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)

Gov: Special Session To Continue in Juneau

    ANCHORAGE (AP) — Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy says the state legislature can return to deliberations at the Capitol.
    Dunleavy announced today he’s amending his call for a second special legislative session to change the location from Wasilla to Juneau.
    He’s also adding the state construction budget as a topic for business.
    Dunleavy says progress is needed and work can’t be done while lawmakers meet in two locations.
    Dunleavy originally called for legislators to gather in Wasilla, his hometown. Legislative leaders instead met last week in Juneau and said it was their prerogative to choose the location.   
    About a third of the 60 lawmakers followed Dunleavy’s order and instead went to Wasilla.
    Dunleavy says he’s aware that time is short to capture federal funding for road and other projects.   

Dunleavy Sued Over Court Budget Veto

Associated Press
    ANCHORAGE (AP) — A civil rights watchdog sued Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy today over his budget veto of money for the state court system.
    The ACLU of Alaska claims Dunleavy’s reduction of the Alaska Court System budget by $334,700 is an attack on the independent judiciary.
    “Gov. Dunleavy is punishing the court for exercising its judicial power,” said executive director Joshua Decker at a news conference. “He’s threatening the court with further budget reductions if it makes decisions with which he disagrees. He’s improperly trying to influence the court and erode its independence.”
    A spokesman for Dunleavy, Matt Shuckerow, did not immediately respond Wednesday morning to a request for comment on the lawsuit.
    Dunleavy last month vetoed more than $400 million from the budget approved by the Alaska Legislature, including $130 million from the University of Alaska.
    Dunleavy’s reduction to the court system budget was tied to an Alaska Supreme Court decision on abortion.
    “The Legislative and Executive Branch are opposed to State funded elective abortions; the only branch of government that insists on State funded elective abortions is the Supreme Court. The annual cost of elective abortions is reflected by this reduction,” Dunleavy’s budget office wrote in the veto document.
    The court this year struck down as unconstitutional a state law and regulation seeking to define what constitutes medically necessary abortions for Medicaid funding.
    Dunleavy’s veto is a grossly inappropriate attempt to use money to coerce judges to a political end, Decker said, and it undermines the public trust in the independence and impartiality of the judiciary.
    “The judiciary must be free and independent or all our rights will become hostage to the will of whoever incites the passion of the masses during each election cycle,” he said.
    The lawsuit was filed on behalf of two plaintiffs, Bonnie Jack, a former Republican legislative staffer, and John Kauffman, a private attorney.
    Jack said Dunleavy overstepped his authority for vindictive reasons.
    Kauffman said he took an oath to uphold the Alaska Constitution. The governor’s vetoes were levied to punish the courts for doing what the courts were created to do, he said.
    “That’s a blatant violation of the separation of powers, which is a cornerstone of our constitution and the United States Constitution,” Kauffman said.
    The governor’s action is unprecedented in Alaska, Decker said. The lawsuit seeks to have court funding restored and the governor’s actions declared unconstitutional, Decker said. He’s not worried about a conflict of interest by judges handling the case.
    “When our judges put on the black robe, they take an oath to honestly and impartially decide the case in front of them based on what the law and the constitution is,” he said.

Funding Changes to Raise Rural Alaska Utility Bills

    JUNEAU,  (AP) — Residents of rural Alaska will be hit with rising energy costs after a statewide funding change, officials said.
    The state Legislature annually transfers money from dozens of state accounts into the Constitutional Budget Reserve, Alaska’s Energy Desk reported Monday.
    Officials say a $1 billion energy account used to offset costs for rural communities is included in the money transfer known as “the sweep.”
    Lawmakers for the past 28 years have returned the funds taken at the end of each fiscal year, until this year when they voted not to replenish the account.
    The office of Republican Gov. Mike Dunleavy and the Legislature included the program in their respective state budgets, but they have not agreed on the funding sources.
    Homeowners’ bills could increase from an average of $80 up to thousands of dollars per month, said Reese Huhta of the Unalakleet Valley Electric Cooperative.
    More than 270 homes, 40 businesses and 22 community facilities in the Unalakleet Valley should expect higher bills, Huhta said.
    The city of Unalakleet’s electric bill will double, affecting everything from streetlights to collecting water and pumping sewage, he said.
    “Annually they’ll spend, in our models, $55,000 to $70,000 more,” Huhta said.
    The utility has not received formal notice from the state about the lack of funds to reimburse power costs. It cannot afford to issue billing credits to customers without payment for long, he said.
    “I think we will see more shutoff notices,” Huhta said. “We have a lot of members that are on fixed incomes, and there’s just not a lot of money trees to shake.”


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