Alaska Digest

Posted: Wednesday, January 25, 2006

House committee moves ethics bill

JUNEAU - A bill advanced Tuesday that would set personal financial limits on public employees whose work involves companies in which they have a stake.

The proposal, which sponsor Rep. Les Gara, D-Anchorage, says was inspired by the scandal that led to former Attorney General Gregg Renkes' resignation a year ago, passed out of the House State Affairs Committee.

It would set a $10,000 limit on the amount of stock an executive branch employee can own and still be able to work on a state matter involving that company. Violators would be investigated by the state Personnel Board, which would also levy any punishment.

Renkes resigned about a year ago over his work on a coal deal between Taiwan and Alaska. The deal could have financially benefited Renkes, who owned between $71,880 and $124,680 of stock in KFx Inc., whose technology would have been used in the coal production that resulted from the agreement.

Senate considers identity theft bill

JUNEAU - A Senate committee began work Tuesday on a bipartisan bill to prevent identity theft.

The measure requires businesses that collect personal information to notify consumers of any security breaches. It also allows consumers the discretion to "freeze and unfreeze" access to credit report information and restricts the sale and distribution of Social Security numbers.

Bill sponsors, Sen. Gene Therriault, R-North Pole, and Sen. Gretchen Guess, D-Anchorage, introduced separate measures last session. They worked over the interim to merge the proposals in hopes of creating a measure that would pass both the House and Senate this session.

Therriault said the measure may have "cast the net too wide" but said he was hopeful that legislation could be crafted to protect constituents from the misuse of personal information.

Businesses and state agencies, while voicing support for the bill, suggested changes to the Senate Labor and Commerce Committee.

John George, representing the American Council of Life Insurers, found the measure an improvement over last session, but said he was concerned with a provision that says a business cannot turn away someone who refuses to give their Social Security number. George said the number is a consistent and verifiable way to determine a person's identity.

State park more than triples in size

KETCHIKAN - Settlers Cove State Park has more than tripled in size thanks to a cooperative effort between The Conservation Fund and two state agencies.

The Division of Parks and Outdoor Recreation and the state Department of Transportation and Public Facilities worked with people in The Conservation Fund's Alaska office on the deal, which was spearheaded by the conservation group and a local advisory board.

DOT/PF provided about $365,000 in mitigation funds to purchase the 207-acre tract next to the 76-acre park, located at the end of North Tongass Highway.

The additional land borders U.S. Forest Service land, so now there will be a continuous tract of public land from tidelands to alpine. The recently completed Lunch Creek Trail, which continues on to Forest Service property, sits on the newly acquired tract.

Ketchikan State Park ranger Mary Kowalczyk said the local advisory board had been interested in the land for a long time, but never got very far until a few years ago. At that time, the board wrote up a detailed proposal and started contacting organizations that might be interested in helping, she said.

The proposal gained support from local government officials, the Greater Ketchikan Chamber of Commerce, Rotary clubs and Owen Graham of the Alaska Forest Association.

Pentagon identifies airmen killed in Iraq

ELMENDORF AIR FORCE BASE - The war hit painfully close to Alaska again Tuesday, when military officials released the names of two airmen from Elmendorf Air Force Base who were killed in Iraq - the second time this month service members from the state have died there.

Staff Sgt. Brian McElroy, 28, of San Antonio, and Technical Sgt. Jason L. Norton, 31, of Miami, Okla., died Sunday when their vehicle triggered an improvised mine while escorting a convoy near Taji, Iraq, according to the Defense Department. A third Elmendorf airman sustained "relatively minor" injuries, including a head wound and leg cuts, said Col. Scotty Lewis, vice commander of the 3rd Wing at Elmendorf.

The deaths come just three weeks after four Alaska Army National Guard crew members died in a helicopter crash in northern Iraq.

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