. He’ll be joined again on an unaffiliated ticket by Lieutenant Governor Byron Mallott.

Meet the machine handling Anchorage’s next election

Zachariah Hughes, Alaska Public Media – Anchorage

Though still a few months away, Anchorage is getting ready for its first election to be conducted by mail. In April, as residents pick a mayor and weigh in on a controversial public bathroom measure, they’ll be sending envelopes to a sorting machine that arrived at the city’s election center Monday morning.

Alaska Airlines pilots picket at airport over contract negotiations

Wesley Early, Alaska Public Media – Anchorage

On Monday afternoon, more than 50 pilots and flight attendants picketed in front of Ted Stevens International Airport in Anchorage. Their goal was to call on Alaska Airlines management to give them what they view as fairer wages and benefits.

Oil company sues over Alaska’s beleaguered cash-for-credits program

Rashah McChesney, Alaska’s Energy Desk – Juneau

An oil and gas company is suing the state over $5.3 million in unpaid cash credits. Miller Energy Resources wants anything that happened before it went bankrupt in 2015 to be off-limits to state tax auditors, according to the lawsuit and the company’s bankruptcy filings.

Naknek man killed after falling overboard on Lake Aleknagik

Dave Bendinger, KDLG – Dillingham

A boating incident late Sunday on Lake Aleknagik claimed the life of 35-year-old Bryan Anderson of Naknek, the well-known boys varsity basketball coach at Bristol Bay.

Quinhagak commercial fishermen struggle after two years without a buyer

Teresa Cotsirilos, KYUK – Bethel

Several weeks ago, the financing fell through on a plan to bring the “Akutan,” a floating fish processing vessel, to Kuskokwim Bay. For the second summer in a row, fishermen in the coastal community of Quinhagak have nowhere to sell their catch; many in the village are now struggling to make ends meet.

Sitkans take to the skies to take in the eclipse

Robert Woolsey, KCAW – Sitka

Mllions of Americans traveled to watch the eclipse for a few minutes, but a few people took to the skies to watch it for hours. Sitkans Cindy Edwards and Brant Brantman were on a regularly-scheduled flight from Portland to Minneapolis today.

Categories: Alaska News

Naknek man killed after falling overboard on Lake Aleknagik

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2017-08-21 17:43

A boating incident late Sunday on Lake Aleknagik claimed the life of 35-year-old Bryan Anderson of Naknek, the well-known boys varsity basketball coach at Bristol Bay.

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Anderson was on a skiff with Jack Savo of Dillingham and two others. They were crossing the lake back to the Aleknagik launch after a hunting trip when he fell overboard, said Alaska State Trooper Sgt. Luis Nieves.

“One of the passengers actually witnessed him falling off of the boat,” Nieves said. “That passenger immediately shouted to the operator, Mr. Savo. He maneuvered the boat to recover Mr. Anderson, finding him unresponsive in the water.”

The boaters pulled Anderson to shore and attempted CPR, then brought him on the vessel and headed quickly back to the launch at Aleknagik.

“They were met by local EMS, who then transported Mr. Anderson to Kananakak [Hospital] where they continued lifesaving measures until he was pronounced deceased at approximately 0250 hours,” Nieves said.

Troopers were notified of the situation a little past midnight. The state medical examiner requested an autopsy.

Nieves said there were life jackets on board, but that Anderson was not wearing one when he went into the water. Alcohol may have been involved, but Nieves was not sure of any other contributing factors to the tragic accident, such as weather, speed or the vessel striking an object.

“It appears that other than no one wearing life jackets, which is not required by law but is strongly recommended, there is nothing that could have prevented this,” Nieves said.

Next of kin were notified early Monday morning.

Categories: Alaska News

Oil company sues over Alaska’s beleaguered cash-for-credits program

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2017-08-21 16:58
Cook Inlet oil platforms are visible from shore near Kenai, Alaska. Cook Inlet Energy and its parent company, Miller Energy Resources, have sued the state after emerging from bankruptcy. (Photo by Rashah McChesney/Alaska’s Energy Desk)

An oil and gas company is suing the state over $5.3 million in unpaid cash credits. Miller Energy Resources wants anything that happened before it went bankrupt in 2015 to be off-limits to state tax auditors, according to the lawsuit and the company’s bankruptcy filings.

