Alaskan picked to lead regional EPA office

Alaska state Commerce Commissioner Chris Hladick has been chosen to lead the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's regional office based in Seattle.

Hladick will join the agency in December, the EPA said Tuesday.

Hladick will leave his state role Nov. 1, Alaska Gov. Bill Walker said. Mike Navarre, the outgoing mayor of the Kenai Peninsula Borough, will succeed Hladick at the state Commerce Department.

Hladick previously held city manager roles in several Alaska communities, including Unalaska and Dillingham.

State of Alaska weighing options for conducting elections

JUNEAU — The state of Alaska is exploring options for conducting elections after 2018, as it is faced with an aging voting system and financial pressures amid an ongoing state budget deficit.

A bipartisan working group established by Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott is examining the issue.

Josie Bahnke, director of the state Division of Elections, said one option that has gotten attention is a hybrid system that would include allowing for early, in-person voting and voting by mail.

Revenue commissioner resigns to focus on ministry

(AP) — The commissioner of Alaska's Department of Revenue is resigning to focus on ministry work.

Randall Hoffbeck's last day will be Aug. 17.

Hoffbeck was one of the first appointments Gov. Bill Walker made after winning office in 2014. Hoffbeck was serving in Kenya with his wife on a short-term medical mission at the time.

In his resignation letter, Hoffbeck says it is time for him to "complete the call to ministry God has placed on my heart."

Walker working on new tax proposal

(AP) — Gov. Bill Walker said Friday that he will probably run for re-election. But he currently has more pressing issues on his mind — including crafting a tax bill that he hopes will garner support from lawmakers.

In a wide-ranging interview with The Associated Press, Walker said it's imperative that revenue issues be addressed this year.

He expects to unveil a tax proposal for consideration sometime this year, but he could not provide a timeline for doing so or details on what the bill might include. He did say it would not be an oil tax bill.

Capital budget finally passed

The Alaska Legislature has passed a state capital budget during a one-day special session.

Lawmakers announced a compromise had been reached before convening Thursday in Juneau. Some minority House Republicans criticized the process as rushed and lacking in openness.

The measure includes $20 million for oil and gas tax credits, which would bring the total for credit payouts to $77 million this year, the statutory minimum.

House majority files bill for income tax, use of Fund earnings

JUNEAU (AP) — A fiscal plan proposed by Alaska House leaders Friday would reinstitute a personal state income tax for the first time in decades and use earnings from Alaska’s oil-wealth fund to help pay for government.

It’s not the first bill this session that would tap Alaska Permanent Fund earnings and change how the annual dividend that Alaskans receive from the wealth fund is calculated. But it’s the only one that has income tax provisions tacked on.

Consultant raises concerns with state leading AK LNG Project

JUNEAU (AP) — A legislative consultant has raised red flags about Alaska taking the lead on a major proposed liquefied natural gas project, even as Gov. Bill Walker has said he is comfortable with it.

Tongass National Forest plan moves to young-growth timber

JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) — Plans for managing the nation's largest national forest call for changes in timber harvests that one critic says will be "the demise of the timber industry as we know it right now."

The Tongass National Forest released a management plan update Friday that it says will emphasize young-growth timber sales in the forest, which covers much of southeast Alaska, and allow for a logging rate that it says will meet projected timber demand.

Walker hires former AG as oil and gas consultant

Gov. Bill Walker has hired Craig Richards as an oil and gas consultant, less than a month after Richards resigned as Alaska's attorney general.

Walker's office on Friday released the contract signed earlier this week. The contract, with the Natural Resources Division of the Department of Law, runs through year's end and is for up to $50,000.

Richards resigned last month as attorney general, citing a desire to re-focus on his family.

House asks Senate for joint session on overrides

JUNEAU — The Alaska House has asked the Senate to meet in joint session to consider potential overrides of vetoes made by Gov. Bill Walker, Speaker Mike Chenault said Wednesday.

The Nikiski Republican said he sent a letter to Senate President Kevin Meyer asking for a joint session Friday.

Chenault said he's not sure where the votes might be to try to override any particular veto. But he said there's enough interest on his side to at least hold a session to consider potential overrides.

