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With House lawmakers reluctant to accept an SB 91 repeal, Dunleavy doubles down

Mon, 04/22/2019 - 19:38

Gov. Mike Dunleavy, center, in Anchorage with Attorney General Kevin Clarkson, left, and Public Safety Commissioner Amanda Price to discuss his crime proposals on Monday, April 22, 2019. (Bill Roth / ADN) (Bill Roth / ADN/)

JUNEAU — Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy is again urging state lawmakers to repeal the criminal justice program known as Senate Bill 91 as part of his war on criminals, but members of the House of Representatives are balking at the governor’s approach and have crime-fighting ideas of their own.

In a press conference, the governor said, “We are imploring, once again, that the Legislature move our crime package.”

Rep. Matt Claman, D-Anchorage, is chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, through which all of the governor’s crime legislation must go. Without Claman, the governor’s proposal is unlikely to gain approval.

Speaking after the governor, Claman said it’s a mistake to simply roll back the clock. Doing so would replace today’s problems with the ones the state had before: A rising prison population with a significant number of released prisoners returning to crime.

“To say bad-bad, let’s go back to the way we did things before ... I think that’s just the wrong path to take," Claman said. “The good-old days weren’t that good.”

Though the House has not advanced the governor’s SB 91 repeal bills, it has advanced other tough-on-crime legislation and Claman is expected to soon unveil a bill that takes elements from the governor’s bills.

The governor said Alaska’s immediate crime problem is a bigger issue and should be addressed now.

“I think we can still work on the recidivism issue, but right now, we are under siege. The people of Alaska are under siege,” Dunleavy said.

“We are in complete agreement with the governor,” Senate President Cathy Giessel, R-Anchorage, said Monday. “At the same time, the Senate understands that these crime bills do take time, and we want to get them right.”

“It’s a priority of the Senate, and I do not see a problem getting the votes for the passage of those,” said Sen. Shelley Hughes, R-Palmer and chairwoman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. “The problem might be on the House side, however, because I’m not sure they are embracing all ... of those in the way that we are in the Senate.”

In January, the governor proposed four crime-fighting bills to kick off a “war on criminals” he declared in his State of the State address. Three repeal aspects of SB 91; the fourth increases penalties for sex crimes.

Senate committees have considered and advanced those bills; the House has not. The House has advanced other legislation, including a fix for a problem identified by the Alaska Supreme Court, and a solution to the so-called “Schneider loophole” that resulted in no jail time for a man convicted of strangling a woman and ejaculating on her unconscious body.

“It’s my strong belief that we’re going to have a public safety package to be able to hand to the governor when the session adjourns,” Claman said.

The question is whether the governor will accept that as sufficient.

“It’s likely that if there’s not what’s considered a full repeal, that we will be called back to get it done,” Hughes said.

Passed in 2016, Senate Bill 91 was intended to reduce the number of people in prison and cut correctional costs without compromising public safety. To do that, it made changes intended to reduce the number of people who committed new crimes after being released on old ones.

Since then, many Alaskans have blamed SB 91 for the state’s elevated crime rate, in particular a spike in property crimes, and have advocated repeal. Lawmakers have repeatedly modified SB 91 in the years since its passage, but that has not satisfied everyone.

“This is certainly a priority for Alaskans,” the governor said.

Claman and House Speaker Bryce Edgmon, I-Dillingham, said the costs of the governor’s proposal must be considered along with the repeal.

Claman said it’s accurate to say that the House believes hiring more troopers, prosecutors and corrections officials is more important than changing the law.

According to fiscal notes attached to his legislation, the governor’s proposal would cost at least $43 million per year and could require the state to construct an additional prison — something that would cost several hundred million dollars. (Putting more prisoners on electronic monitoring or shipping prisoners out of state might reduce those costs.)

“We knew those were coming. We’re prepared to pay for those things. We believe Alaskans are prepared for those things,” Giessel said of the increased costs incurred by the governor’s legislation.

Edgmon isn’t sure about that.

“We need to keep an eye on costs as well as results,” he said. “That $40 million has to come from somewhere.”

Does your company’s culture need an upgrade? Here’s how to tell and why it matters

Mon, 04/22/2019 - 18:27

You feel it the moment you enter the organization. Ask the employees “what’s it like around here?” and they confirm the vibe. An employee in one organization says, “I love working here. Everyone helps each other out.” At another you’re told, “You’ve got to watch your back; it’s cutthroat here. And you can’t trust the managers.”

Every organization of three or more individuals has a culture, a prevalent type of behavior. In some, it’s cooperative and collaborative. In others, it’s competitive and guarded. If your organization’s culture needs an upgrade, here’s what you need to know.

Effort spent on creating a great culture pays off

Your organization’s culture defines what acceptable manager and employee behaviors are and aren’t. As a result, culture influences manager and employee actions, and you reap positive or negative results from the culture you create. A vibrant culture increases manager and employee job satisfaction, morale, retention rates and productivity. A problematic culture drains employee motivation, increases turnover and erodes productivity.

You may be surprised

Forty years of management consulting has taught me that senior managers occasionally create fiction when they describe their organization’s culture. They insist, “Everyone here loves their jobs and jumps to do what’s asked.” When I ask what they base their answers on, I learn that employees act quickly when these senior managers assign projects. In contrast, when I connect with mid-level managers or employees in those same organizations, I discover their peers respond late or not at all to their emails. And when I travel to work sites, employees tell me stories about what it’s really like that would shock their senior management.

If you want to know what culture exists in your organization, regularly walk the hallways, step into cubicles and visit the outlying work sites. You need to ask questions that can’t be answered with a “yes” or “no,” such as “what makes for a great workweek?” or “what was roughest challenge you faced this month?”

Leaders

Leaders shape the organization’s culture, and thus they need to live what they want to see in others. If leaders want an accountable, ethical culture that successfully tackles problems, they need to walk their talk by demonstrating integrity, hard work and a commitment to finding solutions rather than assessing blame.

Leaders set the tone, and when they make employees aware of their vision and the organization’s future by openly and transparently communicating upcoming changes and challenges, they create buy-in. When leaders communicate guardedly, holding information close to their vests, employees fill in the gaps with assumptions.

Phony doesn’t work

When leaders don’t live the culture they claim exists, the conflict or disconnect between the supposed code of conduct and reality creates cynicism. For example, if the leaders say they value accountability, the organization’s policies need to apply to leaders and managers as well as employees. When they don’t, the published code of conduct seems a bad joke.

Act to maintain the culture

An organization’s culture thrives or stagnates. If leaders want engaged employees, they need to actively engage with their employees and understand the challenges their employees face. Employees want to have their voices heard and impact their work environment. Leaders who govern from their desks and through closed-door meetings or who only connect via once-and-done employee surveys fall short. Leaders need to open every possible communication channel, listen and actively interact with employee at all levels. In addition to soliciting feedback, leaders need to listen to and act on what they learn.

Pay attention to subcultures

In larger organizations, subcultures may exist among groups or individuals. When healthy, these subcultures enhance the larger organization. If toxic, however, a subculture’s negativity ripples out into the larger organization. Leaders can’t afford to turn a blind eye to bullying or to allow a group of gossipy employees to trash a coworker, because those acts become acceptable components of the culture. If an organization’s managers and supervisors don’t effectively work with low-performing employees, it erodes the motivation of hard-working coworkers forced to carry the load of their low-performing peers.

Finally, if you ask your employees “what’s it really like around here?” what answer do you hope they’ll give – and what actions can you take to create that culture?