And, until the lawsuit is resolved, it wants the state to set aside a chunk of the cash credit payments it’s owed — so it won’t be paid to other companies in the meantime.

The lawsuit is a new snarl in the complicated knot of the state’s controversial — and now disappearing — cashable oil and gas tax credits program.

At its core, it’s a fight over just how fresh of a start a company gets when it goes through bankruptcy.

But according to Glacier Oil & Gas Chief Executive Officer Carl Giesler, it’s not really a fight.

“What the suit is about is not so much about oil and gas tax policy or even about the wisdom or not of cash tax credits,” Giesler said. “It’s really about the picayune and frankly often tedious but still important aspects of bankruptcy law.”

To understand the bankruptcy law the state and the companies are quibbling over requires a jump back to 2015, when Geisler was the CEO of a company called Miller Energy Resources.

Miller Energy Resources was a publicly traded parent company to two other companies in Alaska: Cook Inlet Energy and Savant Alaska, LLC. One operated in Cook Inlet, the other on the North Slope. All three companies were working and applying for exploration and production credits from the state. Then each redeemed some of those credits with the state, for cash.

When oil prices crashed and some lending fell through, Miller Energy slid into bankruptcy. And when it emerged, it had new owners and a new name, Glacier Oil & Gas.

The reorganization and the new name are a sticking point, because the state’s tax division is just now getting around to auditing tax credits that were paid to companies back in 2010 — when Glacier Oil & Gas was still Miller Energy.

State auditors want to examine tax credit payments the Department of Revenue made to Cook Inlet Energy, one of Miller Energy’s subsidiaries. And so far, the company is resisting.

Ken Alper is the director of the state’s tax division. State law prohibits his division from talking specifically about companies that the state owes credits to, but he can talk generally about the auditing process.

Every year, the auditors sit down and go through records of old tax returns or tax credits the state’s issued.

“And if we find an error or an overpayment or an invoice that shouldn’t have been paid on or something like that we’ll make an adjustment to a past tax credit and say ‘you owe us the difference’ essentially,” Alper said.

Each year, the Department of Revenue puts out an audit assessment memo tallying up how much money in back taxes and interest, is owed to the state. Those adjustments typically bring in more than a $100 million a year.

If the state finds that a company owes back taxes, and the state happens to owe that company money — like the $5 million it owes to Miller Energy — Alper said the tax division will just subtract what it’s owed from the balance and then pay out the rest.

But, Giesler said all of the credits that were paid pre-bankruptcy should be out of bounds.

“What we think is that one of the key tenants of bankruptcies is (that they are) meant to create a clean start for the new entity,” Giesler said.

A fresh start for Giesler means that the state shouldn’t take pre-bankruptcy debt from the millions it owes his company now.

“That defeats the whole point,” Giesler said.

Until that’s resolved, the company wants the state to put aside a chunk of the $5 million it’s still owed into an escrow account. That way, if the judge rules in Miller Energy’s favor, there will still be money left to pay it.

And it’s not an unfounded concern, because the state isn’t paying off the cashable credits it owes to these companies immediately. Two years ago, the governor and then the legislature decided to pull back and just make minimum payments.

The state will owe an estimated $1 billion in unpaid cash credits this year and the legislature appropriated $77 million.

Alper said that means companies will get about $.16 for every dollar they’re owed.

And, in Miller Energy’s case, the state is actually refusing to pay any of the $5.3 million it owes to the company, until the case is resolved, according to bankruptcy filings.

“What we don’t want to do is risk having a Pyrrhic victory where the judge rules in our favor and then we turn to the Department of Revenue and they say, ‘Sorry, we’ve already paid out all the money that was appropriated by the state legislature and governor there’s none left for you’,” Giesler said.

Ken Alper can’t say how much money is being paid to companies and which are getting paid this year, but he did say that when the money is disputed, the tax division holds onto it.

“Their share is being set aside,” Alper said. “So we’re not going to give it to anybody else.”

The company and the state will meet in court on August 22, in Anchorage.

Categories: Alaska News

Gov. Walker and Lt. Gov. Mallott officially register for reelection run

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2017-08-21 16:50
Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott (left) and Gov. Bill Walker. The two filed for reelection today for another unaffiliated ticket. Pictured April 20, 2016. (Photo by Skip Gray/360 North)

Governor Bill Walker registered today as a candidate for next year’s election for governor. He’ll be joined again on an unaffiliated ticket by Lieutenant Governor Byron Mallott.

