Mark Sabbatini

This photo shows the Alaska State Capitol, where lawmakers are mulling several bills related to discussion of sex and gender in public schools. (Ben Hohenstatt / Juneau Empire File)
This photo shows the Alaska State Capitol, where lawmakers are mulling several bills related to discussion of sex and gender in public schools. (Ben Hohenstatt / Juneau Empire File)
Rep. DeLena Johnson, R-Palmer, center, discusses details of the proposed state budget for next year as modified by the House Finance Committee she co-chairs with Reps. Neil Foster, D-Nome, left, and Bryce Edgmon, I-Dillingham. Assisting Johnson is her chief of staff Remond Henderson. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

House budget’s biggest change is a smaller PFD

Large deficit in governor’s budget drives dividend lower, poor oil price forecast may mean other cuts

Rep. DeLena Johnson, R-Palmer, center, discusses details of the proposed state budget for next year as modified by the House Finance Committee she co-chairs with Reps. Neil Foster, D-Nome, left, and Bryce Edgmon, I-Dillingham. Assisting Johnson is her chief of staff Remond Henderson. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)
Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire 
State Sen. Lyman Hoffman, D-Bethel, asks Randy Bates, director of the Division of Water for the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation, about state water quality regulations some fish hatcheries are calling harmful during a Senate Finance Committee meeting Friday. The meeting was to review the DEC’s proposal to take over responsibility for many federal Clean Water Act permits, claiming it will be more responsible and efficient for development projects. Some of the senators questioned both the cost of the state taking over a process currently funded by the federal government, as well as the state’s ability to properly due to the job within the guidelines for such a takeover.

Wading into rule change proposals affecting clean water

National PFAS limits, state takeover of wetlands permits raise doubts about who should take charge

Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire 
State Sen. Lyman Hoffman, D-Bethel, asks Randy Bates, director of the Division of Water for the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation, about state water quality regulations some fish hatcheries are calling harmful during a Senate Finance Committee meeting Friday. The meeting was to review the DEC’s proposal to take over responsibility for many federal Clean Water Act permits, claiming it will be more responsible and efficient for development projects. Some of the senators questioned both the cost of the state taking over a process currently funded by the federal government, as well as the state’s ability to properly due to the job within the guidelines for such a takeover.
Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire 
Susan McKenzie, director of Innovation and Education Excellence for the state’s education department, testifies about two bills during a House Education Committee meeting on Monday. McKenzie, scheduled to become commissioner of the Department of Education and Early Development on April 1, announced Wednesday she has decided not to accept the job for personal reasons.

Education commissioner designee changes mind, rejects job

Susan McKenzie cites personal reasons in withdrawing only a few weeks after accepting appointment

Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire 
Susan McKenzie, director of Innovation and Education Excellence for the state’s education department, testifies about two bills during a House Education Committee meeting on Monday. McKenzie, scheduled to become commissioner of the Department of Education and Early Development on April 1, announced Wednesday she has decided not to accept the job for personal reasons.
Snow blankets the courtyard outside the Juneau - State Courthouse, where a sit-in starting at 8 a.m. Wednesday was announced by people protesting what they called unconstitutional restrictions recently placed on grand juries. Only one protester said she came by shortly before noon, but didn’t stay long because no other people were there. Similar (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

Cold case for grand jury protesters

Participants gather in wintry weather to air claims of unconstitutional restrictions on process

Snow blankets the courtyard outside the Juneau - State Courthouse, where a sit-in starting at 8 a.m. Wednesday was announced by people protesting what they called unconstitutional restrictions recently placed on grand juries. Only one protester said she came by shortly before noon, but didn’t stay long because no other people were there. Similar (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)
An employee leaves the Alaska State Capitol on Wednesday, where the 60 members of the Alaska State Legislature are slated to get a 67% pay increase to $84,000 annually following the unanimous vote by the five new members of the Alaska State Officers Compensation Commission, who were appointed during the past week to replace commission members whose majority voted to rejected the raises. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

Sudden 67% pay hike OK’d for legislators

Salary commission that rejected raises is replaced by new members who recommend salaries of $84K.

An employee leaves the Alaska State Capitol on Wednesday, where the 60 members of the Alaska State Legislature are slated to get a 67% pay increase to $84,000 annually following the unanimous vote by the five new members of the Alaska State Officers Compensation Commission, who were appointed during the past week to replace commission members whose majority voted to rejected the raises. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)
A small crowd gathers outside the Alaska State Capitol on Tuesday evening for an annual vigil recognizing residents who have died from suicide. Alaska has one of the highest rates of suicide in the United States. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

A candle for each life no longer lit

Annual vigil at Capitol recognizes rising number of deaths by suicide in Alaska.

