HANGING ART – Raven Shaw hangs up art at her booth for the Sitka Artisans Market this afternoon at Harrigan Centennial Hall. Her business, Raven's Random, sells original art stickers and prints. The market opens tonight and runs through Sunday. (Sentinel Photo by James Poulson)

Pioneer Homes’ Rates Up; Too High for Some

    ANCHORAGE (AP) — Expected rate increases in an Alaska assisted living facility system have prompted the departure of some residents, officials said.
    The rate increases at Alaska Pioneer Home went into effect Sept. 1. The increases have been expected since February, KTUU-TV reported Tuesday.
    New regulations increased the number of tiers in the Pioneer Home care system from three to five. The tiers are based on residents’ levels of need. The highest tier previously priced at about $6,800 per month and has increased to $15,000 monthly, officials said.
    Eight residents left some of the six Alaska Pioneer Homes after the rate increases went into effect, said the state Department of Health and Social Services.
    “With this rate change, elders who have the ability to pay the increased rates will not be asked to subsidize services that others receive,” the department said in a published statement. “All funds stay in the Alaska Pioneer Homes to meet the needs of the residents.”
    The department previously covered the difference between what residents paid and the actual cost, while the new rate covers the full cost. In the previous fiscal year beginning in July 2018, the state subsidized every Pioneer Home resident at a cost of nearly $34.6 million, the department said.
    Anchorage Pioneer Home resident Verna Espenshade, who must pay more than $400 in additional monthly rent, said she believes residents’ objections were not fully considered.
    “Now they say I have to go on welfare, I have to apply for assistance,” Espenshade said. “I could have paid my rent at the rate it was and still had a little bit left over.”

Fishing Lobbyist Cited For SE Hatchery Chum Catch

    SITKA (AP) — Alaska wildlife troopers have confiscated catch from a fishing industry lobbyist suspected of fishing in closed waters, officials said.
    Bob Thorstenson Jr., 55, was commercial fishing Sunday when wildlife troopers cited him for fishing within 200 yards (183 meters) of a protected salmon stream near Sitka, CoastAlaska reported Thursday.
    The stream acts as a buffer to protect native pink salmon that have become vulnerable near freshwater streams because of drought conditions, said Eric Coonradt, a state Department of Fish and Game area biologist.
    “Anybody coming in there with a seine could easily mop up 90% of the run for the year for that stream,” the Sitka-based fisheries manager said.
    Thorstenson’s seine nets collected more than 40 tons (36 metric tons) of hatchery chum salmon that was seized and turned over to a seafood processor, wildlife officials said.
    He could face fines up to $15,000, a year in prison and the gross value of the catch, estimated at about $50,000, if convicted of the misdemeanor, officials said.
    Thorstenson didn’t think he was over the line and has plans to contest the charge, CoastAlaska reported.
    This is not the first time Thorstenson has violated fishing regulations, officials said. In 2010, he was cited for commercial fishing without a permit.
    Thorstenson is a longtime state-registered lobbyist as recently as last year and was former executive director of Southeast Alaska Seiners Association, officials said. His father was one of the founders of Icicle Seafoods Inc., a seafood processor and wholesaler popular across the state.   

A.G.: State Must Abide By Union Worker Ruling

    ANCHORAGE – Alaska Attorney General Kevin G. Clarkson issued a formal opinion Tuesday on the effect of a U.S. Supreme Court ruling on government employees represented by unions in Alaska.
    The high court’s decision on a 2018 case, Janus v. American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees Council 31, means that Alaska “must take significant additional steps to protect the First Amendment rights to free speech for State employees,” Clarkson said.
    “Forcing State employees through state law to pay union dues that will be used for political purposes and speech they may not agree with has created an unconstitutional restriction of free speech,” Clarkson said in a statement. “The nation’s highest court has ruled repeatedly that freedom of speech also means the right to refrain from speaking at all. In order to comply with the highest court’s ruling and the U.S. Constitution, the State has to determine that an employee must have freely and knowingly consented to have dues deducted from their paychecks.”
    To bring the State into compliance with the Janus decision, Clarkson said the State will need to significantly change its payroll process by obtaining “clear and compelling evidence it has the employee’s consent before deducting union dues and fees.”
    Under current state law a public employee may make a one-time declaration agreeing to have union dues collected from their paychecks even though they are not members of the union.
    Clarkson says the state will need to significantly change its payroll process by obtaining “clear and compelling evidence it has the employee’s consent before deducting union dues and fees.”

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