Articles written by James Brooks


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  • EPA pushes state to update fish consumption data and water quality rules

    James Brooks, Alaska Beacon|Jun 12, 2024

    The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is prodding the state of Alaska over its failure to update water pollution rules. On Thursday, June 6, the EPA issued a formal determination that the state should update pollution limits that are based in part on the amount of fish consumed by individuals. Under federal law, those limits are supposed to be reviewed every three years, but Alaska has not updated its limits since 2003. The Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation has been working since 2013 on an updated list of water quality...

  • State sues Ketchikan stores for selling fake Alaska jewelry

    James Brooks, Alaska Beacon|Jun 12, 2024

    The state last month sued the owners of three Ketchikan jewelry stores, alleging a broad scheme to defraud Alaskans and tourists by selling fake made-in-Alaska jewelry. The stores, which include Soni Inc. and Colors Fine Jewelers, initially continued operations despite the state’s request for a court order closing them, reported radio station KRBD in Ketchikan. As of Thursday, June 6, Soni was still open; no one answered the phone at Colors Fine Jewelers. The case is one of several consumer-protection lawsuits filed by the Alaska Department of...

  • Southeast fisherman pleads guilty for ordering crew to shoot whale

    James Brooks, Alaska Beacon|May 29, 2024

    A Southeast Alaska fisherman has agreed to plead guilty to a federal misdemeanor after admitting that he directed a crew member to shoot a sperm whale northwest of Sitka in March 2020. According to federal court filings, Dugan Daniels, 54, also tried to ram the whale with his fishing boat, the Pacific Bounty. The whale died, according to the court filing. In addition, Daniels agreed to plead guilty to a felony for lying about a sablefish catch in fall 2020, according to the text of the plea deal. The charges and the plea deal were filed by...

  • Young Alaskans sue to block proposed natural gas pipeline project

    James Brooks, Alaska Beacon|May 29, 2024

    A group of young Alaskans, backed by a nonprofit legal firm, is suing the state of Alaska and the state-owned Alaska Gasline Development Corp. in an attempt to block construction of the corporation’s long-planned but economically questionable North Slope natural gas pipeline. In a complaint filed May 22 in Anchorage Superior Court, the eight plaintiffs argue that the corporation’s founding laws are unconstitutional because the gas pipeline would result in so much climate-altering greenhouse gas that it would endanger their constitutionally guar...

  • Full U.S. embargo on Russian seafood now in effect

    James Brooks, Alaska Beacon|May 29, 2024

    A full-fledged embargo of Russia-sourced seafood took effect in the United States on May 22, with importers prohibited from buying Russian products, even if they were processed in another country. The next day, a delegation of Alaska businessmen and local government officials, all with ties to the fishing industry, met with Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo and other federal officials in an attempt to expand that boycott internationally. “Russia is the No. 1 problem when it comes to our fishing industry,” said Alaska Sen. Dan Sullivan, who...

  • Lawmakers leave fiscal plan, other issues for another year

    James Brooks, Alaska Beacon|May 29, 2024

    Though legislators passed dozens of bills during the two-year legislative session that ended May 15, they left behind multiple big issues for future consideration. Lawmakers were not able to finalize any part of a plan intended to bring the state’s revenue in line with expenses over the long term. In 2022, a bicameral, bipartisan working group recommended changes to the Permanent Fund dividend formula, an effective state spending cap, new taxes and constitutional changes to guarantee the dividend and limit spending from the Permanent Fund. W...

  • Fall payment to Alaskans will total about $1,655

    James Brooks, Alaska Beacon|May 22, 2024

    The Alaska Legislature has approved the state budget with a Permanent Fund dividend and bonus of about $1,655 per recipient. The exact figure this fall will depend on the number of approved applicants. The Legislature finished work and adjourned May 15. As has been the case the past several years, the amount of the annual payment was debated at length. Last year, senators wrote the budget so that if oil prices exceeded what the state needed to pay its bills, some of that extra revenue would be reserved for an “energy relief” payment att...

  • Legislature rejects governor's nominees to school board, fisheries commission

    James Brooks, Alaska Beacon|May 15, 2024

    The Alaska Legislature voted May 7 to remove Bob Griffin from the state school board amid bipartisan unhappiness over his perceived political actions as a board member. The vote came amid the Legislature’s annual vote on gubernatorial nominees. Legislators approved 78 of the 81 people subject to legislative confirmation during a joint session of the state House and Senate. They rejected Griffin for a second term on the board. Legislators also rejected Anchorage radio host Mike Porcaro as a new appointee to the Commercial Fisheries Entry Commiss...

