Alaska News Nightly: January 22, 2008

Today in Alaska news… Senator Murkowski brings Indian health care problems to the U.S. Senate floor and the Alaska legislature confronts a formal call for new campaign fundraising rules. Plus, the last speaker of the Eyak language dies, ending the natural life of what may be a long line of Native languages facing extinction. Meanwhile a former Fairbanks mayor goes on trial for a host of crimes. Those stories and more on tonight’s Alaska News Nightly, broadcast statewide on APRN stations.

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Dorgan and Murkowski bring Indian health care issues to U.S. Senate floor
Joel Southern, APRN – Washington, DC
A bill to modernize the Indian Health Care Improvement Act was debated on the U.S. Senate floor today. The law has not been updated in nearly 16 years — despite several attempts. Prior revisions faltered due to disputes over Native health policies and the failure of Congressional leaders to make reauthorization a priority. Disagreements continue over how to modify Native health policies. But Senate Indian Affairs chairman Byron Dorgan (D – North Dakota) says it’s past time to move forward and carry out the nation’s trust responsibility for Native health care.

State House proposes new campaign fundraising limits for legislators
Dave Donaldson, APRN – Juneau
A state House Committee today approved new limits on campaign fundraising during the legislative session. The State Affairs Committee approved a bill by Anchorage Republican Kevin Meyer that would forbid legislators or legislative staff members from raising money during legislative sessions for any municipal, state or federal campaign. The bill next goes to the floor for a vote, although Rules chairman John Coghill says in view of a recent court decision, he wants to verify the content of the bill before he puts it on the calendar.


Eyak language dies with its last speaker
Lori Townsend, APRN – Anchorage
The last traditional speaker of the Eyak language died yesterday, making the language extinct. Eyak Chief Marie Smith Jones was 89 years old. She was the last person to have learned the language the traditional way, taught as a child from her parents.

Her long-time language documentarian, linguist Dr. Michael Krauss began working with her in 1962. He says Chief Marie kept the language going for many years after her older sister died in the early 1990s.

Chief Marie had 9 children; 7 are still living. Her funeral will be held in Anchorage on Friday at the St. Innocent Russian Orthodox Cathedral. Viewing is at 11:00 a.m. and services are at 1:00 p.m.

Hayes theft / fraud / conspiracy / money laundering trial starts up in Fairbanks
Libby Casey, KUAC – Fairbanks
The prosecution and defense delivered their opening statements today in the federal trial of former Fairbanks mayor Jim Hayes. Hayes is accused of illegally using federal funds to build and furnish a church, and buy personal items.

Revenue department projecting $3 billion windfall in 2008
Dave Donaldson, APRN – Juneau
In its latest state revenue forecast, the state Revenue Department predicted the state would collect $3 billion more than expected this year because of record-setting high oil prices. And next year’s forecast is expected to be substantially more than what the administration expects to spend.

The House and Senate Finance Committees have scheduled a joint budget meeting for Thursday — with plans to hear from the administration and the legislative finance director on the governor’s proposed budget.

King’s birthday marked with two-wheeled community service challenge
Len Anderson, KSKA – Anchorage
In addition to the formal observances of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday, it has become a day of community service. In Anchorage, some 200 volunteers gathered at a neighborhood recreation center to honor Dr. King and to build bicycles.

Kodiak setnet fishermen now allowed to fish two permits simultaneously
Casey Kelly, KMXT – Kodiak
The Alaska Board of Fisheries met in Kodiak last week. During their meetings the board passed a contentious proposal that will allow permit stacking by the island’s setnet fishermen.

Yukon Quest roster set for February 9 launch
Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks
The field is set for the 25th running of the Yukon Quest. Race spokeswoman Amanda Leslie says 27 mushers will be departing Fairbanks next month on the race’s silver anniversary run.

Leslie says 2 mushers have withdrawn from the Quest. Rookies Jeremy Matrishon of Whitehorse and Trent Herbst of Idaho pulled out citing not enough training and time constraints as the reasons. Leslie says the only other change is that Quest veteran Peter Ledwidge of Dawson is turning over his team to his wife Ann, citing back problems. It will be her rookie run.

The field consists of 9 mushers who live in Canada, and 18 from the U.S., including 3 who hail from the lower 48. A total of 11 rookies and 16 veterans are signed up. The veterans include 4 past winners, Sonny Lindner of Two Rivers, who won the first Yukon Quest back in 1984, 1995 winner Frank Turner of Whitehorse, 1987 champ Bill Cotter of Nenana, and 3-time defending Quest champion and reigning Iditarod champ, Lance Mackey of Fairbanks.

Things are shaping up on the organizational side of the race. Doug Grilliot, a Quest veteran and race judge, has been appointed race marshal. Grilliot replaces Joe May, of Talkeetna, who recently resigned from the position. Leslie says the Quest trail is looking good. Fairbanks has seen 2 snowstorms in the last week, and Leslie says snow conditions have also improved on the Canadian side.

Trail groomers are out packing down the thousand mile route. The race starts February 9 in Fairbanks and runs about 1,000 miles to Whitehorse.

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