Alaska Digest

Posted: Friday, April 29, 2005

Veterans cemetery backer finds same bill across Capitol

FAIRBANKS - Rep. David Guttenberg says he and his staff have been victims of legislative plagiarism.

A bill by the Fairbanks Democrat aimed at creating a veterans cemetery is matched word-for-word, except for the title, by a new Senate version by Sen. Charlie Huggins, R-Wasilla.

Huggins, during the first hearing on his bill Tuesday, was asked how his measure compared.

"I've never seen the House bill. I don't think I've seen the House bill," Huggins said. "I know there's a representative from Fairbanks - was it Dave Guttenberg, is it? - who I think has a bill, but I'm not sure if it's the same, different or whatever the case may be."

That response seemed disingenuous, Guttenberg said, given that the body of Huggins' bill reads the same as the latest version of his bill.

The legislation calls for the Department of Military and Veteran Affairs to build and maintain a veterans cemetery in Fairbanks and would establish a state veterans cemetery fund to pay for upkeep.

Guttenberg said that he would rather have worked with Huggins on the cemetery proposal and was disappointed by the way the Wasilla Republican handled the matter.

"I like the fact that it's got bipartisan support, but it just speaks to character as far as I'm concerned," he said.

House approves elections changes

JUNEAU - State lawmakers approved a bill Thursday lowering the bar for fledgling political parties in Alaska to attain official party status.

The bill approved by the House of Representatives allows parties a place on the ballot if they register at least 2 percent of the state's qualified voters instead of the current 3 percent requirement.

Parties also can be made official by one of their candidates receiving at least 2 percent of the votes in an election for governor, U.S. Senate or U.S. House. Parties now must receive at least 3 percent of the votes cast in a gubernatorial race only.

The sweeping elections bill also increases the cost of requesting an election recount.

Recounts by request will go from $300 to $1,000 for precincts, $750 to $2,000 for House districts and $10,000 to $15,000 for statewide races.

The bill also requires that ballot initiative circulators be U.S. citizens, 18 or older and residents of the state.

The bill passed 38-to-1. The bill needs another procedural vote before heading to the Senate.

Ice jam sends Tanana River over banks in Salcha

FAIRBANKS - Water surrounded or seeped into 20 homes as an ice jam caused the Tanana River to overflow its banks at Salcha.

Record high temperatures in the Interior contributed to water backing into neighborhoods for the third time since 2002 in the Richardson Highway community 33 miles south of Fairbanks.

If the flooding plays out like it has in past years, 80 to 100 homes are threatened, said Barry Jennings, emergency operations manager for the Fairbanks North Star Borough.

Animal rights groups urge Couric to boycott Alaska

ANCHORAGE - A national television figure who expressed a desire to visit Alaska has become the target of dueling invitations - one to come enjoy the hospitality of the Far North, one to boycott until the state stops killing wolves and bears.

The host of "Today," Katie Couric said on air Tuesday that she'd love to visit Alaska to catch a salmon.

Anchorage Mayor Mark Begich responded by issuing an official invitation and a seafood company donated two smoked Cook Inlet sockeye fillets to whet her desire.

But a Connecticut-based animal rights group has asked Couric to stay away.

Friends of Animals faxed a letter to Couric on Wednesday, urging her to join a national tourism boycott over the state's predator control programs and hunting policies, said Susan Russell, the group's information officer.

"We're trying to make an impact on Gov. (Frank) Murkowski, that his current policy of decimating predators and wolves and grizzlies - to destroy animals so that humans can kill other animals - is going to impact badly on the state," Russell said.

Couric could not be reached for comment. The governor's spokeswoman said he would not be deterred.

Former tour group owner receives two-year sentence

ANCHORAGE - A former travel company owner who stole money through customers' credit cards was sentenced to federal prison.

Jennifer Christensen, 33, had pleaded guilty to 20 felony counts of misusing customer credit cards. Besides time behind bars, she also on Wednesday received three years of supervised release, similar to parole, and was ordered to pay $221,000 in restitution.

Her former business, Ask Alaska Travel & Tours, collapsed in summer 2003, stranding tourists who had paid for vacations in Alaska. Many showed up at hotels, riverboats and car rental agencies and found that their Ask Alaska vouchers were worthless because Christensen had not paid the bills.

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