How the IRS Gave Up Fighting Political Dark Money Groups

Mon, 04/22/2019 - 18:10

iStock / Getty Images (Natalia Bratslavsky/)

In the past decade, people, companies and unions have dispensed more than $1 billion in dark money, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. The very definition of that phrase, to many critics, epitomizes the problem of shadowy political influence: Shielded by the cloak of anonymity, typically wealthy interests are permitted to pass limitless pools of cash through nonprofits to benefit candidates or political initiatives without contributing directly to campaigns.

Such spending is legal because of a massive loophole. Section 501(c)(4) of the U.S. tax code allows organizations to make independent expenditures on politics while concealing their donors’ names — as long as politics isn’t the organization’s “primary activity.” The Internal Revenue Service has the daunting task of trying to determine when nonprofits in that category, known colloquially as C4s, violate that vague standard.

But the IRS’ attempts to police this class of nonprofits have almost completely broken down, a ProPublica investigation reveals. Since 2015, thousands of complaints have streamed in — from citizens, public interest groups, IRS agents, government officials and more — that C4s are abusing the rules. But the agency has not stripped a single organization of its tax-exempt status for breaking spending rules during that period. (A handful of groups have had their status revoked for failing to file financial statements for three consecutive years.)

Most cases do not even reach the IRS committee created to examine them. Between September 2017 and March 2019, the committee didn’t receive a single complaint to review according to one former and one current IRS employee who worked closely with the committee, even as at least 2,000 warranted its consideration. (The IRS disputes this.) The standards are almost as permissive when organizations apply for C4 status in the first place. In 2017, for example, the IRS rejected only three out of 1,487 applications.

The IRS’ abdication of oversight stems from a trio of causes. It started with a surge in the number of politically oriented C4s. That was exacerbated by the IRS’ almost comically cumbersome process for examining C4s accused of breaching political limits; the process requires a half-dozen layers of approvals and referrals merely to start an investigation. That is abetted by years of IRS staff attrition and loss of expertise that was then compounded by steady budget reductions by Congress starting in 2010. The division that oversees nonprofits, known as the “exempt organization” section, shrank from 942 staffers in 2010 to 585 in 2018, according to the IRS.

On top of that, the 2013 scandal in which the IRS was accused of targeting conservative nonprofits left the division seared by the vilification of the conservative politicians, media and the public, and by the resignation of Lois Lerner, who headed the division. Some IRS auditors say they were paralyzed. “I was scared of being pilloried, dragged to the Hill to testify, getting caught up in lawsuits, having to sink thousands of dollars in attorneys bills that I couldn’t afford, and having threats made against me or my family,” said one employee who worked in Lerner’s division at the time. “I locked down my Facebook page. I deleted all personal Twitter posts. I stopped telling people where I worked. I tried to become invisible.”

The IRS press office offered written responses to some of the questions submitted in writing by ProPublica. “The IRS administers the tax laws as enacted by Congress and maintains an active enforcement presence to promote equal application of the law to all taxpayers,” the statement noted four times, in response to questions about the adequacy of the agency’s enforcement and its resources.

The IRS is aware of the problems, but its attempts to address them have gone nowhere. A 2013 report by the IRS inspector general recommended changes for the agency. That included adopting a new, clear definition of what constitutes an organization’s “primary activity.” The IRS did that — only to have Congress shoot it down.

With the IRS ceding its oversight role, state authorities need to step in, said Jim Sheehan, chief of the charities bureau at the New York Attorney General’s Office, at an event on exempt organizations in February. Speaking broadly about what he described as the IRS’ failure to oversee political nonprofits, Sheehan said, “It’s the Wild West out there.”

The U.S. tax code has long offered nonprofits options for engaging in politics, each identified by the provision that governs it in the code. Each has trade-offs. For example, 501(c)(3) entities are tax exempt and allowed to lobby on a limited basis — but they’re barred from spending any money on political candidates. So-called 527s can spend all they want on elections — but they have to reveal their donors.

The C4s enjoy a lot of wiggle room. In that category, IRS regulations dictate that an organization that seeks tax-exempt status “must not be organized for profit and must be operated exclusively to promote social welfare. The regulations state that such an organization “may engage in some political activities, so long as that is not its primary activity.”

But how does one define an organization’s “primary activity”? For decades, the point was largely moot. Big funders used other means to funnel money to campaigns. Then came a series of Supreme Court rulings, the best known of which was the Citizens United decision in 2010, that loosened restrictions on political contributions. In that case, the court concluded that, like people, corporations and unions could spend unlimited funds for elections.

The Citizens United decision was followed by a surge in the formation of politically focused organizations seeking IRS approval as C4s. In 2012, at least $250 million passed through such groups and into efforts to elect candidates, an 80-fold increase from eight years prior.

That boom occurred at the same time that Congress began chipping away at the IRS budget. The combination left Lerner’s exempt organization unit overwhelmed. “My level of confidence that we are equipped to do this work continues to be shaken,” she wrote in an email in early 2013. “I don’t even know what to recommend to make this better.”

A handful of IRS employees in Lerner’s division had decided to improvise their own shortcut. If a group had a name that sounded political — for example, it had the words “Tea Party” in its name — they flagged it for extra attention.

Reporters eventually got wind of the tactic. Congressional interest followed and then a full-blown furor erupted in May 2013, when the IRS inspector general confirmed that IRS agents directed added scrutiny at groups with conservative-sounding words in the name.

The House convened hearings. Some Republican representatives claimed that Lerner was spearheading a partisan assault against conservative groups. “This is the most corrupt and deceitful IRS in history,” Rep. Kevin Brady, R-Texas, said in one hearing. Lerner declined to testify, citing her Fifth Amendment protections, and resigned.

Hearings on the subject continued intermittently for four years. The IRS ultimately spent 98,000 hours in staff time responding to the congressional investigations, according to testimony by the agency’s former commissioner, John Koskinen.

By the time the tumult abated, few people noticed that the inspector general had submitted another report. This one concluded that IRS staff had also used keywords such as “progressive” to target liberal organizations for further scrutiny.

Before determining that the IRS exempt organization division had displayed no anti-conservative bias, the inspector general had proposed fixing the way it scrutinizes nonprofits. “We believe [the targeting] could be due to the lack of specific guidance on how to determine the ‘primary activity’” of a social welfare nonprofit, the report stated.

The IRS responded by advocating a restrictive approach: C4s should be barred from any campaign-related activity. Those guidelines, released in late 2013, prompted 150,000 comments, the most public feedback in IRS history. Several Republican members of Congress circulated bills to block such a change.

In the wake of that opposition, the IRS backed away from its categorical approach and instead proposed a percentage-based definition of “primary activity.” Then-Commissioner Koskinen and his team held a series of meetings and came up with a working draft. “After a lot of discussion and review, the consensus was that social welfare nonprofits’ political activity had to be less than 50 percent for them to qualify,” Koskinen said in an interview with ProPublica.

Koskinen argued for this approach in one-on-one meetings with Democratic and Republican leaders. “I thought it was important for people on the Hill to realize that it wasn’t political,” he said, “but to make regulations more enforceable from the standpoint of the IRS.”

Governor’s budget roadshow gets mixed reception at Anchorage business event

Mon, 04/22/2019 - 18:08

Gov. Mike Dunleavy continued his statewide discussion for a permanent fiscal plan during the Anchorage Chamber of Commerce "Make it Monday" forum in the Dena'ina Center on Monday, April 22, 2019. (Bill Roth / ADN) (Bill Roth / ADN/)

Gov. Mike Dunleavy pitched his plan for giant budget cuts and larger Permanent Fund dividends to the Anchorage Chamber of Commerce on Monday, a continuation of his fiscal roadshow that drew skeptical questions and mixed reactions from the audience.