Walker said being unaffiliated has helped him and Mallott work on issues without concern about party politics. It will allow them to avoid a primary battle before a general election that could include candidates from both major parties.

“I think it will be a lively race. I think there will be lots of competition, not for us certainly in the primary, but in the general,” Walker said. “So we’ll see how that plays out and we’ll just continue to do our job in making Alaska a safer place, and work on the fiscal situation and work on the future of the state, in terms of growing Alaska.”

Walker said they’ll point to their record, including expanding Medicaid coverage.

Lt Governor Mallott said they recently met with Democratic Party officials to thank them for their support three years ago and to let them know they would be running as independents. Mallott said he will keep his Democratic party affiliation despite running for office unaffiliated.

Mallott added that Walker has worked to close the budget gap, grow the economy and treat all Alaskans fairly.

“I think Alaskans are going to look at what Governor Walker has accomplished in his first four years, and say he did good,” Mallott said.

The Walker and Mallott campaigns must each gather roughly 3,200 signatures to be placed on the ballot.

Categories: Alaska News

Quinhagak commercial fishermen struggle after two years without a buyer

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2017-08-21 16:44
Warren Jones, the CEO of Qanirtuuq Inc., surveys Quinhagak’s defunct processing plant. (Teresa Cotsirilos/KYUK)

Several weeks ago, the financing fell through on a plan to bring the “Akutan,” a floating fish processing vessel, to Kuskokwim Bay. For the second summer in a row, fishermen in the coastal community of Quinhagak have nowhere to sell their catch; many in the village are now struggling to make ends meet.

Timothy “Johnny Boy” Matthews doesn’t remember when he started fishing commercially. He must have been five, he said, or maybe six. On most summer evenings, Matthews’ father would load him and his brother into a wooden boat that he built himself and sail into Kuskokwim Bay. They would net salmon for the next 12 hours, working through the short, sunny night.

Matthews’ job on board was to count the reds, kings and chums that his father caught, although as the night wore on he would fall asleep in the boat’s cabin. When his father sold the fish, he made sure to share the profits with his sons.

“Every time he’d pay me he’d tell my mom, ‘here’s the money he got for sleeping,'” Matthews said with a laugh.

Matthews has a family of his own now. He bought his own limited entry permit a decade ago and spent his summers selling silvers to a newly opened processing plant in Platinum. It’s owned by Coastal Villages Region Fund (CVRF), a corporation that is supposed to use its Bering Sea fishing quota to support economic development in the area.

Matthews remembers when fishermen could make about $6,000 a year selling to Platinum, and some in Quinhagak said that in good years expert fishermen could earn more than $20,000 a season.

But CVRF decided not to re-open its plant last year, saying that it was losing money. With the plant closed, there was nowhere to sell fish and limited prospects for any sort of summer work.

Matthews works as the maintenance man at the local Head Start during the school year, but in the summers he doesn’t have any money coming in. His phone’s been cut and he said that he’s afraid that his water and sewer will be cut soon too. The lack of money also means that Matthews has been unable to buy fuel for subsistence activities.

“It’s really, really hard on us,” Matthews said.

Abandoned equipment at CVRF’s Quinhagak plant. The organization shut down the facility when they opened their new plant in Platinum. Now Platinum is closed too.
(Teresa Cotsirilos/KYUK)

After two years without a buyer, a lot of the fishermen in Quinhagak tell similar stories. Jimmy Anniver is an elder here. He worked as a commercial fisherman for over 60 years – first in Bristol Bay, then in the Kuskokwim Bay – right up until the Platinum plant closed.

“High prices in the stores fill up those credit cards to $10,000 or more, or something like that,” Anaver said. “It’s hard to live here in Alaska.”

Last year a fish broker tried to buy in Quinhagak, but CVRF refused to lease him equipment. And now a second plan has fallen through.

“We had really high hopes,” Warren Jones, the CEO of the local Native Village Corporation, Qanirtuuq Inc, said. “All the fishermen were getting excited, and then everybody was like, ‘oh no – not again.'”

Before the Platinum plant opened, Jones was the Operations Manager of a processing facility right in Quinhagak. It’s now sunken and rusted; a door clanged in the wind as we toured the facility.