Alaska Senate passes compromise state operating budget

JUNEAU (AP) — The Alaska Senate on Tuesday passed a compromise state operating budget that restores funding for public schools, reduces a proposed cut to the university system and aims to prevent layoff warnings being sent to state workers.

The vote came after House and Senate negotiators reached a deal late Monday. The House was expected to take up the measure later Tuesday.

Hopkins resigns from gasline board for Senate run

Luke Hopkins, who was narrowly confirmed to the board of the Alaska Gasline Development Corp. last month, has resigned from that post to run for the state Senate.

In a letter to Gov. Bill Walker, dated Wednesday, Hopkins said his decision to run was motivated by what he considers a lack of leadership in the Legislature.

He says he remains committed to the corporation's mission and doesn't want to see that further politicized by his campaign. His resignation is effective immediately.

Moda Health leaving Alaska individual health market in 2017

JUNEAU (AP) — One of the two companies offering individual health insurance policies for Alaskans announced Monday that it will not be participating in that market next year.

The announcement by Moda Health would leave Premera Blue Cross Blue Shield as the only company providing individual health insurance policies in the state as of Jan. 1.

Moda said current individual health insurance policyholders and those who enroll in such plans in 2016 in Alaska will be covered through Dec. 31. The company has about 14,000 individual members in Alaska, it said.

Marijuana board to take up onsite consumption rules

JUNEAU (AP) — Marijuana regulators in Alaska plan to consider rules this week for consuming marijuana products at authorized retail pot stores — a first among states that have legalized the recreational use of pot.

Late last year, the Marijuana Control Board voted to allow people to use marijuana at certain stores that will sell it. But rules surrounding in-store use still need to be ironed out.

No licenses have been issued yet.

Walker says he’ll call special session if Legislature doesn’t ‘finish the job’

JUNEAU (AP) — Gov. Bill Walker on Wednesday said he wouldn't veto legislation calling for structured, annual draws from Alaska Permanent Fund earnings if he doesn't get other pieces of his fiscal plan. But he made clear he wants a broader package from lawmakers.

Meyer: Permanent Fund bill could be difficult in Senate

JUNEAU (AP) — Senate President Kevin Meyer said Tuesday that he doesn't think there's broad support in his chamber for a restructuring of Alaska Permanent Fund earnings.

He said that not including tax bills, it would be the hardest bill of those left in play for the Senate to pass.

Rewrites of Gov. Bill Walker's bill calling for structured annual draws from Permanent Fund earnings and changes to the dividend program are pending in the House and Senate Finance committees.

Walker says he'd veto Anchorage legislative office purchase

Gov. Bill Walker said Thursday that he would veto the purchase of a legislative office building in Anchorage if that item remains in the state infrastructure budget.

Walker told The Associated Press the purchase is not compatible with where the state is financially right now. He said legislators should know where he stands on the issue as they put the budget together.

Bill seeks to address rising health insurance rates

JUNEAU (AP) — State officials in Alaska are proposing a program to address high-cost health insurance claims in hopes of stabilizing rising rates on the individual policy market.

Just two companies — Premera Blue Cross Blue Shield and Moda Health Plan Inc. — serve the individual market in Alaska and have filed for double-digit rate increases each of the past two years. State officials say that's not sustainable. They hope that reviving a high-risk pool to handle claims for the costliest conditions will bring some relief.

Walker picks Spohnholz to succeed Gruenberg in Alaska House

Gov. Bill Walker on Tuesday appointed Ivy Spohnholz to fill the state House seat vacated when Anchorage Democratic Rep. Max Gruenberg died last month, calling Spohnholz a "worthy successor."

Spohnholz was one of three finalists for the job whose names were sent to Walker for consideration by Anchorage Democrats. The other two were Taylor Brelsford and Kendra Kloster.

By law, the appointee must be a member of the same political party as the predecessor, and in this case, would be subject to confirmation by House Democrats.

Alaska judge tosses lawmaker challenge to Medicaid expansion

A state court judge in Alaska on Tuesday upheld Gov. Bill Walker’s decision to expand Medicaid without legislative approval, finding that the federal Social Security Act requires Medicaid expansion.

Superior Court Judge Frank Pfiffner dismissed a challenge to Walker’s authority by the Legislative Council, which is comprised of state House and Senate lawmakers. That decision can be appealed.


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