Asked about a university think-tank study that showed his cuts would mean thousands of job losses and people leaving the state, Dunleavy countered that the approach of recent years hasn’t worked.

Alaska has remained mired in recession with people already leaving, even as the state pulled billions of dollars from savings to balance budgets that were too high, he said. If spending on state services isn’t brought under control, Alaska will have to continually look for more revenues in years to come, he said.

“I know some people think the budget we rolled out was some type of imaginations of a madman, a crazy guy,” Dunleavy told the audience of about 300 business and civic leaders.

But the previous approach under Gov. Bill Walker using Alaska Permanent Fund earnings to help balance the budget, resulting in smaller dividend checks, hasn’t received support from the public, he said.

“We are asking the people of Alaska, do you want us to reduce your budget — yes dramatically — without taxation, without touching the PFD, or not?” he said. “It’s been a good discussion.”

The event at the Dena’ina convention center was similar to meetings that Dunleavy and his staff have held around the state since March, with a presentation of his plan and the audience submitting written questions.

Dunleavy, speaking for about 40 minutes and leaving room for seven questions, highlighted his three constitutional amendments as critical to the plan: No new taxes without a public vote, limiting state spending, and enshrining the Permanent Fund Dividend in the constitution.

[Dunleavy says ‘no deal’ on budget without legislative progress on constitutional amendments]

There were none of the protests that marked five of the meetings in March sponsored by the Alaska arm of Americans for Prosperity, an anti-tax group founded by the billionaire Koch brothers from Kansas.

This time the meeting was sponsored by the chamber, one of about 20 that have been held by civic or business groups in Alaska, not AFP, said Matt Shuckerow, a spokesman for the governor.

[Dunleavy makes budget case in Anchorage event occasionally interrupted by protesters]

Some audience members said the huge cuts will endanger the economy, extending the recession that’s been marked by Alaska having the highest unemployment rate in the U.S.


People attending the Anchorage Chamber of Commerce "Make it Monday" forum in the Dena'ina Center listen to Gov. Mike Dunleavy speak about a fiscal plan for Alaska on Monday, April 22, 2019. (Bill Roth / ADN) (Bill Roth / ADN/)

Others agreed with the governor’s message, saying a reduced budget will bring stability and new investment to Alaska that will pay off over time.

The board of directors of the Anchorage Economic Development Corp. believes the governor’s proposed budget is “too steep in cuts and not balanced or measured," said Bill Popp, president of AEDC.

Attracting new business requires state investment and public-private partnerships to create quality schools, universities and improvements to the health care system, he said. The proposed cuts are “very concerning,” he said.

“We are at a point now where we need to start thinking about what we need to do to attract investments,” Popp said.

AEDC supports “targeted, measured cuts," and continued use of some earnings from the $65 billion Alaska Permanent Fund to help close the deficit, he said. A discussion about new taxes, such as a statewide sales or property tax, should be on the table to determine which approach is best.

A “blend" of new revenues with careful reductions will give the business community confidence in the economy, Popp said.

Larry Baker, a former Alaska state representative who owns BSI, a commercial real estate and consulting firm in Anchorage, said he supports Dunleavy’s budget. It could initially lead to job losses, but creating a sustainable budget will attract new companies, bringing long-term benefits that outweigh the negatives, he said.

He said the governor is right to present a historic look at spending in Alaska — a standard part of the roadshow speech — to argue that state budgets became unsustainable after oil prices and state income spiked a decade ago.

"For the past many years our spend has exceeded our revenue and we need to get our house in order,” Baker said.

Dunleavy has presented a plan that’s “sustainable” over the long run, said Tim Gallagher, general manager in Alaska for HDR, providing engineering, consulting, and construction-related services

“I fully support the approach,” he said.

Cathy Sandeen, chancellor for the University of Alaska Anchorage, said Dunleavy’s drastic cuts to higher education will hurt the broader economy.

The University of Alaska faces a $134 million cut, or about 40 percent of its total budget.

“We need to be great stewards of the money we get from the state, but to drastically cut the university within a one-year period, or it’s even a matter of months now, would have harmful effects on the economy in a number of ways,” she said. “We do research that supports various businesses and other industries in this state that help solve Alaska’s problems. We also support the workforce that Alaska needs.”







Letter: Pre-K benefits overhyped

Mon, 04/22/2019 - 17:23

The April 14 opinion column about preschool investment was very one-sided. Of course an executive director of an organization of school administrators will say that all funding reaps “high returns.” Then why are our school outcomes so abysmal? A study by the Brookings Institute showed widespread “fade out” of advantages of pre-K by second or third grade.

I am not “anti-education.” I just believe that our current model of having kids sit all day in a classroom ignores broader-based developmental needs. And defending a malfunctioning system does our students no good.

— Dan Kosterman

Eagle River

Have something on your mind? Send to letters@adn.com or click here to submit via any web browser. Letters under 200 words have the best chance of being published. Writers should disclose any personal or professional connections with the subjects of their letters. Letters are edited for accuracy, clarity and length.

Letter: Stop Trump

Mon, 04/22/2019 - 17:20

So now the president has purged an entire department of its leaders and is moving to install toadies who pledge fealty to him and not to the Constitution. Apparently, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen’s caging of children wasn’t reprehensible enough for Stephen Miller and President Donald Trump; Nielsen has said Trump had directed her to break the law.

This is dictatorship.

How many “acting” heads of departments/agencies has Congress allowed the president to illegally appoint?

This is an unprecedented power grab. Even Richard Nixon didn’t do this. He wouldn’t have gotten away with it, because Republicans — back when they were vertebrates — wouldn’t have allowed it.

Our members of Congress were elected to put a check on presidential power. Instead, they ignore Trump’s attacks on the Constitution and his flouting of norms. They have put the country on a track to autocracy.

Here are a few ideas to put the country back on its legal — and moral — footing:

1. Pass legislation to stop Trump’s extra-constitutional consolidation of power.

2. Demand the immediate release of the Mueller report, unredacted, to Congress. We the people have the right to know what the special counsel found.

— Kelli Kellogg

Fairbanks

Have something on your mind? Send to letters@adn.com or click here to submit via any web browser. Letters under 200 words have the best chance of being published. Writers should disclose any personal or professional connections with the subjects of their letters. Letters are edited for accuracy, clarity and length.

Letter: Excessive funding

Mon, 04/22/2019 - 17:18

Finally, some commentary writers who make sense but also do not concur with with state or teachers unions.

Since Gov. Mike Dunleavy released his budget, the constant calls for not cutting the school or state services budgets has reached a crescendo I do not remember in my 50-plus years in Alaska.

The articles by Carol Carman and Jack Hickel in the April 14 issue of your paper perfectly illustrate the fallacy of continued excessive funding of the underperforming and failing school system and the bloated budget of most of the so-called state service agencies.

— Don Rousseau

Anchorage

Have something on your mind? Send to letters@adn.com or click here to submit via any web browser. Letters under 200 words have the best chance of being published. Writers should disclose any personal or professional connections with the subjects of their letters. Letters are edited for accuracy, clarity and length.

Letter: Let’s not destroy the state in order to save it

Mon, 04/22/2019 - 17:16

In addition to health and education, support for public broadcasting is important, as we need a non-commercial window to regional, national and international programming and news. The state Arts Council is also crucial. Imagination and innovation are infinite resources, building bridges of understanding and inspiring our diverse population. The leverage of state support is needed to be eligible for Lower 48 grants and government funding.