  • House and Senate about $700 apart on this year's PFD

    James Brooks, Alaska Beacon|May 1, 2024

    The Alaska Senate is moving toward a final vote on its draft state spending plan for the coming fiscal year, with senators expected this week to approve a budget that includes enough money to pay a 2024 Permanent Fund dividend estimated at $1,580. The Senate’s draft operating budget is different from one passed last month by the House which included a $2,270 proposed PFD. Senate action will trigger the creation of a conference committee charged with writing a compromise budget deal to fund state services after July 1, the start of the fiscal y...

  • State House passes ban on children under 14 from social media

    James Brooks, Alaska Beacon|May 1, 2024

    The Alaska House of Representatives voted by a wide margin and with bipartisan support on April 26 to ban children younger than 14 from using online social media. House Bill 254, from Homer Rep. Sarah Vance, also requires companies that provide internet pornography to check whether an Alaskan viewing that pornography is at least 18 years old. The bill, which passed on a 33-6 vote, advances to the Senate for further consideration in the final two weeks before the legislative adjournment deadline. Vance said the age requirement, which also...

  • Senate wants to fix correspondence school funding dilemma; House divided

    James Brooks, Alaska Beacon|May 1, 2024

    As the state Senate is launching a legislative push intended to quickly fix a looming problem with correspondence school programs in Alaska, the House of Representatives signaled that it is so split that it may need more than a year to act on the issue. House lawmakers spent more than three hours on April 24 debating an informal declaration asking Anchorage Superior Court Judge Adolf Zeman to postpone until June 2025 the implementation of a court ruling that struck down two laws which govern programs used by more than 22,000 Alaska...

  • Court rules tribal health organizations largely immune from lawsuits

    James Brooks, Alaska Beacon|May 1, 2024

    The Alaska Supreme Court overturned a 20-year-old precedent April 26 by ruling that Alaska Native tribal organizations can more easily receive the kind of sovereign legal immunity that individual tribes have. The 4-1 decision means that tribal consortiums, such as SEARHC in Southeast, which provide health care for tens of thousands of Alaskans — both Native and non-Native — are largely immune from civil lawsuits in state court, unless those consortiums waive their immunity. Under the decision, immunity is now established by a five-part tes...

  • Legislators, governor wait for next court decision in lawsuit over correspondence funds

    Claire Stremple and James Brooks, Alaska Beacon|Apr 24, 2024

    State legislators said they are unlikely to immediately act to address an Alaska Superior Court ruling that struck down key components of the state’s correspondence schools programs — and will wait for the Alaska Supreme Court to consider the issue. Speaking to reporters on April 17, Gov. Mike Dunleavy said his administration is also waiting for the high court to take up the issue. The ruling said the state’s cash payments to the parents of homeschooled students violates constitutional restrictions against spending state money on private and r...

  • Court strikes down state money for homeschooled students

    Claire Stremple and James Brooks|Apr 17, 2024

    An Anchorage Superior Court judge has struck down an Alaska law that allows the state to allocate cash payments to parents of homeschooled students, ruling that it violates constitutional prohibitions against spending state money on religious or private education. “This court finds that there is no workable way to construe the statutes to allow only constitutional spending,” wrote Judge Adolf Zeman, concluding that the entire law must be struck down. The April 12 decision has major and immediate implications for the more than 22,000 students en...

  • Alaska House rejects proposal to put the PFD in state constitution

    James Brooks, Alaska Beacon|Apr 17, 2024

    The Alaska House of Representatives on April 11 rejected a constitutional amendment that would have guaranteed payment of the annual Permanent Fund dividend. The final vote was 22-18, five votes short of the two-thirds majority required to advance the amendment to the Senate for further debate. If it had won legislative approval, the amendment would have gone to the public in this fall’s general election. The amendment was part of a plan created in 2021 by a bipartisan working group after the state came within a week of a government shutdown d...

  • House legislation would allow use of more cell photo data in search of lost people

    James Brooks, Alaska Beacon|Mar 27, 2024

    Under legislation passed March 21 by the Alaska House of Representatives, police searching for a lost hiker could obtain cell phone and satellite phone location data without a warrant. The House approved House Bill 316 by a 38-1 margin after moving it forward with unusual speed. The Senate has referred the bill to committee for discussion. The Legislature faces a mid-May adjournment deadline. The measure is modeled after similar laws in other states and is known as the “Kelsey Smith Act.” Smith was an 18-year-old who was abducted and mur...

  • New federal opinion could put more land under tribal jurisdiction

    James Brooks, Alaska Beacon|Mar 27, 2024

    A new legal opinion by the top attorney at the U.S. Department of the Interior has extended the land jurisdiction of Alaska tribes, upending decades of precedent and offering new opportunities for the state’s 228 federally recognized tribal governments. The opinion, issued Feb. 1 by Interior Department Solicitor Robert Anderson, says tribal authority applies on land allotments given to individual Alaska Natives, unless those parcels of land are owned by a non-tribal member or are “geographically removed from the tribal community.” “That...

