Naomi Klouda

State gets more than expected for reinsurance program

The first disbursement from the federal government to help cover Alaska’s high-cost individual insurance market pool was announced Feb. 9 at $58.5 million for 2018, an amount higher than projected.

The funds come after the State of Alaska was approved for what’s known as an “innovation waiver” under Section 1332 of the Affordable Care Act that will allow it to continue the Alaska Reinsurance Program, or ARP, created by the Alaska Legislature in 2016.

Senate considers changes to education tax credit

A Senate bill is on the move to save a popular education tax credit for businesses that donate money to Alaska universities and schools from expiring later this year, though it may require some fixes to ensure the program is functioning as intended.

As the state looks for means to plug the budget chasm, the education tax credit has been identified as foregone revenue. Between 2015 and 2017, the Alaska Department of Revenue calculates $20.5 million was given in tax credits to corporations.

House to vote on bill to increase max unemployment benefits

Alaska’s unemployment benefits would rise for the first time since 2009 to provide up to half of average lost wages under a bill heading for a House floor vote on Feb. 16.

The current maximum weekly benefit amount of $370 only replaces 36 percent of the state’s average wage according to House Majority Leader Chris Tuck, D-Anchorage, who introduced House Bill 142. That’s about a third of the state’s average weekly gross wage amount of around $1,020 with fulltime employment.

House passes education budget bill with just $118M in funds

Alaska House of Representative leaders on Feb. 13 claimed credit for getting an education funding bill passed and over to the Senate within three weeks of the session starting, but the funding source and the size of the budget are now up to the Senate.

After removing $1.2 billion in funding from House Bill 287 that was to come from the Constitutional Budget Reserve, the bill as transmitted to the Senate includes only about $118 million for Alaska’s 54 school districts.

House education budget bill passes without appropriation

Editor's note: This article and headline have been updated to reflect the bill transmitted by the House to the Senate includes about $118 million in funding for education compared to the initial version of the bill which would have provided $1.3 billion.

Northrim attorney calls size of request for Rogoff loan docs ‘ridiculous’

Extracting communications related to former Alaska Dispatch News owner Alice Rogoff’s $13 million loan from Northrim Bank will take upward of 1,600 hours, the bank’s attorney complained to the judge in the latest bankruptcy hearing Feb. 5.

At issue are Northrim loan documents that involved bank committee meetings and voluminous communications after Rogoff borrowed $13 million to help pay for the Anchorage Daily News.

Board seeks change to pot tax; Drummond bill would clear records

The Alaska House Finance Committee heard testimony Feb. 6 on the Marijuana Control Board’s role regulating the industry and an appeal to change the current tax structure of $50 per ounce.

The Finance Committee was hearing about at House Bill 273, sponsored by Rep. Sam Kito D-Juneau, a measure that extends the life of the Marijuana Control Board beyond the June 2018 sunset.

Onerous health insurance taxes put off by Jan. 22 spending bill

The immigration stalemate that temporarily caused a government shutdown over a late January weekend was ended with a three-week funding bill that included a six-year extension of the Children’s Health Insurance Program, or CHIP, and postponed instituting two problematic health insurance taxes.

CHIP, referred to as the Denali Kid Care program in Alaska, covers 9 million American children including 17,700 Alaskans. The extension is the longest one granted to the program, which had its funding expire last September, since CHIP was created in 1997.

Board hears concerns about crimes targeting cannabis industry

An uptick in burglaries targeting marijuana businesses has officials concerned, but no one seems to be tracking thefts and break-ins at Alaska’s cannabis businesses to get an idea on how safely the cash-only industry is faring.

According to James Hoelscher, the chief enforcement officer at the Alcohol and Marijuana Control Office, or AMCO, the number of theft-related hits targeting these businesses is on the rise.

Marijuana board carries on with new member after federal shift

The Marijuana Control Board approved more than 22 new business licenses at its Jan. 24-26 meeting in Juneau, and continued to wade through public safety and new federal scrutiny on the state’s legal marijuana commerce.

The board also voted in a new chair after former chair and Soldotna Chief of Police Peter Mlynarik resigned Jan. 4.

Former Vice Chair Mark Springer of Bethel, who has the seat designated for rural Alaska, was voted unanimously as the new chairman, while Brandon Emmett, who holds one of two industry seats, was named vice chair.