It is imperative to restore state climate change policies as we have a front row with center seats and cannot turn a blind eye.

Many Alaskans are willing to generate revenue through progressive income and sales taxes (at least in the summer tourist season), reconsidering the oil industry credits, and by sharing a more modest dividend to support services eliminated in the governor’s budget, including the rehabilitation and re-entry programs for incarcerated citizens.

Thanks to the House and Senate Finance Committees for being pragmatic and visionary, rather than accepting short-term solutions for future generations.

— Sandy Harper

Anchorage

Have something on your mind? Send to letters@adn.com or click here to submit via any web browser. Letters under 200 words have the best chance of being published. Writers should disclose any personal or professional connections with the subjects of their letters. Letters are edited for accuracy, clarity and length.

Letter: Voter responsibility

Mon, 04/22/2019 - 17:14

The Alaska Permanent Fund was created to protect the revenues from frivolous spending and set money aside for a future date when we will not have oil production revenue. Fund earnings can be spent by the Legislature with a 51% vote. The Alaska Permanent Fund dividend was created to provide a “third-rail” in Alaska politics to forestall spineless politicians from raiding the cookie jar.

In recent years, we have listened to teachers and public safety personnel crying out to raid that money. There is no conversation regarding the quality of the services. There is no competition allowed. Alaskans are not getting a fair opportunity to discuss or receive the services they actually need at a fair price. Instead, Alaskans are increasingly under the control of lobbyists who want more “free” money for their programs.

If the educational services provided are of such great quality, we should have the smartest students in the nation at the most effective cost. Our educational providers should be happy to allow their services to stand against competition and show off their excellence. They refuse.

Our police and fire services should also be happy to show how their services stand against private competition and show off their excellence. I believe at this time, all private fire services in the state have been annexed by public entities and the service to the customer has gone down while the price has increased. Our police have never allowed competitive services.

Now Alaskans are crying out for “our” dividend. We have a responsibility to tell our politicians to control spending. We have a responsibility to tell our politicians to get out of areas where the private marketplace can do a better job through competition. When we do our part to tell legislators to quit spending money, there will be plenty for a Permanent Fund dividend.

— Arthur Solvang

Willow

Have something on your mind? Send to letters@adn.com or click here to submit via any web browser. Letters under 200 words have the best chance of being published. Writers should disclose any personal or professional connections with the subjects of their letters. Letters are edited for accuracy, clarity and length.

State cancels no-bid Alaska Psychiatric Institute contract with Wellpath

Mon, 04/22/2019 - 16:35

State health officials announced Monday that a controversial contract that turned over the long-term management of the Alaska Psychiatric Institute to a private company will be cancelled.

The state will keep the Nashville, Tenn.-based Wellpath in charge of API in the short-term but will now put the long-term privatization of the psychiatric hospital out for a competitive bidding process, according to the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services.

In February, the state announced the contract with Wellpath under emergency procurement rules that allowed the department to circumvent the usual bidding process. The decision had attracted intense scrutiny and criticism, Commissioner Adam Crum acknowledged at a hastily convened news conference in Anchorage Monday afternoon.

Crum said the change was needed so “Alaskans have trust in the government."

Wellpath will still be in charge of operating the Alaska Psychiatric Institute until Dec. 21, 2019, according to DHSS.

This is a developing story. Check back for updates.

Plastic straw restrictions begin in Los Angeles

Mon, 04/22/2019 - 15:28

Plastic straws in lemonade at a street fair in New York on June 7, 2018. A Los Angeles city ordinance aiming to limit the availability of plastic straws takes effect Monday. (Richard B. Levine/Sipa USA/TNS) (Richard B. Levine/)

LOS ANGELES — Plastic straws will be a little more difficult to come by in Los Angeles restaurants as a city ordinance aiming to limit the availability of the single-use item takes effect Monday.

The City Council in March voted to prohibit L.A. restaurants from offering or providing disposable plastic straws to customers who are dining in or taking food to go unless patrons request them. Drive-thru and delivery businesses can offer customers plastic straws but are still barred from giving them out without a request.

The ordinance went into effect for larger businesses Monday — Earth Day — and will be put into place in October for all other restaurants, grocery stores and other food vendors.

Councilman Mitch O'Farrell heralded the council's decision at the time as an important step toward confronting a "major environmental calamity that is unfolding before us."

Los Angeles County approved a similar ordinance restricting plastic straws in December. Under the county rules, restaurants must ask customers whether they want a plastic straw before giving one out. In the city, it would be up to the customer to make the request.

California has already passed similar rules on dine-in restaurants, but the Los Angeles “straws on request” law goes further because it also imposes restrictions on fast-food chains. However, unlike San Francisco or Malibu, L.A. has not completely banned plastic straws — at least for now.

In December, L.A. council members asked the Bureau of Sanitation to look into phasing out plastic straws entirely by 2021. O'Farrell has planned to move forward with a ban, saying last year that it is "one of those issues that we should've acted on probably 10 years ago."

Plastic straws were the sixth-most collected item on California Coastal Cleanup days from 1988-2016, behind cigarettes, food packaging, caps and lids, plastic bags, and plastic utensils and dishes, according to a city report.

Disability rights advocates have voiced concerns over the issue, saying existing alternatives to plastic straws are not always practical or functional for people who need straws to drink.

Republicans see late-term abortion bills as a potent 2020 political issue

Mon, 04/22/2019 - 15:04

WASHINGTON — Ahead of the 2020 election, Republicans in Washington and state capitals are honing in on one of the most emotionally charged parts of the abortion debate: those procedures conducted late in a pregnancy.

Opponents of abortion hope that their effort will mobilize conservatives and bolster Republican victories next year, potentially giving President Donald Trump more opportunities to make Supreme Court appointments who would reverse or erode the landmark Roe vs. Wade decision.

On Capitol Hill, House Republicans have spent weeks trying to force a vote on an anti-abortion bill that would require medical professionals to provide care to a baby born during an attempted abortion. The measure, which carries a criminal penalty, is designed to highlight abortions conducted late in a pregnancy.

Abortion-rights groups call the bill a political stunt, saying current law already ensures that all babies born receive medical care and that babies are rarely born during an attempted abortion.

Anti-abortion advocacy groups are trying to make it politically difficult for moderate Democrats to vote against the measure. Family Research Council is running online ads on the issue in the congressional districts of seven moderate Democrats to highlight the lawmakers' opposition to the GOP effort. Susan B. Anthony List, another political group that opposes abortion, plans to hold events and post online ads in the districts of moderate Democrats as soon as this week.

Conservative states are echoing the effort. On Tuesday, two state legislatures – Montana and North Carolina – passed similar versions of what they call "infanticide" bills. North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper, a Democrat, vetoed the bill, calling it needless legislation that would criminalize healthcare workers "for a practice that simply does not exist." Montana Gov. Steve Bullock, a Democrat, believes the bill is "more about politicizing women's health than it is about public policy," according to a spokesperson.

The state and federal efforts come ahead of the 2020 election, in which abortion – and future Supreme Court appointments – could be central to the debate. In 2016, then-candidate Trump won over anti-abortion groups when he criticized what he called Hillary Clinton's support for "rip(ping) the baby out of the womb in the ninth month, on the final day."

Critics called that a gross mischaracterization of Democrats' opposition to putting restrictions on abortion late in pregnancy.

Abortions late in pregnancy are rare. Just over 1 percent of abortions are performed at 21 weeks or later, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a research group that supports abortion rights. An abortion after that time would likely occur because of a serious fetal anomaly or for the health of the woman. The vast majority of abortions – 89 percent — are done in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy.