A small crowd gathers outside the Alaska State Capitol on Tuesday evening for an annual vigil recognizing residents who have died from suicide. Alaska has one of the highest rates of suicide in the United States. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)
Clarise Larson / Juneau Empire 
Dozens of Juneau teachers, students and residents gather at the steps of the Alaska State Capitol on Jan. 23 in advocacy of an increase in the state’s per-student funding formula, which hasn’t increased sizeably since 2017 and has failed to keep pace with inflation during the past decade.
Dozens of Juneau teachers, students and residents gather at the steps of the Alaska State Capitol on Jan. 23 in advocacy of an increase in the state’s per-student funding formula, which hasn’t increased sizeably since 2017 and has failed to keep pace with inflation during the past decade. (Clarise Larson / Juneau Empire)

Studies give teacher retention bonuses a mixed report card

Year-end bonuses sought by governor most effective for top-performing employees, specific subjects.

Clarise Larson / Juneau Empire 
Dozens of Juneau teachers, students and residents gather at the steps of the Alaska State Capitol on Jan. 23 in advocacy of an increase in the state’s per-student funding formula, which hasn’t increased sizeably since 2017 and has failed to keep pace with inflation during the past decade.
Dozens of Juneau teachers, students and residents gather at the steps of the Alaska State Capitol on Jan. 23 in advocacy of an increase in the state’s per-student funding formula, which hasn’t increased sizeably since 2017 and has failed to keep pace with inflation during the past decade. (Clarise Larson / Juneau Empire)
A sign points to the two wells, Tinmiaq 2 and 6, that are part of ConocoPhillips Willow project in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska. (Courtesy of ConocoPhillips)

Many ‘what’s next’ questions remain for Willow and drilling ban

Newly approved project facing lawsuits, while halt on new activity may not be relevant or permanent.

A sign points to the two wells, Tinmiaq 2 and 6, that are part of ConocoPhillips Willow project in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska. (Courtesy of ConocoPhillips)
Susan McKenzie, director of Innovation and Education Excellence, foreground, and Deb Riddle, division operations manager for the state Department of Education and Early Development, explain details of bills to restrict mentioning sex/gender in schools and give teachers year-end retention bonuses during a House Education Committee meeting Monday at the Alaska State Capitol. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

Bill limiting sex, gender talk in schools gets first public hearing

Testimony limited to supporters who refer to indoctrination, religion in arguing parents know best.

Susan McKenzie, director of Innovation and Education Excellence, foreground, and Deb Riddle, division operations manager for the state Department of Education and Early Development, explain details of bills to restrict mentioning sex/gender in schools and give teachers year-end retention bonuses during a House Education Committee meeting Monday at the Alaska State Capitol. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)
State Rep. Cliff Groh, D-Anchorage, testifies about his proposed constitutional amendment that would change how Permanent Fund earnings are allocated during a House Ways and Means Committee meeting Saturday morning at the Alaska State Capitol. The committee spent two hours taking testimony almost entirely by phone from residents statewide about five proposals related to the Permanent Fund and dividends, which continued the long historical pattern of strongly divided feelings about how much money to use for dividends vs. state government programs. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

PFD proposals polarize and puzzle

Residents all over Alaska’s map are also all over the policy map during hearing on various proposals

State Rep. Cliff Groh, D-Anchorage, testifies about his proposed constitutional amendment that would change how Permanent Fund earnings are allocated during a House Ways and Means Committee meeting Saturday morning at the Alaska State Capitol. The committee spent two hours taking testimony almost entirely by phone from residents statewide about five proposals related to the Permanent Fund and dividends, which continued the long historical pattern of strongly divided feelings about how much money to use for dividends vs. state government programs. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)
A by-mail general ballot is sent to an Alaska voter in October of 2020. Concern is being expressed by some state lawmakers about such ballots frequently being received and used by people who became residents of other states many years ago. Officials with the state Division of Elections said keeping such people on voter rolls is based on an intention to return to Alaska, which often cannot be definitely determined. (Ben Hohenstatt / Juneau Empire file)

State may end membership in voter anti-fraud organization

Group falsely attacked by Trump is costly, better options may exist, new elections director says

A by-mail general ballot is sent to an Alaska voter in October of 2020. Concern is being expressed by some state lawmakers about such ballots frequently being received and used by people who became residents of other states many years ago. Officials with the state Division of Elections said keeping such people on voter rolls is based on an intention to return to Alaska, which often cannot be definitely determined. (Ben Hohenstatt / Juneau Empire file)
A sign in 2019 urges Alaska lawmakers to fund a “full” Permanent Fund Dividend — or else. Some legislators this year are hoping tough times since then due to the COVID.19 pandemic and other events will make residents willing to accept proposals that result in lower dividends so some of the money can be used for purposes such as increasing education spending. (AP Photo/Mark Thiessen, file)

PFD plans poised for public pontificating

Five proposals to be subject of Saturday hearing.

A sign in 2019 urges Alaska lawmakers to fund a “full” Permanent Fund Dividend — or else. Some legislators this year are hoping tough times since then due to the COVID.19 pandemic and other events will make residents willing to accept proposals that result in lower dividends so some of the money can be used for purposes such as increasing education spending. (AP Photo/Mark Thiessen, file)
The Associated Press 
A map shows the location of the Willow oil field project in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska, where more than 200 drills are scheduled to be drilled during a 30-year period if approved.