  • Higher oil prices add about 2% to estimated state revenues

    James Brooks, Alaska Beacon|Mar 20, 2024

    A new state revenue forecast based on modestly higher oil prices gives the Alaska Legislature some additional breathing room as lawmakers craft a new state budget. The forecast, released March 13 by the Alaska Department of Revenue, updates a fall estimate and predicts that the state will collect $140 million more in revenue than previously expected during the 12 months that begin July 1. That represents about a 2% gain in state revenues. That will help legislators as they write a budget bill that must be passed and become law before July 1,...

  • Legislative leaders say state cannot afford governor's dividend proposal

    James Brooks, Alaska Beacon|Mar 13, 2024

    Leading Alaska legislators said there is little appetite for spending from savings to pay a super-sized Permanent Fund dividend this year, likely killing a proposal from Gov. Mike Dunleavy. In December, the governor proposed spending almost $2.3 billion on a dividend of roughly $3,500 per recipient this fall under an unused formula in state law. That would result in a $1 billion deficit in the state budget and require spending from the state’s Constitutional Budget Reserve, but as a draft spending plan takes shape in the House, top members of b...

  • Governor threatens veto of school funding increase

    Claire Stremple and James Brooks, Alaska Beacon|Feb 28, 2024

    Gov. Mike Dunleavy issued an ultimatum to state legislators on Tuesday, saying he will veto a multipart education funding bill unless lawmakers pass separate legislation that contains his education priorities. Speaking from his office in Anchorage, the governor said lawmakers have two weeks to reconsider his proposals for the state to fund teacher bonuses and also set up a path through the state for new charter schools to bypass the local approval process, two items that were voted down during legislative debates over the education bill. If...

  • Permanent Fund trustees support investing borrowed money

    James Brooks, Alaska Beacon|Feb 28, 2024

    The leaders of the $77 billion Alaska Permanent Fund have voted unanimously to adopt a strategic plan that calls for borrowing up to $4 billion in order to increase the amount of money available for investments, looking to earn more on the investments than the fund would owe in interest on the debt. The Feb. 16 board of trustees’ vote, however, has limited effect: The borrowing could take place only if the Alaska Legislature and Gov. Mike Dunleavy change state law to allow it. The Alaska Permanent Fund is the No. 1 source of general-purpose sta...

  • Permanent Fund could come up short of spendable money in 3 years

    James Brooks, Alaska Beacon|Feb 21, 2024

    The board in charge of the Alaska Permanent Fund is amping up its warnings about an impending state financial crisis. Without action by the Legislature, there’s a small but growing chance that within three years, the Permanent Fund — source of more than half of Alaska’s general-purpose state revenue — won’t be able to pay for services and the annual Permanent Fund dividend. “We are facing a potential crisis, and it warrants the consideration of a change, whatever that change may be,” said Deven Mitchell, executive director of the Alaska Perman...

  • Legislature starts process to reject governor's change to ferry advisory panel

    James Brooks, Alaska Beacon|Feb 21, 2024

    The Alaska Senate has taken the first formal steps needed to reject some or all of the 12 executive orders Gov. Mike Dunleavy issued at the start of this year’s legislative session, including the order that would take away the Legislature’s authority to name four members of the state ferry system advisory board. Lawmakers in the Senate introduced 12 resolutions of disapproval on Feb. 12, and hours later the Senate Labor and Commerce Committee approved three of them. Those three resolutions would preserve the boards that govern massage the...

  • Alaska governor would like to send state Guard troops to Texas

    James Brooks, Alaska Beacon|Feb 14, 2024

    Gov. Mike Dunleavy told reporters on Feb. 7 that he’d like to answer Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s request for National Guard soldiers to support a state-run effort along the Mexico border, but he’s not sure the Alaska Legislature will approve the cost. “To send the Guard down will cost us about — according to Adjutant General Saxe — about a million dollars a month for 100 folks. We’ll test the waters with the Legislature to see if they’re willing to fund that, and I wouldn’t mind helping Texas with their issue on the border,” Dunleavy said. The...

  • Legislator wants to require armed volunteer on school grounds

    James Brooks, Alaska Beacon|Feb 14, 2024

    A new proposal from Palmer Republican Sen. Shelley Hughes would require Alaska school districts to train a volunteer able to carry a concealed handgun on school grounds. Schools would be exempted only if no one agrees to accept the duty or if no one is able to do so. Hughes’ proposal, Senate Bill 173, received its first hearing in January in the Senate Labor and Commerce Committee. The K-12 School Shooting Database includes 346 shootings and near-shootings at schools or school buses in the United States in 2023. Hughes said many of A...

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