The scenario of a baby born during an attempted abortion "really never happens," said Dr. Daniel Grossman, a researcher and abortion provider at the UC San Francisco Bixby Center for Global Reproductive Health. "I've never been involved in a case where that happens," he said.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated that between 2003 and 2014, about 12 infants per year were born and later died for reasons related to an attempted abortion or terminated pregnancy.

Abortion opponents view the debate as a potent issue that will put Democrats in the uncomfortable position of voting against bills seemingly designed to protect babies.

"Most people in the country don't support abortion on demand in the fifth month," said Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), who earlier this month held a Senate hearing on banning abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy.

Anti-abortion advocates say they are merely responding to efforts by abortion-rights supporters to increase access to abortions later in pregnancy. They point to a recently passed New York state law, which permits abortion after 24 weeks in certain circumstances, such as fetal anomalies or to protect the health of the woman.

Democratic Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam also stirred controversy when he suggested in a radio interview that a baby born after an attempted abortion in the third trimester because of severe deformities or life-threatening problems would only be "kept comfortable," but not necessarily be resuscitated or given life-saving emergency measures.

"To the extent the focus is there – and the pro-abortion side helped to put it there with the New York legislation and the statements coming out of Virginia – that's helpful to open the eyes of others who may not have taken a clear look at the situation," said David O'Steen, executive director of National Right to Life.

Dr. Leana Wen, president of Planned Parenthood, calls it "manufactured outrage over something that is not happening" in order to refocus attention from Republican attempts at "outlawing all safe, legal abortions."

In the House, Republicans plan to try to keep the issue front and center. GOP lawmakers have made more than two dozen attempts to pass their bill. Rep. Steve Scalise of Louisiana, the House minority whip, said Republicans will continue to try to force a vote on the bill, which Democrats have blocked.

"Any way we can bring attention to this is going to be real important," he said.

The federal bill would require medical professionals to provide the same level of care to a baby born after an attempted abortion as they would to a baby born at the same gestational age.

When the bill came up for a vote in the Senate earlier this year, Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) called it "another attack from our Republican colleagues on women's health and their right to safe, legal abortion."

"This bill is not about protecting infants as Republicans have claimed because that's not up for debate and it is already the law," she said.

In 2002, President George W. Bush signed a bill, widely approved by Republicans and Democrats, that made clear that it is illegal in every state to kill a child born at any stage of development. Advocates of the new bill say this effort goes further to ensure that healthcare workers take proactive steps to treat a child. But critics worry that the bill could impose criminal liabilities on a physician who doesn't take steps to try to save a child even when his or her parents have decided that the best course of action is not to take extensive medical treatment.

Given the divided Congress, no federal legislation on abortion is expected to be approved in the next two years. But several conservative states have made it a priority to approve legislation restricting access.

In addition to the bills focusing on infants born after attempted abortion, four states — Kentucky, Mississippi, Ohio and Georgia – have approved bans on abortion as soon as a fetal heartbeat is detected, often at six weeks of pregnancy, sometimes before a woman knows she is pregnant. Three of the bills have been signed into law; the governor of Georgia has indicated he will also sign the bill.

Courts are likely to block the laws at least temporarily, as they have done with similar measures that passed previously in Iowa and North Dakota.

The bills are an effort to challenge the Supreme Court to revisit Roe's determination that states cannot ban abortion before a fetus is viable outside the womb, usually about the 24th week.

While conservative states have taken up abortion prohibitions almost annually in recent years, this year's crop marks a dramatic uptick, according to Elizabeth Nash, who tracks state abortion legislation at the Guttmacher Institute.

"We've had conservative legislatures adopting abortion restrictions at an unprecedented level for eight years. In a way, there is nothing left to do besides ban abortion," Nash said, adding that the Supreme Court appointments of Justices Brett M. Kavanaugh and Neil M. Gorsuch are also motivating conservative lawmakers. "Put those two together and you have an environment where you see six-week abortion bans moving."

The Supreme Court could take up an abortion case even sooner. The justices are now considering whether to hear a case out of Indiana, which tried to ban women from obtaining abortions because of a fetus’ race, gender or after the diagnosis of Down syndrome or another fetal anomaly. It was a bill signed into law in 2016 by then-Gov. Mike Pence. The Indiana appeal has been pending for months, a sign that the justices may be struggling over whether to accept it.

And other cases could be on the docket soon. On Wednesday, a Louisiana abortion clinic and the Center for Reproductive Rights asked the court to strike down a state law that prohibits physicians from performing abortions unless they have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital. It is similar to a Texas law that the court took up in 2016. Former Justice Anthony M. Kennedy sided with the court's liberal justices to invalidate the requirement as overly burdensome with no health benefits.

___

Business owner says he spread chemicals in one of Anchorage’s gathering places for homeless people. Now police are investigating.

Mon, 04/22/2019 - 14:40

Ron Alleva looks down Karluk Street on Thursday as the fire department responded to the chemicals he claimed to have spread near Bean’s Cafe and Brother Francis Shelter. (Bob Hallinen / ADN)

Anchorage police said Friday that they've opened an investigation after a longtime critic of city homelessness policy claimed responsibility for spreading potentially hazardous chemicals in one of the city's most popular gathering places for homeless people.

The discovery of the chemical — a type of pool cleaner, calcium hypochlorite — prompted a major response that involved at least three city agencies. Officials said that the incident generated fear and unneeded stress among the already-vulnerable people who frequent the area, as well as for workers at the nearby soup kitchen and homeless shelter that support them.

The critic, area business owner Ron Alleva, was undeterred.

Alleva said he got permission from a city employee, whom he wouldn't name, to spread the chemicals as a disinfectant, after police swept through the block Wednesday to clear out campers and loiterers.

"All that was was bleach," he said, adding: "You're not handling uranium."

Alleva described his action as a public service meant to "mitigate a terrible, biological hazard" of human feces, vomit and "old food" that had been left behind. And he said the alarm about the chemicals was manufactured — a "publicity stunt" by the local service providers.

"It's E. coli, you're talking bedbugs, lice — I mean, everything was falling there, including street people," Alleva said in a phone interview Friday. "If you ask me straight up, I did a good thing. I have a clear conscience."

A spokeswoman for the city health department, Shannon Kuhn, said her agency had not given Alleva permission to spread the chemicals, and neither had officials at the fire department, the police department or the mayor's office, she added.

A woman said Thursday that her husband had been taken to the hospital after being burned by the chemicals. But that story was inaccurate and the man's health problem was not believed to be directly connected, said Erich Scheunemann, assistant chief of the Anchorage Fire Department.


The Anchorage Fire Department’s hazardous materials team on Thursday tested a white powder spread alongside Karluk Street. (Bob Hallinen / ADN)

The department was still concerned enough about the chemicals that a hazardous materials team was called, and a city contractor was ultimately dispatched to clean up the area, Scheunemann said. There was potential for the calcium hypochlorite to cause skin burns or respiratory problems, he added.

The chemical was spread on a dirt strip that runs alongside a single city block, on the east side of Karluk Street between Third and Fourth avenues.

The strip sits next to soup kitchen Bean's Cafe and Brother Francis Shelter, the emergency homeless shelter.

The area is often filled with people standing and even sleeping in tents, many of whom have been turned away from the shelter and soup kitchen because of behavioral or other problems that those service providers can't accommodate.

Scheunemann said the fire department, which also provides emergency medical response for the city, had been called to that block of Karluk around 85 times this year.

