Capitol Live: Republicans look into agency over rifle sticker uproar

Follow along with live updates from Alaska’s Capitol.

1:27 p.m.

“Why are so many people migrating from Southeast Alaska?” Rep. Sara Rasmussen asks. She says a number of families have migrated to her district from the area and that the Pebble Mine could support infrastructure that would slow this migration.

Norman Van Vactor, a longtime participant in Bristol Bay fisheries and current CEO of the Bristol Bay Economic Development Corporation, says people migrate for different reasons. He says if the Pebble Mine project were to go through it would be mostly workers who come in for a certain period of time just to work at the mine, more like oil field workers rather than longtime residents.

— Mollie Barnes

1:19 p.m.

Rep. Grier Hopkins is asking if there are any resolutions from local villages or governments that are in support of the Pebble Mine.

Gayla Hoseth, the 2nd Chief of Curyung Tribal Council and the Director of Natural Resources at Bristol Bay Native Association, says she thinks there are some, but she doesn’t know which specific corporations or villages they are from.

— Mollie Barnes

1:05 p.m.

The House Resources committee is meeting now. They’re about to get a presentation on the Pebble Mine from a group of people opposed to the mine project.

The group held a press conference earlier this morning, where they detailed their concerns with the draft environmental impact statement (DEIS) by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Among some of those concerns were that the DEIS used too short of a time frame to associate risks, it used an inappropriate fish habitat assessment, cumulative risks were essentially ignored, there was very little mention of long-term risks associated with climate change and that it used selective use of scientific literature when backing up claims.

“It is absolutely clear that it has way underestimated risks, does not pass as credible science,” said Daniel Schindler, a professor in the School of Aquatic and Fishery Sciences at the University of Washington during the press conference.

Resources Co-Chair, Rep. Geran Tarr, D-Anchorage, says that the Army Corps of Engineers will be speaking in front of the committee on the same topic soon.

— Mollie Barnes

12:14 p.m.

The social media rifle sticker debate is roaring up again inside the Capitol.

Four members of the Alaska House of Representatives have signed a letter requesting access to public records following a recent incident involving the leadership of the Alaska State Commission for Human Rights.

Signing the letter were Rep. Lance Pruitt, R-Anchorage, the House Minority Leader, alongside Rep. Dave Talerico, R-Healy, Rep. Josh Revak, R-Anchorage, and Rep. Ben Carpenter, R-Nikiski.

“Obviously, we’ve seen the details of the story play out a little bit in the press, but I’m more interested in seeing if this is a consistent pattern of behavior inside the agency,” said Pruitt in a press release. “We simply cannot have government agencies and officials clearly and intentionally violating the rights of Alaskans in order to promote a political ideology.”

“If a state agency is found to have intentionally violated the civil rights of Alaskans, they have no business continuing to receive state funding, no matter how pure their mission may appear,” said Talerico in a press release. “Free speech is guaranteed by the constitution, and to see a public official using her official state business card and social media accounts to make a statement suppressing free speech is, I would argue, at minimum, grounds for dismissal.”

“Whether we agree with someone’s speech is irrelevant. Free speech is a guaranteed right that has been paid for time and again by our honorable veterans and active duty service members and their families,” said Revak in a press release. “To see an unelected government bureaucrat with the audacity to tell a private citizen what he can or cannot say is so deeply offensive to me. I’m not going to stand for it.”

The Agency has, by law, 10 business days to respond to the legislators’ request, the press release states.

Read their full letter to the agency here.

Read our previous coverage: Social media post over rifle sticker in Alaska causes uproar

— Mollie Barnes

8:05 a.m.

The House Education committee is meeting this morning to discuss House Bill 24, a bill regarding teaching in foreign languages.

They’re taking public testimony about the bill.

“We aren’t just looking for individuals who are fluent in Spanish, we are looking for teachers who … can really develop these programs,” says Katherine Gardner from the Mat-Su School District on the phone. “What HB 24 does for us it is it provides an appropriate path for certification so we can employ them and retain them in these (Spanish immersion charter schools).”

She says they don’t have plans for expansion for new immersion programs in Mat-Su at this time.

Jennifer Schmidt-Hutchins, the principal of Fronteras Spanish Immersion charter school in Mat-Su is speaking on the phone now.

She says HB 24 would allow teachers who are non-native English speakers to teach at Fronteras Spanish Immersion school.

The school has a native Spanish speaker right now who for three years has been trying to complete the courses required for her teaching certificate, Schmidt-Hutchins. The reading test is holding her up. The bill would allow the native Spanish teachers to get their certifications

“What non-native (Spanish) speakers lack is the authenticity of the culture,” Schmidt-Hutchins says. “I just want to put out my support for HB 24… I just want you to understand the human side that I’m dealing with as a principal.”

She says it will also benefit high school students who take Spanish classes.

Xh’unei Lance Twitchel, an associate professor of Native languages at University of Southeast is speaking.

“The state of Alaska has made significant steps in the past six years … but we are still in a pattern of decline regarding the health and viability of Alaska Native languages.”

He says the next step after this bill should be the formation of a college of Alaska Native languages at the University of Alaska. And another step should be the centralizing of Alaska Native languages by including them in standards for Alaska education.

“What is good for Alaska Native is good for all of Alaskans,” he says. He says what people do on a daily basis has not shifted to reflect the importance of protecting native languages.

“Language health is directly tied to physical health,” he says.

They are holding the bill because they will have testimony at the next hearing.

— Mollie Barnes

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