Jones said that he tried to get CVRF to give or sell Quinhagak some of the plant’s unused buildings – there’s a housing shortage here – but the company declined. The buildings are still empty, and rotting away.

As a leader in the local Native Corporation, Jones said that he’s doing what he can for local fishermen by hiring them part time.

“Two weeks on, two weeks off,” Jones explained. “That way the other guy gets paid too. People are suffering, and winter’s coming. And the corporation here is doing as much as we can. We’re extending their credits, people are running out of fuel. And we can’t let nobody freeze to death, so sometimes we let them charge more. These are my people; we have to help them.”

Jones said that at this point, he keeps several gallons of heating fuel on hand at his home. He never knows when someone might knock on his door at 2 a.m. in the winter, asking for heat.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska Airlines pilots picket at airport over contract negotiations

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2017-08-21 16:25
Pilots picket in front of Ted Stevens International Airport in support of Alaska Airlines’ pilots request for a new contract. (Photo by Wesley Early, Alaska Public Media – Anchorage)

On Monday afternoon, more than 50 pilots and flight attendants picketed in front of Ted Stevens International Airport in Anchorage. Their goal was to call on Alaska Airlines management to give them what they view as fairer wages and benefits.

While passengers were arriving to catch various flights at the airport, a group of pilots stood in front of the departure terminal. They silently held signs with messages like “This merger won’t fly without the pilots onboard” and “Culture: Ain’t no sunshine when it’s gone”.

Alaska Airlines purchased Virgin America last year and became the fifth largest U.S carrier. Virgin had been in similar contract negotiations prior to the merger. Pilots from both Alaska and Virgin — along with flight attendants — were picketing to show management that they were united in their demands for new contracts. Capt. David Campbell is a pilot and spokesman for the Air Line Pilots Association, the union that Alaska Airline pilots are a part of.

“We’ve been negotiating for almost a year and a half and management has insisted that we should be willing to work at a discount from our peers across the industry,” Campbell said.

Campbell said that the picketing was less of a protest and more of a show of unity. He said the list of demands the pilots have isn’t exhaustive.

“So we have limited these contract negotiations to only three items,” Campbell said. “Those are pay, retirement in the form of 401K contributions and job security in the form of scope.”

Campbell said that pilots with Alaska Airlines make about 20-23% less than their peers in other organizations. The company reported profits last year of more than $900 million, but also paid employees $100 million in bonuses in February.

Alaska Airlines spokespeople wouldn’t comment beyond what was sent out in a press release on Friday. The statement said that the company hopes “for a resolution through arbitration that will result in our pilots receiving a significant wage rate increase while maintaining Alaska Airlines ability to successfully grow and compete.”

Campbell said the union has met with arbitrators in order to hash out their proposal for Alaska Airlines management. He wouldn’t say what kind of pay raise the pilots are asking for.

“We believe that our position is reasonable,” Campbell said. “It’s certainly affordable. It’s what every other carrier offers to their pilots, and so in that sense, we’re hopeful that our argument will win the day.”

Campbell said arbitration proceedings will begin next week.

Categories: Alaska News

Potential initiatives would enshrine Medicaid expansion, ACA provisions in state law

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2017-08-21 15:21
Supporters of Medicaid expansion express their views at the state Capitol in April 2015. Doctors are sponsoring two initiatives that may appear on the 2018 ballot, one of which would enshrine the expansion in state law. (Photo by Skip Gray/360 North)

While Congress has debated repealing the Affordable Care Act, some doctors want to make sure that at least parts of the law remain in place in Alaska. They’re sponsoring two initiatives that could be on the ballot next year.  

One initiative would enshrine in state law the Medicaid expansion that Gov. Bill Walker executed. The other initiative would include several other provisions of the Affordable Care Act in state law. 

Anchorage Dr. Graham Glass is one of the sponsors of the Medicaid expansion initiative. His neurology and sleep medicine practice has seen a difference from the expansion. 

“We see patients that otherwise we probably would have never seen,” Glass said. “We’re able to do things such as treat their sleep apnea earlier on, before they have heart attacks and strokes and then end up being seen in the hospital as uninsured patients.” 

Glass noted that if Medicaid didn’t cover those patients, the cost to provide emergency care to them would be shifted to patients with insurance. 

The Medicaid expansion has covered 35,390 more Alaskans. Another 31,096 signed up for Medicaid or Denali KidCare since the ACA went into effect.  