Alleva owns a business, Grubstake Auction Co., next door. He's waged a yearslong campaign against the shelter and soup kitchen, saying they coddle homeless people who desecrate the neighborhood.

In September, Alleva and his wife and daughter staged a demonstration, standing across the street from the shelter. They erected a sign falsely claiming that the shelter was closing and sounded train horns, alarm bells and sirens.

Lisa Sauder, who runs the soup kitchen, said she saw Alleva's actions as "continued harassment of people who are in crisis, and of our agency."

She stressed that the soup kitchen exists to feed hungry people, and that it's the city that's responsible for the people on Karluk Street, which is off her organization's premises. Employees of her organization can be as frustrated by the chaos there as anyone else, she said.

"There's a population of people that we can't help, and those are the ones we find here," she said in an interview Friday, standing at one end of Karluk Street. "We strive to keep people away from this environment."

As Sauder answered a reporter's questions, a woman kicked off her shoes, waved her arms over her head and wandered toward traffic on Third Avenue. She was talking to herself.

"This is a perfect example," Sauder said. "What are we supposed to do with someone who is having obvious mental issues?"

Sauder said she was grateful the city had sent police through the area Wednesday to clear out camps. But she also said there's frustration about the lack of services for people who need more than a meal or a place to sleep.

Addressing homelessness and creating new housing are Mayor Ethan Berkowitz's "top priority," and the city is trying to make things better for neighbors of the shelter and soup kitchen, said Nancy Burke, the city's homelessness coordinator. But that process takes time, and it's messy to try to change decades-old policies, she said.

"We're still concerned about the impact," Burke said in a phone interview Friday.

But Burke also said some Anchorage residents assume nothing is being done to address those problems. That's not the case, she said, pointing to both short-term fixes and long-term initiatives.

The federal government awarded a $1.3 million grant in 2016 that's helping Berkowitz's administration develop longer-term housing plans, Burke said. And the city is also in the process of creating a new "campus coordinator" position to divert people with serious problems to other service providers and away from the shelter and soup kitchen, she said.

"I want to be reassuring to the community that there is a lot happening behind the scenes," Burke said. "We're pulling together as quickly as possible and probably don't do as well with communication as we may. But we're working on that."

That woman who was walking toward traffic Friday? Burke said she'd heard about her and that the police department's social services coordinator was responding.

Burke said it was unacceptable that the chemicals were applied by a "private citizen" on a "public roadway." Amid the extensive emergency response Thursday, she said, some of the homeless people in the area thought someone had died.

"It causes concern for people who are already with nowhere to go," Burke said. "They're already vulnerable and it makes people feel more vulnerable, which makes it harder to outreach to them and to establish what's needed to help them move from that location."

Alleva, the business owner who claimed responsibility for spreading the chemicals, said it was the "best thing that happened to that area." A police investigation, he added, is a "waste of resources."

He added: “Get out there and arrest some criminals.”

‘This is a crisis’: A day of chaos and confrontation outside Anchorage homeless shelters

Mon, 04/22/2019 - 14:32

At lunchtime on Wednesday, train horns, alarm bells and sirens pierced the air over East Third Avenue near downtown Anchorage.

The noise twisted the faces of people walking or living in tents on the sidewalk along the street that slopes down to Bean's Cafe and Brother Francis Shelter. Some of them walked down the street and crossed the road to confront the source of the din — Ron Alleva, the owner of Grubstake Auction Co., which is next door to the shelter.

Alleva was staging his latest effort in a yearslong campaign against the social services agencies, which he has accused of "long-term enabling" homeless people and turning the neighborhood into a messy, unsafe environment. He says the shelters should be closed.

Alleva stood on the side of the street opposite Brother Francis Shelter, next to a billboard sign. The sign said, falsely, that the shelter was closing Oct. 1.

"THE PARTY IS OVER," the sign said. Alleva had piled empty plastic booze bottles at the base of the sign.

"Where's the benefit in dealing with these people? Is there any?" said Alleva, wearing a bright orange hat that read "Security." "I've cleaned up enough fecal material."


A woman knocks over a sign, erected by Ron Alleva, across from the Brother Francis Shelter. (Marc Lester / Alaska Dispatch News)

Within minutes, people had walked up and torn most of the letters off. A woman walked up and wrapped her hands around one edge of the sign and pulled it over. The sign crashed to the ground.

Alleva is known for fiery testimony at community meetings and for staging demonstrations to air his grievances. In 2012, an employee of Alleva's arranged empty booze bottles in the shape of hearts, skulls, the state of Alaska and the words "NO BOOZE" on the chain link fence where the road dips toward the Anchorage jail. The same year, Alleva filed a lawsuit against the city and the social service agencies for creating what he called a "public and private nuisance."

Alleva says he has compassion for people who stay in the shelter or eat food at the soup kitchen. He's hired some to work in his auction yard. But he also uses words like "subhuman" and "vermin" to describe the homeless.

On Wednesday, Alleva was joined by his wife, Annette, and daughter, Jasmine. They said they are, after 30 years, thoroughly fed up with vandalism, alcohol, drug use and acts of violence happening around the shelter and on their properties. It isn't safe for anyone, including people who live there, they said.

"This is a crisis," Annette Alleva said, looking out at Brother Francis Shelter. "We're drawing attention to it."

On the other side of the street, anger and confusion had spread, directed at Ron Alleva.

"I think the way he's putting that noise out is discriminating against people who have hearing problems," said one man who walked up.

Alleva had planned a show for Wednesday, distributing an invitation at Tuesday night's Anchorage Assembly meeting to a "tour" of the shelter and the soup kitchen. He listed the invitees as the governor, the mayor and members of the Anchorage Assembly and the state Legislature, and social workers.


Anchorage Police Sgt. Cam Hokenson talks with Ron Alleva at right as other officers stand by. (Marc Lester / Alaska Dispatch News)

Among those invitees, just one showed up: Assemblyman John Weddleton of South Anchorage, who also owns a business in Spenard and questioned Alleva about the noise.

City homelessness coordinator Nancy Burke did not attend. But Burke said city officials have been "really recognizing" the impacts on Alleva and his family. The city is working on housing for people who are illegally camping in the area, Burke said.

As Alleva's horn blared, along with a muffled emergency weather warning, a tearful woman approached Alleva from across the street.

"Why are you guys doing this?" she asked, identifying herself as homeless.

"My lawyer said I can't talk to you," Alleva replied. "You got to go to the other side of the street."

The woman stayed put for a few moments more, demanding answers. Eventually she walked back across the street. A man started picking up plastic bottles and throwing them in Alleva's direction.

The Allevas have owned their properties for about 30 years. For the past several years, the auctioneers have been trying to sell the property. The city has obtained an appraisal and is now acting as a liaison in those discussions, said Robin Ward, the city real estate director. Ward said she doesn't yet know who the buyer might be.

Soon the cops appeared. They told Alleva to clean up the sign and empty bottles from the street. After they warned him that he could be cited, the horns and sirens stopped; they had been blaring for about a half-hour.

Alleva obtained a noise permit from the city, but that was rescinded in May, said Shannon Kuhn, a spokeswoman for the city health department. Lisa Sauder, the executive director of Bean's Cafe, said the sirens and horns had been used intermittently in recent years.

By 2 p.m., a flatbed truck had appeared, owned by Community Work Service, a cleanup crew for people doing court-ordered community service. Slowly the tents and belongings on the sidewalk began to disappear as people packed up. Some of the trash went into the back of the truck, said Sally Jones, an officer with the police department's Community Action Policing team, which works on homelessness issues and was supervising the cleanup.

