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

Bill Johnson for Alaska House

News Briefs

 

March 14, 2018

Photo courtesy Trish Raynor

EMT Grace Huhndorf (left) and firefighter Erick Garcia (right) were recognized by their own last month during the annual Valdez Fire Department awards banquet.

Responders honored

Valdez emergency responders honored their own last month during the annual Valdez Fire Department awards banquet.

EMT Grace Huhndorf and firefighter Erick Garcia was named Firefighter of the Year. Both are volunteers with VFD according to a press release issued last weekend by the city's Public Information Officer, Allie Ferko.

Garcia was recognized for his "positive attitude, work ethic, and commitment to skill development and professional education," the city said.

Huhndorf was recognized for volunteering her time and expertise in a variety of capacities, including serving as a mentor for new members of the department.

District E

Sen. Mike Shower, who was nominated and then confirmed by the Senate Majority a few weeks ago to represent District E, including Valdez, will not caucus with the Senate Majority. Shower, a Wasilla republican, stated in a Facebook post last week that he would not caucus with the Senate Majority citing concerns about the budget.

"As the budget stands today, and with the Governor and House Majority proposing increased spending, it's likely there'll be a budget increase more than our district would support at the end of the process," Shower's post said. "All members of a majority caucus must agree to vote for the budget no matter the size. For this reason, I'm unable to commit to be a member of the Senate Majority caucus at this me."

Shower said he appreciates the Senate Majority but wanted to focus on District E's priorities.

He has not received any committee assignments since joining the Senate according to the Legislative Information Office in Valdez.

PFD guarantee?

(AP) Alaska House leaders plan to pursue a proposal to constitutionally protect the annual check Alaskans receive from the state's oil-wealth fund.

It likely won't be a full dividend. House Finance Committee co-chair Paul Seaton says he anticipates a new calculation similar to what the House previously proposed, which limited the payout.

The proposal, which is expected to address the use of Permanent Fund earnings and constitutionally protecting a Permanent Fund dividend, was set for introduction Monday.

It is being pushed by House leaders, frustrated by the Republican-led Senate's opposition to taxes as a way to diversify state revenues. But it could be a heavy lift.

Two-thirds of each the House and Senate must approve a proposed constitutional amendment before it can go to voters. The 22-member House majority can't reach that threshold without help from minority Republicans.

Pot and Feds

(AP) The Alaska Senate was supposed to consider a measure Wednesday saying the federal government's new enforcement policy on marijuana is an affront to Alaska voters, who voted to legalize recreational use.

Instead, a member of the Republican-led Senate majority offered something quite different.

The Senate refused to consider Senate Minority Leader Berta Gardner's proposal, which was a response to U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions rescinding Obama-era guidance that allowed legalized marijuana to flourish by limiting federal enforcement.

Sessions axed that directive in January, leaving it to U.S. attorneys to decide how proactive they'd be in enforcing federal marijuana laws. Marijuana is illegal at the federal level.

The resolution was from the Senate Judiciary Committee. The committee's chairman, John Coghill, says the Obama-era guidance was not letting federal law be enforced

Population down

(AP) Alaska's population declined for the first time since the late 1980s, according to recent figures from Alaska's Department of Labor and Workforce Development.

The department published the statistics for 2017 in the March edition of Alaska Economic Trends.

Figures show the state's population decreased by 8,900 last year, the fifth year in a row of net migration losses, the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reported .

"This represents the longest streak of Alaska losing more migrants than it gains since World War II, when yearly numbers first became available," according to the report.

Alaska's birthrate had more than offset a migration loss of 29,000 people over five years, keeping the total population growing. But last year, birth rates fell and death rates increased, tipping the scale toward a population decrease of 0.4 percent.

The prolonged net migration loss is "a sure indicator of tough economic times," according to the report.

The report can be viewed at labor.alaska.gov.

Spill clean up

(AP) An Alaska regulator has asked the legislature to make sure oil companies clean up old wells, even after the wells are sold to a different company.

Alaska's Energy Desk reports that Cathy Foerster of the Alaska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission testified before the Senate Resources Committee on Monday.

Foerster says it's becoming more common for smaller oil companies to operate in Alaska - and those companies may be more financially unstable.

Forester warned that if a big oil field like Prudhoe Bay is sold to a smaller company that goes bankrupt and can't pay for cleanup, it could cost the state billions of dollars.

She said the state currently has a $200,000 bond to cover the cost of plugging and abandoning all the wells at Prudhoe Bay.

Women leaders

(AP) Women in the Alaska Legislature are breaking barriers.

Once the House's newest member, Tiffany Zulkosky, is sworn in on Friday, the Alaska Legislature will have 19 women. According to Legislative Research Services, that will be the highest number of women who have served in any one Legislature since statehood.

Senate Minority Leader Berta Gardner, an Anchorage Democrat, says that's wonderful. But she notes that females comprise about half of Alaska's population. Women will comprise roughly one-third of the 60-member Legislature.

Still, as of January, the national average for women serving in Legislatures across the country was 25 percent, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

The number of women lawmakers has inched up in Alaska in recent years.

Smoking ban iffy

Sen. Mike Shower

(AP) The fate of legislation that would mandate smoke-free workplaces in Alaska is unclear. A powerful lawmaker is blocking its advancement and others so far have been unwilling to push the issue, despite the bill's widespread support.

As House Rules Committee chair, Republican Rep. Gabrielle LeDoux decides which bills reach the floor. She has balked at moving the bill, which has passed the Senate. Half of the House is cross-sponsors.

LeDoux says the state should not foist a program on communities that may not want it. A similar measure failed in 2016, dying in a different committee that LeDoux then chaired.

LeDoux is one of three Republicans who helped Democrats take control of the House and is a leader of the coalition, which holds a narrow majority in the 40-member House.

 

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