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A WALK IN THE PARK – Jim Moormann walks through Sitka National Historical Park this morning, as he has every day for the past two and a half years. This Saturday is National Trails Day, an annual event which began in 1993 to honor the National Trail System. In normal years volunteers help with trail maintenance in parks across the country. This year there will be no organized cleanup in Sitka and, without tour ship visitors, Sitkans will have the park to themselves. (Sentinel Photo by James Poulson)

Report: Legislators Got Payment During Recess

By BECKY BOHRER
 
The Associated Press

JUNEAU (AP) — The Alaska Legislature suspended its session in late March over coronavirus concerns, but records show one-third of lawmakers accepted a nearly $300 daily payment for three weeks beyond that — until what would have been the end of the 90-day session. 

Records provided by the Legislative Affairs Agency showed others accepted the allowance intended for lodging and meal expenses for at least several days after the Legislature recessed on March 29.

Five stopped taking the allowance on March 30. The records showed two others, Sen. Lora Reinbold and Rep. Kelly Merrick, who had missed time in the immediate lead-up to the recess, stopped earlier.

All but three of the Legislature’s 60 members are eligible for the allowance. The three Juneau lawmakers are ineligible. The maximum a legislator could receive over the 90-day span was $25,830. 

The allowance was paid automatically through April 19 — the end of the scheduled 90-day session — and legislators had to contact the agency’s accounting office to reject or change the amount received, said Daniel McDonald, the Senate majority communications director.

Agency finance manager Mindy Kissner said lawmakers can return any portion at any time. On Thursday, she said there had been change requests. She said updated records would be available next week.

Records provided to The Associated Press last week showed Republican Sen. Click Bishop of Fairbanks was among 21 lawmakers who received the $287-per-day allowance through April 19. He told the AP he believed it was an overpayment and would have his staff look into it. 

Aide Darwin Peterson said Bishop didn’t intend to take the money after leaving Juneau March 29 and reimbursed $6,027.

Seven of the 21 legislators responded to emailed requests for comment, including Bishop, House Speaker Bryce Edgmon, Rep. Louise Stutes and Sen. David Wilson.

Legislative salaries equate to $4,200 a month or $50,400 a year. The speaker and Senate president are entitled to another $500 a year, according to the agency. 

The additional allowance is intended to help with costs related to living part of the year in Juneau. 

Stutes, a Kodiak Republican, said lawmakers still have to pay expenses back home and aren’t making “big-time money” on the payments. Stutes said she stayed in Juneau for a period after the recess began and left behind a vehicle and belongings in storage to save on shipping costs, not knowing when she may be called back. 

Lawmakers announced plans Friday to return to Juneau Monday after a lawsuit challenging plans for federal coronavirus relief aid was filed. 

Edgmon in a statement said the pandemic had forced some members to remain in Juneau and others to return home. 

“But every legislator was engaged and working, with many continuing to pay bills in two locations,” he said. 

Edgmon, an independent, stayed in Juneau given the potential for lawmakers to reconvene and limited air service from his home community of Dillingham, said House majority press secretary Joe Plesha. Edgmon also didn’t want to risk bringing the virus home, Plesha said by email.

Wilson, a Wasilla Republican, said he donated portions of his allowance in excess of costs such as rent and moving.

Republican Rep. Sara Rasmussen of Anchorage said she had a lease through 90 days last year but had to find alternate accommodations when the session ran longer. Trying to avoid that hassle this year, she said she got a lease through mid-May.

“I just took what we needed to meet our contractual obligations as part of moving to Juneau,” said Rasmussen, who records show received payments through April 14. She said she couldn’t get out of her lease and had a day-care contract. 

Rasmussen was in quarantine in Anchorage for the final stretch of session after traveling to Utah in mid-March for her great-grandfather’s 100th birthday. Legislative guidelines for travel, aimed at reducing the risk of coronavirus overlapped with her trip. She said she called in to committees, worked on amendments and watched floor sessions while not in Juneau. 

Rep. Mike Prax, a North Pole Republican who took office in late February, stopped taking an allowance March 30, records show. Prax said he traveled light and stayed at a hotel near the Capitol. 

After the session was halted, “I cleaned everything up and went home,” he said. 

 

______________________

 

Alaska COVID-19
At a Glance

(updated 6-5-20)

By Sentinel Staff

The state Department of Health and Social Services has posted the following update on the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Alaska as of 11:50 a.m. Friday.

New cases as of Thursday: 11

Total statewide – 524

The state says the cumulative number of cases hospitalized is 48, and the cumulative number of deaths is 10.

To visit the Alaska DHSS Corona Response dashboard website click here.

______________________

 

Welcome to the Sitka Sentinel's web page. In order to make the Sentinel's news more easily available during the COVID-19 pandemic, we have taken down the paywall to access articles on this page. Just click on an article headline to read the story. 

March 23, 2020

NOTICE FROM THE PUBLISHERS

TO READERS AND ADVERTISERS

For the duration of the COVID-19 disaster emergency declared by federal, state and local authorities, the Sentinel is taking additional measures to reduce virus exposure to its employees and contractors as well as to the public, while continuing to publish a daily news report for Sitka.

To the extent possible, Sentinel news and sales staff will be working from home. For the protection of our carriers, home delivery of the newspaper will be stopped effective Tuesday, March 24.

The Sentinel will continue to publish on its website sitkasentinel.com. Access to the website will be free to all users. The Sentinel will also produce a print edition Monday through Friday. It will be available to all readers without charge, at locations throughout town.

Initially, these locations are those where the Sentinel's newspaper vending machines are already in place. The coin mechanisms will be disabled or the doors removed to permit easy access. The Sentinel will work with the stores where the paper is usually sold, to designate a place inside or outside the store where the free edition can be made available.  

Home delivery subscriptions are on hold, and after the end of the disaster emergency, subscriptions will be extended at no charge for the number of days that there was no home delivery.

The Sentinel will make its print edition available to the public as early in the day as possible. with all personnel taking precautions to prevent spread of the virus.

The Sentinel is calling upon its customers to observe the COVID-19 emergency precautions already in place, particularly in maintaining a six-foot social distance from others at newspaper distribution sites.

Following is the statement issued by the Sentinel on March 16, stating the Sentinel's emergency procedures, which remain in effect.

The Sentinel office at 112 Barracks Street is closed to the public. We encourage people to use the phone, email or the U.S. Postal Service as much as possible.There is a slot in the front door of the office for ads, news items and payment checks. Emails may be sent to  This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. and the phone number is (907) 747-3219.                                                                          

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