Jones said the police were responding to calls about Alleva's noise, as well as trash in the area.

Carl Washington, 41, was among those gathering his stuff. He said the police were respectful.

But he, like many others, was not happy with Alleva. The noise wasn't right, he said.

By late afternoon, all was quiet. The sidewalk above the Grubstake Auction Co. lot was mostly clear. The tents and tarps were packed up — for now.

Trump administration tightens US sanctions on Iranian oil purchases

Mon, 04/22/2019 - 14:20

WASHINGTON — The Trump administration on Monday announced that it was ending all exceptions to its ban on buying Iranian oil, subjecting several countries, including allies, to punishing sanctions.

Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo said the move was to intensify its "maximum pressure" campaign on Tehran, aimed at squeezing its economy and forcing the ouster of its current leaders.

The announcement was expected. Six months ago, the administration threatened all countries with sanctions if they continued to import Iranian oil. It granted waivers to eight economies, allowing them six months to wean themselves off Iranian oil. The waivers expire May 1.

"We are going to zero across the board," Pompeo told reporters. The goal, he said, is to "deprive the outlaw regime" of money it uses to "destabilize" the Middle East. The administration accuses Iran of supporting militant groups from Lebanon to Yemen.

Pompeo said he believed that the measures, launched when President Donald Trump abandoned the 2015 international Iran nuclear accord, so far had deprived Tehran of $10 billion in revenue. He said Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates would step up petroleum production to ensure there were "appropriate supplies" in the market.

The countries who now face sanctions include staunch U.S. allies such as India, Japan and South Korea, as well as Turkey and China. Rounding out the list are Italy, Greece and Taiwan.

Customers videotaped at spa in Kraft case sue authorities

Mon, 04/22/2019 - 14:18

FILE- In this Feb. 19, 2019 file photo, a sign is posted outside Orchids of Asia Day Spa in Jupiter, Fla. A photo published Friday, March 8, 2019, in the Miami Herald shows Li Yang, the founder and one-time owner of the spa implicated in a human-trafficking ring attended a Super Bowl watch party at President Donald Trump's West Palm Beach country club nineteen days before New England Patriot owner Robert Kraft was with charged with prostitution at the spa. (Hannah Morse/Palm Beach Post via AP, File) (Hannah Morse/)

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — Nearly three dozen men and women have filed a federal class-action lawsuit accusing Florida authorities of unlawfully videotaping them as they received legal massages at a parlor where New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft and others allegedly paid for sex.

The lawsuit by 31 John and Jane Does alleges that Palm Beach County State Attorney Dave Aronberg, the Jupiter Police Department and the case's lead detective violated their rights to privacy when they were videotaped in January receiving massages at the Orchids of Asia Day Spa.

The lawsuit was originally filed Friday with 17 accusers. It alleges that Jupiter police unlawfully obtained the warrants allowing them to install cameras. None of the 31 has been charged with a crime, according to the lawsuit. It seeks unspecified monetary and punitive damages and to have the video recordings blocked from public release and ultimately destroyed.

"It is horrific when you think about the scenario," said Joseph Tacopina, a New York attorney who filed the suit. "It is akin to going to a bathroom. You are in a state of undress and you are being surreptitiously recorded and that recording is now subject to disclosure and being disseminated around the internet. It is an abomination of any form of privacy rights and constitutional rights."

The state attorney's office declined comment. Jupiter police did not immediately respond to phone and email requests seeking comment.

The lawsuit is the latest attack on the legality of the recordings and the warrant that allowed cameras to be installed — issues Kraft and some of the other 24 Orchids of Asia customers charged with misdemeanor solicitation of prostitution have raised in court.

The Jupiter police investigation began in October when the department was tipped off by neighboring Martin County investigators that Orchids of Asia was connected to a string of massage parlors between Palm Beach and Orlando that might be involved in human sex trafficking, an allegation since dropped in the Orchids of Asia investigation.

Surveillance at Orchids of Asia began Nov. 6. Officers say that over several days they saw men only entering the spa and that they would leave after 30 or 60 minutes. Tacopina said he has statements from women saying they visited the spa during that period. Some male customers were pulled over for traffic violations after they left and admitted to paying for sex acts, the warrants show.

On Nov. 14, a female health inspector was sent into the spa. She told officers there was evidence that the three female workers were living in the store, an allegation the lawsuit challenges.

Officers then searched trash bins behind the spa and say they found evidence of sexual activity.

By mid-January, officers obtained a warrant. To install the cameras in the lobby and massage rooms, officers told Orchids of Asia employees that they needed to inspect a suspicious package and ordered them outside.

Kraft's attorneys and others have argued that installing the cameras violated state law. The law states that audio surveillance can only be used to investigate serious crimes such as murder and kidnapping — not prostitution — and that video surveillance would have an even higher threshold. They want the video thrown out.

Authorites "resorted to the most drastic, invasive, indiscriminate spying conceivable by law enforcement -- taking continuous video recordings of private massages in which customers would be stripping naked ... to prosecute what are at most misdemeanor offenses," Kraft's attorney, Jack Goldberger, wrote last month in court documents. A hearing on Kraft's motion is scheduled for Friday.

Police say Kraft, 77, first visited two days after the cameras were installed and again the next morning. His second visit came shortly before he flew to Kansas City, where he saw his team defeat the Chiefs in the AFC Championship game.

Investigators say they videotaped Kraft engaging in sex acts during both visits and then handing over cash. Kraft, who is worth $6 billion, handed over a $100 bill and another bill after one visit, records show, and an undetermined amount during the other. Two weeks later, the Patriots won the Super Bowl, their sixth under his ownership.

Kraft was charged in late February and has pleaded not guilty, but has apologized for his actions.

At a news conference announcing the charges against Kraft and other Orchids of Asia customers, Aronberg said such massage parlors are often fronts for human trafficking where women are "forced to live and work in a sweatshop or a brothel performing sex acts for strangers." Prosecutors recently acknowledged in court that they have no evidence that any Orchids of Asia employee is a victim of sex trafficking.

Tacopina called Aronberg’s comment “clearly designed to get the public outraged when there was nothing like that at all.”

Snow geese are everywhere, and we need to do something about it

Mon, 04/22/2019 - 14:12

A snow goose takes off Thursday, Oct. 25, 2018 at Javier De La Vega Park in Anchorage. (Loren Holmes / ADN) (Loren Holmes/)

Snow geese are one of the most abundant waterfowl species, and they are increasing rapidly. By most counts the population is somewhere between five and six million, although recent banding studies and harvest data indicate that numbers may actually be double that number, according to Ducks Unlimited.

Hunting seasons have been relaxed at the federal level. Yet liberal spring seasons, unplugged shotguns and no bag limits have failed to slow the five- to eight-percent growth rate of the species.

Relatively few snow geese breed in Alaska. There are decent breeding colonies near Utqiavik and east of Kaktovik, but most breed on the islands of northern Canada. Wrangel Island, off the Siberian coast, also has a breeding population of several hundred thousand.

The birds tend to breed in colonies, which can make them vulnerable to large predators. The colony near Utqiavik has been hit by brown bears in the past few years. A significant number of the eggs were destroyed. Other nest predation is from Arctic foxes and skuas.

Adult birds have little to worry about. Eagles take a few snow geese and the occasional fox may get one, but neither of these predators take enough to impact the population.

Wildlife managers wish there were more animals that actually ate snow geese. Unrestricted hunting has tripled the annual take of geese but has not slowed the growth rate of the species relative to the total population. Traditional nesting areas have expanded threefold. Along the western edge of Hudson Bay entirely new nesting areas have been established.