Willow approval expected next week, Bloomberg and CNN reports

The Willow oil field project in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska will be officially approved by the Biden administration next week, according to reports from CNN… Continue reading

The Associated Press 
A map shows the location of the Willow oil field project in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska, where more than 200 drills are scheduled to be drilled during a 30-year period if approved.
A panel discussion about transboundary mining issues involving Alaska and British Columbia is hosted Tuesday by state Sen. Jesse Kiehl, D-Juneau, during the Juneau Mining Forum conference Tuesday at the Baranof Hotel. Participating in the discussion were Andrew Rollo, left, assistant deputy minister for Energy Mines and Low Carbon Innovation in B.C., Laurel Nash, assistant deputy minister for the Ministry of Environment & Climate Change Strategy in B.C., and Jason Brune, commissioner of the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

Toxic mining talks linger between Alaska, Canada

Native and legislative leaders reinterate call for U.S. intervention after Canadian officials’ visit

A panel discussion about transboundary mining issues involving Alaska and British Columbia is hosted Tuesday by state Sen. Jesse Kiehl, D-Juneau, during the Juneau Mining Forum conference Tuesday at the Baranof Hotel. Participating in the discussion were Andrew Rollo, left, assistant deputy minister for Energy Mines and Low Carbon Innovation in B.C., Laurel Nash, assistant deputy minister for the Ministry of Environment & Climate Change Strategy in B.C., and Jason Brune, commissioner of the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)
Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire
State Sen. Löki Tobin, D-Anchorage, reads an announcement during the Senate floor session Wednesday. Tobin, who chairs the Senate Education Committee, emerged as a potential road block to Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s “parental rights” bill by declaring it would not get a hearing if referred to her committee. The bill was subsequently referred to two other committees, with Senate President Gary Stevens, R-Kodiak, stating it will get a public hearing.
Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire
State Sen. Löki Tobin, D-Anchorage, reads an announcement during the Senate floor session Wednesday. Tobin, who chairs the Senate Education Committee, emerged as a potential road block to Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s “parental rights” bill by declaring it would not get a hearing if referred to her committee. The bill was subsequently referred to two other committees, with Senate President Gary Stevens, R-Kodiak, stating it will get a public hearing.
Screenshot from official livestream 
Gov. Mike Dunleavy unveils proposals to offer public school teachers annual retention bonuses and enact policies similar so-called “don’t say gay” laws in states such as Florida during a press conference in Anchorage on Tuesday.
Screenshot from official livestream 
Gov. Mike Dunleavy unveils proposals to offer public school teachers annual retention bonuses and enact policies similar so-called “don’t say gay” laws in states such as Florida during a press conference in Anchorage on Tuesday.
Legislators are about 50 days through the statutory 90-day limit for the session at the Alaska State Capitol, although in reality they are expected to meet for the 121 days allowed in Alaska’s Constitution. (Clarise Larson / Juneau Empire File)

Legislature rejects raises for executive branch officials

House joins senate in unanimously rejecting increases.

Legislators are about 50 days through the statutory 90-day limit for the session at the Alaska State Capitol, although in reality they are expected to meet for the 121 days allowed in Alaska’s Constitution. (Clarise Larson / Juneau Empire File)
A unanimous vote by the state House on Monday made a bill by state Sen. Jesse Kiehl, D-Juneau, the first potential new law to pass both chambers of the Legislature. The bill which giving disabled veterans lifetime trapping licenses officially would cost the state nothing, and essentially is a corrective measure to existing law that give such veterans free hunting and fishing licenses. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

Free trapping licenses for vets is first bill to pass full Legislature

No-cost measure passed unanimously would be Juneau Sen. Jesse Kiehl’s third bill to become law

A unanimous vote by the state House on Monday made a bill by state Sen. Jesse Kiehl, D-Juneau, the first potential new law to pass both chambers of the Legislature. The bill which giving disabled veterans lifetime trapping licenses officially would cost the state nothing, and essentially is a corrective measure to existing law that give such veterans free hunting and fishing licenses. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)
This photo shows the Alaska State Capitol where lawmakers have been briefed on a plan state regulators say will allow more flexibility that benefits both businesses and the environment in “Alaska’s unique conditions.” However, some senators expressed skepticism over efforts to take over what are known as “Clean Water Act Section 404” permits. (Peter Segall / Juneau Empire File)

Alaska seeking a 404 redirect for wetlands development

State wants to take over permitting control from feds, but costs and murky legal questions linger.

This photo shows the Alaska State Capitol where lawmakers have been briefed on a plan state regulators say will allow more flexibility that benefits both businesses and the environment in “Alaska’s unique conditions.” However, some senators expressed skepticism over efforts to take over what are known as “Clean Water Act Section 404” permits. (Peter Segall / Juneau Empire File)