Glass said the political support for federal funding for the expansion means the state should be able to afford it. 

“The fact that we have a Republican president and a Republican Congress, and they were still unable to pass that repeal in any way, shape or form, makes me fairly comfortable that moving forward in the next administrations for years in the future, it’s very unlikely that that federal money will go away,” Glass said.

The other initiative would require insurers to cover people with pre-existing conditions. It also would allow parents to cover their children until they turn 26. And it would require health plans to have 10 essential benefits, including mental health care and prescriptions. 

Both initiatives are being reviewed by Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott’s office to ensure they’re eligible to be placed on the ballot. For instance, they can’t require the state to appropriate money.  

Andrea Nutty with the Alaska Nurses Association said the union’s members will support gathering signatures for the petitions. She said it’s important that the ACA protections remain in place.  

“With the current instability in Washington, D.C., it’s vitally important to establish patient protections on a state level,” Nutty said.

Some Alaskans, including U.S. Sen. Dan Sullivan, have called for ACA mandates to be scaled back in order to make insurance more affordable. 2,200 Alaskans buy individual insurance or family insurance costing roughly $1,000 a month, because they don’t receive subsidies based on income. But another 14,000 Alaskans who are subsidized pay an average of $93 a month. 

Nutty said there are other ways to reduce the cost of health care, beginning with making prices more transparent to the public. 

“It’s still vitally important that all of those essential health benefits are included in all insurance plans, because you can’t predict when life is going to throw you a curve ball,” Nutty said. 

Mallott has until early October to review the initiatives. If he approves them, the sponsors must gather 32,127 signatures to petition to place each initiative on the ballot.  

Categories: Alaska News

Feds say Alaska ferry system violates family leave act

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2017-08-21 15:15
Crew members tie up the fast ferry Fairweather in Sitka. It and other marine highway ships will sail less in the next budget year. (Photo by Ed Schoenfeld, CoastAlaska)

The U.S. Department of Labor alleges the Alaska Marine Highway System violates federal leave laws.

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A civil suit filed in U.S. District Court alleges the ferry system miscalculates time off mandated by the Family and Medical Leave Act.

State officials deny that claim.

The act requires large employers to provide 12 weeks of unpaid leave when a child is born, fostered or adopted. Terms also cover care for a seriously ill family member – or the employee him or herself.

The conflict surrounds what are called “rotational employees.” Those are ferry staffers who work for one or more weeks straight, then take the same amount of time off.

The federal complaint, filed Aug. 16, said the ferry system counts such time off as part of the 12 weeks leave required by federal law. It said that’s illegal.

U.S. Department of Labor attorneys in Anchorage and Seattle did not return calls for comment by this report’s deadline.

Cori Mills, with Alaska’s Department of Law, said the ferry system did nothing wrong.

“The state continues to assert its long-standing interpretation of the Family (and) Medical Leave Act, and will continue to support that in the court action,” Mills said.

Mills said the state is aware of the complaint, but has not been served with an official copy.

The complaint asks the court to order the state to follow the Labor Department’s interpretation of the rules.

It asks that any fired employee be reinstated and compensated for lost wages and benefits. It also calls for any worker who lost pay or leave time to have it restored.

The suit does not say how many employees have been affected or what jobs they held.

Categories: Alaska News

The economic future of Alaska

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2017-08-21 15:08
Wikimedia commons photo by Pen Waggener

Alaska is an oil state, but will that be true forever? The state is confronting low oil prices and declining production. Several companies are betting on new production. Others think Alaska needs to grow a different kind of economy.

HOST: Lori Townsend

GUESTS:

  • Jon Bittner, with the Alaska Small Business Development Center.
  • Dan Robinson, Department of Labor
  • David Houseknecht senior research geologist with USGS
  • Statewide callers 

Participate:

  • Call 550-8422 (Anchorage) or 1-800-478-8255 (statewide) during the live broadcast
  • Post your comment before, during or after the live broadcast (comments may be read on air).
  • Send email to talk@alaskapublic.org (comments may be read on air)

LIVE Broadcast: Tuesday, August 22, 2017 at 10:00 a.m. on APRN stations statewide.

SUBSCRIBE: Get Talk of Alaska updates automatically by emailRSS or podcast.

Categories: Alaska News

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