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4/9/15 - Senate Finance releases stripped down $1.5 billion capital budget

Proposed state spending for infrastructure down a billion from 10-year average

The Senate Finance Committee has unveiled a stripped-down, draft rewrite of the capital budget. As it stands, it would be one of the smallest in Alaska in more than a decade.

The bill proposes a $1.5 billion dollar budget capital budget for fiscal year 2016. That’s down a billion from the 10-year average of $2.5 billion. Amendments are expected to be considered today [Thursday]. Whatever ultimately passes the Senate would go to the House for consideration.

Legislators and Gov. Bill Walker have sought to tamp down expectations for the capital budget, given the multi-billion dollar deficit the state is facing amid low oil prices.

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Bill to ax film tax credit program advances

Also, the Senate Finance Committee has advanced legislation that would repeal Alaska's film tax credit program. Deputy Revenue Commissioner Jerry Burnett says the bill would make clear to the industry and the public the program would not be coming back without additional legislative action.

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Alaska House votes to clean up online criminal records

The Alaska House has passed legislation that would remove certain criminal case records from an online court records system. The bill calls for the removal of criminal cases in which a defendant was acquitted or charges were dropped. Notice of reconsideration was given, meaning that the bill could be voted on again before advancing to the Senate.

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Rural subsistence hunters gain long-sought exemption from $25 duck stamp

It took a few years and an act of Congress, but yesterday the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced rural subsistence hunters don’t need to purchase federal duck stamps. Myron Naneng [Nan-ing], head of the Association of Village Council Presidents, says many thought this was included in the Migratory Bird Treaty in the 1990s, which allowed spring and summer subsistence hunts.

“We assumed that Alaska Natives would have duck stamp exemptions with the acceptance of the treaty,” said Naneng. “But at that time a solicitor who lived here in Anchorage said that’s not included."

For years, it was unclear whether village hunters had to buy the $15 annual duck stamps. Changing the law was a high priority for Alaska Native advocates, and for Alaska Congressman Don Young. Young heralded the announcement of the new federal enforcement rules with a video-taped statement and three toots of his own duck call.

Young called it a major victory for rural Alaska.

"Remember we had this problem before of who had a stamp, who didn’t have a stamp,” said Young. “This solves the problem. So I’m real pleased with Fish and Wildlife, and I’m pleased with being able to pass this through the Congress."

The new rule exempts rural hunters who are permanent residents of subsistence harvest areas from buying the stamp, though they must still comply with other state and federal hunting laws. A new federal law raises the duck stamp fee to $25.

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Gov. Bill Walker declares flooding of sole road to Prudhoe Bay a disaster

Gov. Bill Walker has declared a state disaster for the Dalton Highway, which is closed because of unprecedented levels of river overflow. A news release from Walker's office says the declaration activates state assistance for those affected by flooding damage. An Alaska Department of Transportation spokeswoman says it's unclear when the closed section will be reopened.