State and local briefly

Posted: Wednesday, January 26, 2000

Ice thin on Mendenhall Lake

JUNEAU - Mixed weather has thinned the ice on parts of Mendenhall Lake, leading to reminders that skiing and other activities may be unsafe.

Even when the ice is thick, the U.S. Forest Service warns people to stay away from the face of the Mendenhall Glacier. Signs posted indicate the most dangerous areas.

Juneau Ranger District staff, however, have little control over where people go on the ice. ``It's kind of a use-at-your-own risk situation,'' said Mark Rebella of the ranger district. ``We can't keep people off of there.''

Knowles wants child protection changes

JUNEAU - Gov. Tony Knowles wants to open some court hearings and records of child protection cases to improve accountability and give the public a better understanding of the job child welfare workers face.

A bill introduced Tuesday came out of a two-year task force made up of government officials and representatives of the news media. Alaska's existing laws draw a thick curtain of secrecy over most administrative and legal actions that deal with allegations of abuse or neglect of children.

Several high-profile cases prompted the review of the law.

``The public will not tolerate the senseless hurting of children,'' said Commissioner Karen Perdue of the Department of Health and Social Services, who said the law would open roughly 10,000 cases a year to public scrutiny. ``Opening the court records and proceedings will insure accountability not only of the child protection agencies, but also of parents and communities.''

If enacted, the bill would open most court hearings in child abuse and neglect cases, although judges would have wide latitude to close hearings to protect the interests of children or in ongoing criminal investigations.

Fast-food manager killed in robbery

ANCHORAGE - The night manager of a midtown Anchorage fast-food restaurant was fatally shot during a robbery early Tuesday, according to police.

Dianne Rostron, 31, and an unidentified worker were cleaning the Wendy's restaurant at New Seward Highway and Northern Lights Boulevard about 1 a.m. when two masked gunmen entered, police said.

The men reportedly forced the other employee into a break room and then ordered Rostron to open the safe in the restaurant's office. The robbers shot her in the head after taking an undetermined amount of cash, police said.

Rostron was pronounced dead about two hours later at Providence Alaska Medical Center.

Lawmakers review railroad fuel spill

JUNEAU - An Alaska Railroad derailment that spilled 120,000 gallons of jet fuel near the Susitna River in December was caused by heavy, wet snow that froze as hard as rock in the middle of train tracks, a derailment expert said Tuesday.

Gary Wolf, president of Rail Sciences Inc. of Atlanta, Ga., told the House Transportation Committee the train pushed snow behind it as it backed out of a siding onto mainline track. When the train moved forward, the hardened snow lifted a locomotive, moving its wheels off the rails. That eventually led to the Oct. 31 derailment, resulting in a 12,000-gallon spill 45 miles north of Talkeetna.

Committee Chairman Andrew Halcro, an Anchorage Republican, said if the railroad does not work adequately with state officials on the cleanup, he will push for legislation defining a spill response plan for the railroad. ``I just don't think we can wait on this,'' Halcro said.

Same-sex health club bill on the move

JUNEAU - The bill that would allow for sex discrimination at Alaska health clubs wobbled out of the Senate Labor and Commerce Committee on Tuesday.

The measure, Senate Bill 176, is just a couple of dozen words long, but a couple of those words needed some help. Since the last hearing on the bill earlier this month, the word ``gymnasium'' was deleted, to make sure just health clubs would fall under the measure.

But other concerns, such as a request to assure that the law wouldn't apply to public facilities, remained.

The bill is intended to allow for women-only membership policies at health clubs in the state. The Alaska Human Rights Commission has decided such a club would illegally discriminate based on sex under present Alaska statutes.

Rather than hold up the bill, which is sponsored by Senate President Drue Pearce, an Anchorage Republican, the committee moved the measure on with the expectation that remaining questions will be addressed before the bill arrives on the Senate floor.

The only Senate committee stop for the bill before then is the Senate Rules Committee. The chairman of that committee, Anchorage Republican Sen. Tim Kelly, was at the Tuesday hearing and said he'd make sure the requested changes were made.

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