Alaska VA makes progress after taking over Choice referrals

Alaska’s 72,000 veterans will continue to receive care under a program that the state office of the Department of Veterans’ Affairs took pains to reconfigure over the past 18 months.

The Veterans Choice Program received an additional $2.1 billion in December, just weeks prior to the three-day government shutdown.

Sticker stock for Legislature at $100M Medicaid request

A request for another $100 million to fund Medicaid claims raised questions on the Senate Finance Committee in the first days of the legislative session, but the answers will have to wait.

Senate Finance Committee co-chair Anna MacKinnon, R-Eagle River, appeared caught off guard by the announcement of the need for an additional injection of supplemental funding when the topic came up in hearings Jan. 18.

Renowned physicist offers insights to ANSEP audience

Artificial intelligence will soon allow you to blink and access the internet through a contact lens.

Oil wells will be outfitted with smart technology to communicate its structural flaws or a leak.

Cars outfitted with computers will drive us everywhere.

These were some of the predictions of Dr. Michio Kaku, a theoretical physicist, best-selling author of eight books and renowned futurist who was the keynote speaker at the Alaska Native Science and Engineering Program’s Dissemination Conference Jan. 19 at the University of Alaska Anchorage.

Judge gives OK for trustee to examine Rogoff finances

A public trustee will be allowed to look at bank statements, cancelled checks and documents related to a $13 million loan taken out by former Alaska Dispatch News owner Alice Rogoff.

At a Jan. 18 hearing, U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Gary Spraker said the permission comes with conditions to protect confidentiality, but he ordered that outright objections to looking at “certain” documents on the part of Rogoff’s Northrim Bank attorney are too vague and need to be spelled out more specifically.

He said he’s “not going to rule on the question en masse.”

ANSEP shows off model to national conference

Middle school students from Anchorage learned how to build a computer from the motherboard up at a University of Alaska Dissemination Conference.

On the conference’s second day, the sixth- to eighth-graders teamed up with faculty and officials of universities from around the country to show them how it’s done.

It was a two-step process: learn, then teach.

Uber, Lyft object to proposed new fees at international airports

The public can weigh in on a new fee proposal that will impact Uber and Lyft passengers by tagging a $3 fee on rides to and from the state-owned airports in Anchorage and Fairbanks.

The passenger pick-up and drop-off fees of $3 each way would be instituted at both Ted Stevens International Airport in Anchorage and the Fairbanks International Airport.

Public comments will be taken up until 4:30 p.m. Jan. 31. The proposed rates become effective on Feb. 1, according to the proposal.

Walker names new member to Marijuana Control Board

North Slope Borough Police Chief Travis Welch has been appointed by Gov. Bill Walker to the public safety seat on the Marijuana Control Board.

The position opened up on Jan. 4 when Soldotna Police Chief and board Chairman Peter Mlynarik resigned after U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions rescinded what’s known as the Cole Memo, which was the prior administrations official policy non-enforcement of federal marijuana laws in states that have legalized it for recreational use.

Committee recommends sanction for Eastman over ethics violation

The House Subcommittee on Ethics is recommending censure of sanction for Rep. David Eastman, R-Wasilla, after concluding he violated Alaska law by disclosing the existence of a complaint filed against a fellow legislator.

The committee, which includes members of the public, Eastman and House Majority Leader Chris Tuck, D-Anchorage, recommended he be removed from the committee for the remainder of the current legislative session in a decision released Jan. 18.

Eastman told the Associated Press he intends to seek a formal hearing before the committee.

Districts try to trim overhead as enrollment, budgets decline

On Kodiak Island, eight village schools now share a single principal.

Cutting principal positions from the schools lowered administrative costs for the Kodiak Island Borough School District according to Superintendent Larry LeDoux.

Last year, the district of 2,420 students, spread out hundreds of miles from Akhiok on the southern end to Ouzinkie in the north, lost $1.9 million in its operating budget. Cuts came in part from a 25 percent state budget cut that formerly shared new construction costs between the state and local boroughs that bonded for them.

Young tries again with legislative fix to marijuana conflict

Rep. Don Young teamed up with California Democrat Rep. Barbara Lee on Jan. 11 to introduce one of the first measures of the year meant to protect states’ legal marijuana laws in the wake of the recent federal shakeup to the industry.

House Resolution 4779 by Young and Lee, dubbed the REFER Act, seeks to provide certainty to financial institutions, patients, entrepreneurs, and other individuals by restricting federal funds regarding marijuana enforcement, he said.

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