The Valdez Star - Serving Prince William Sound and Copper River Basin

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Valdez Star photo

Susan Gilpatrick (left) and Joan Heikens (right) from the Valdez Senior Center greeted visitors to Gilpatrick's Greenhouse Friday during the nurseries annual St Patrick's Day opening event. Volunteers from the center have been getting their hands dirty by sewing seeds at the greenhouse for 11 years in a program started by Heikens.

Tsunami alert

Valdez is one of the many communities that will test tsunami warning capabilities next week according to NOAA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

"The National Weather Service, Alaska Area Broadcasters, and the Alaska Division of Homeland Security will conduct a test of Alaska's tsunami warning system on March 29, 2017 at 10:15 a.m." NOAA said in a press release. "During this test the Emergency Alert System and NOAA Weather Radio will be activated for portions of the State."

NOAA officials are warning the public that the test is coming and hoping to avoid false panic.

"During the test you may hear sirens, or hear or see a message that a tsunami warning has been issued," NOAA said. "This will only be a test. The test will be canceled in the event of a real tsunami."

The annual test is part of Tsunami Preparedness Week, declared by Governor Walker for March 26-April 1. It is part of the annual remembrance of Alaska's 1964 earthquake.

Oil taxes

(AP) Legislation calling for structured draws from Alaska's oil-wealth fund to help pay for state government has passed the state Senate.

Wednesday's 12-8 vote followed extended debate, some of which Gov. Bill Walker watched from a Senate gallery.

Walker supports using Alaska Permanent Fund earnings as part of a plan to address Alaska's multibillion-dollar deficit. He praised the Senate's action.

The bill calls for draws based on a percentage of the fund's market value. Annual dividends Alaskans receive would be capped at $1,000 for three years and then based on a portion of the draw.

The measure also seeks to limit future spending.

Supporters see use of fund earnings as unavoidable given the deficit. But criticism came from those who want more cuts to state spending first or who contend a more balanced fiscal plan is needed.

The House is working on a permanent fund bill that also calls for an income tax, something Senate leaders have shown no interest in.

Per Diem drop

(AP) The Alaska House has voted to cut the daily allowance lawmakers can claim during session in a bid to show legislators' willingness to take a financial hit amid a state budget deficit.

The vote came during debate on the state budget Thursday.

The allowance, which is tied to a federal rate, rose March 1 to $275 a day for lawmakers who do not live in Juneau and $206 for lawmakers from Juneau, where the session is held.

Anchorage independent Rep. Jason Grenn, who offered the cut, says it would be 75 percent of the prior rate of $213 per day for non-Juneau Legislators and $160 for Juneau legislators.

Factors cited in to the debate on per diem is the need for legislators who do not live in Juneau to maintain a household back home and acknowledgment that legislators sometimes give up well-paying jobs for public service.

Legislation

JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) With much of the attention this legislative session on addressing Alaska's multibillion-dollar budget, a number of bills that could affect you or your business have flown a bit under the radar.

Here is a look at some of them:

Real ID

In 2008, the Legislature passed a law barring state agencies from spending money to help implement national proof-of-identity standards, known as Real ID. Some lawmakers saw the federal law as an example of overreach.

The federal law, passed in response to the 2001 terror attacks, imposes tougher requirements for proof of legal U.S. residency in order for state driver's licenses to be valid for federal purposes.

If the state still isn't in compliance when its current extension expires in June, it risks having Alaska-issued driver's licenses and state ID cards rejected for air travel that requires federal screening and at military bases and other federal facilities. The air travel change would start in January.

Gov. Bill Walker has proposed a system that would allow Alaskans to choose between an identification card that is compliant with the federal law and one that is not.

His proposal has won support from labor unions that deliver goods to or otherwise do work on military bases. The superintendent of the Anchorage School District, which has elementary schools on a base, also has urged swift action on the bill.

The measure is scheduled for a hearing in a House committee Tuesday, along with a bipartisan resolution urging repeal of the federal law.

Smoking ban

Sen. Peter Micciche said his bill to restrict public smoking doesn't remove a smoker's right to smoke; it simply limits their ability to "adversely affect the health of Alaska's nonsmoking employees."

The Soldotna Republican, in a statement accompanying his statewide smoke-free workplace bill, said communities accounting for more than half of Alaska's population already have smoke-free laws similar to what he's proposing.

His bill, a version of which died last session, lists places where smoking would be prohibited. They include offices, schools and places that provide paid child care, as well as cabs or on other modes of public transportation.

It also bars people from lighting up within 10 feet of the entrance to a bar or restaurant that serves alcohol.

The measure would not prevent smoking at authorized, licensed marijuana establishments in free-standing buildings. Marijuana regulators are mulling permitting people to smoke or consume cannabis at stores where they can legally buy it.

Valdez Star photo

Valdez is a certified Tsunami Ready community, and signs directing people out of tsunami danger zones are a part of the town's landscape.

Contraception

A bill pending in the House would require health care insurers in Alaska's group and individual market to provide coverage for prescription contraceptives and voluntarily sterilization procedures. It also would allow for women to receive a year's worth of contraception at once.

In a statement accompanying the bill, Democratic Rep. Matt Claman of Anchorage, the sponsor, said the proposal seeks to reduce the costs of unintended pregnancies.

A version of this bill also is pending in the Senate. Similar legislation died last year.

In written comments to Claman, Dennis DeWitt, Alaska state director for the National Federation of Independent Business, called the bill an increased mandate and discriminatory against small employers.

 

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