The dramatic increase in snow geese has caused habitat degradation in many areas. The damage not only affects the goose but also destroys habitat of other waterfowl. The population increase is being driven by better feed sources -- increased agriculture along the flyways has provided an unending new supply of calories.

Alaska doesn’t have a problem with too many breeding snow geese, but plenty of the birds migrate through our state. Birds from the Mckenzie Delta and Banks Island in the Canadian arctic move through Alaska on their way back south. These birds spend an inordinate amount of time and effort feeding on cotton grass on the North Slope.

Southcentral hunters have some access to snow geese in the fall. There are flocks that visit the Susitna River Flats, the Palmer Hay Flats and Chickaloon Flats, but the birds don’t stay long. Snow geese are great travelers, spending almost half of the year coming and going.

Spring hunters have much better opportunities to take geese. Rural communities in Alaska are allowed spring waterfowl seasons. There are no bag limits and the season is basically from when the birds first arrive until they are actively nesting. Even after nesting, eggs can be harvested.

Yukon/Kuskokwim Delta hunters take the majority of spring geese in Alaska. Approximately 40 percent of the 300,000 spring waterfowl taken are from that area. However, snow geese are a relatively small part of the bag.

Snow geese are smart. They will flair off from anything that doesn’t look quite right. In the ’70s, spring waterfowl hunting wasn’t legal yet was a common practice in the remote coastal areas of Alaska. In 1975, I was out with some guys on the Yukon Delta when a small flock of snow geese flew directly overhead. A full volley of shots brought down a couple of the birds. My German Shepherd, Collin, retrieved them.

When we returned to camp, you would have thought we had raided a candy store based on our reception. Snow geese were a seldom-taken commodity 40 years ago. There are more that pass through the Deltas these days, but the birds are still not that easy to come by.

Spring hunters in Minnesota and the Dakotas have no limits and harvest thousands of birds but are making no real dent in the population. Habitat degradation is a real issue with no easy solution. Everything from market hunting to culling birds in breeding areas has been discussed and discarded as too controversial. For the present, more research is needed.

The easiest course of action would be to continue with the current plan and let nature take its course. However, that could lead to a catastrophic impact on habitat. The over-abundance of snow geese is a human-induced problem, caused by the increased feed supply along migration routes and in wintering areas. The responsibility for addressing the issue lies with wildlife managers and the public.

John Schandelmeier is a lifelong Alaskan who lives near Paxson with his family. He is a Bristol Bay commercial fisherman and a two-time winner of the Yukon Quest.

Infrastructure is the elephant in the Alaska budget room

Mon, 04/22/2019 - 14:06

Corrosion of the pilings at the Port of Anchorage are one of the reasons officials say the port requires a modernization project. Photographed on Thursday, July 7, 2016. (Marc Lester / Alaska Dispatch News) (Alaska Dispatch News/)

Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s proposed budget and the conversations dominating the debate focus on cuts to healthcare and education spending, yet little attention is being paid to a critical component of Alaskans’ daily lives – our roads, bridges, water systems and the Alaska Marine Highway System. As our legislators debate Gov. Dunleavy’s proposed budget, it is crucial they maintain focus on funding for the essential infrastructure that Alaskans depend on every day. When infrastructure fails, it impacts not only our economy, but also the safety and livelihood of all Alaskans. Too many times have we seen lives lost, adverse health impacts and impacts to business from damaged bridges, collapsed water and sewer lines, as well as deteriorating roads.

As our state moves towards achieving a sustainable budget, our policymakers must remember the hidden but very real costs associated with the failure to act on critical investment for our state’s infrastructure. The American Society for Civil Engineers estimates that the average American family loses $9 per day due to poor, unreliable infrastructure. Moreover, often we build infrastructure assets and then give no thought to how to maintain them – the total cost of an asset. In the engineering world, we call this a life-cycle cost analysis.

Our critical infrastructure has suffered from deferred maintenance over the years, resulting in increased funding needs for capital expenditures. Think about the life-cycle cost analysis of doing annual maintenance on your car. Rotating tires, changing oil, replacing belts and refilling the fluid levels will cost you money over the years, but could very well extend the life of your car for more than a decade. You may end up replacing the car in half the time or less of what you would have, had you done the actual maintenance. In the current funding regime, we build, reconstruct, modernize and run our infrastructure until the wheels fall off with little to no maintenance. We are essentially buying a new car more often than we should due to deferred maintenance, and this is not sustainable.

In 2017, the ASCE Alaska Section released the first Report Card for Alaska’s Infrastructure, in which the state earned a C-minus. Specifically, marine highways received a “D.” The AMHS serves coastal communities across Alaska. Most of its vessels are 40 years old or older, and the older fleet is nearing its life expectancy. Meanwhile, Gov. Dunleavy has proposed a massive budget cut to the AMHS, as many tourists, residents and remote communities use ferries for transportation purposes, such as getting to health care services and sporting events because of its affordability. Parts of our state are suffering from the effects of thawing permafrost, coastal erosion and sea level rise, where communities are literally sinking and falling into the ocean. Our roads and airports have deferred maintenance due to budget cuts, resulting in the closure of several maintenance stations. In some areas, families do not have access to clean drinking water in their homes and still use “honey buckets.” We also have a major port that is sitting on piles that are in a state of such corrosion, its structural integrity is compromised.

These are just a few examples that should be addressed as a part of this budget discussion. Neglecting necessary repairs will continue to add to the repair cost. Delaying will result in compounding costs over time. I urge policymakers to remember how important our infrastructure is to our economy – and how deferring maintenance and investment causes a lack of access to services, income lost due to delays and damage to our vehicles.

For more information on the Report Card for Alaska’s Infrastructure, go to InfrastructureReportCard.org/Alaska.

David Gamez, P.E., serves as Vice President of the American Society of Civil Engineers – Alaska Section.

The views expressed here are the writer’s and are not necessarily endorsed by the Anchorage Daily News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, email commentary(at)adn.com. Send submissions shorter than 200 words to letters@adn.com or click here to submit via any web browser. Read our full guidelines for letters and commentaries here.

Letter: Fuhs hits the mark on port problems

Mon, 04/22/2019 - 14:03

Paul Fuhs has said what needs to be said in his recent op-ed on the Port of Alaska. The port’s repair history and current situation is deplorable.

As to fixes, I recommend that the mayor/Assembly appoint a committee of users of the port to oversee the next step on to the completion of a facility that matches their needs.

— John Havelock

Anchorage

Have something on your mind? Send to letters@adn.com or click here to submit via any web browser. Letters under 200 words have the best chance of being published. Writers should disclose any personal or professional connections with the subjects of their letters. Letters are edited for accuracy, clarity and length.

Letter: Young is right on ANWR opponents

Mon, 04/22/2019 - 14:02

Concerning the ADN’s April 10 article titled “Gwich’in tribal leaders rebuke Young’s ‘false’ statements,” is it too much to ask that our supposedly independent newspaper not ignore the facts important to Alaska, not just provide exposure to a group well known to oppose petroleum exploration and development on a portion of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge coastal plain? Too much of this article focused on a silly diatribe about who’s Gwich’in and who’s not.

The issue of importance that was buried in this article was that Congressman Don Young recognized what the Democrat-controlled House Natural Resources Subcommittee was doing, presenting Gwich’in Natives as if they were the principal, if not only, “voice of the refuge,” when there are other Native groups and villages closer to the area of concern than the Gwich’in. The congressman recognized what was going on and spoke up.

— Jim Lieb

Palmer

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