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KNBA News - Legislators allot $450,000 to sue over Medicaid expansion; Alaska bond rating downrated

legislators.jpg
Annie Feidt, APRN
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8/19/15

Legislative panel votes to spend $450K to stop Medicaid expansion in court

By Annie Feidt, APRN

A legislative panel has voted to sue Gov. Bill Walker to stop Medicaid expansion. The Legislative Council made the announcement after a closed door meeting in Anchorage on Tuesday morning.

The council voted to spend up to $450,000 on legal assistance to fight Medicaid expansion in court. Before the vote, Republican Senator Charlie Huggins made the case for the lawsuit:

“This is not the time for the Alaska State Legislature to be timid and it’s not about the issue,” said Huggins. “It’s about the separation of powers. So I firmly, firmly urge members of this body to support the motion.”

Last month, Gov. Walker announced he would expand Medicaid starting September 1. The Legislature failed to vote on his Medicaid expansion bill during this year’s regular or special session.

Only one lawmaker voted against the lawsuit, Democratic Representative Sam Kito of Juneau. He noted that several legal opinions supported Governor Walker’s decision to expand Medicaid on his own:

“And I am concerned about spending money in our current budget times to actually perform an action that could cost the state money,” said Kito.

Medicaid expansion would offer federal health care to low income, childless adults. The federal government will pay 100 percent of the cost until 2017. After that, the state’s share of the cost of the program will gradually increase, but never amount to more than 10 percent.

At a press conference following the legislative council vote, Walker said he was disappointed in the legislature’s action:

“I stand firm on my decision,” said Walker. “It was the right thing to do. I’m not wavering for a minute. Alaskans deserve nothing less. This has not pushed me in a different direction whatsoever.”

The legislative council is bringing in a Washington, D.C., law firm to challenge Medicaid expansion. Lawyers with Bancroft PLLC have argued against the Affordable Care Act in cases before the U.S. Supreme Court.

Senator John Coghill, a Republican from Fairbanks voted for the lawsuit. He says the lawyers will focus on getting a judge to issue an injunction stopping Medicaid expansion from going forward on September 1st. He says if an injunction isn’t granted, the lawsuit is unlikely to be effective.

“I think that we’ll push it,” said Coghill, “but by the time the process works we’ll probably be in a regular session, so at that point, the damage will probably already be done and then how to unravel it? Probably is not going to happen in the court system.”

About 40,000 Alaskans would qualify for Medicaid expansion. The Walker administration estimates about half that number would sign up in the first year.

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Alaska’s budget deficit raises concern about its credit worthiness

By The Associated Press

A ratings agency says Alaska's bond rating could be lowered if more isn't done by the state to address its large budget deficit. Standard & Poor's Ratings Services revised its outlook from stable to negative in a ratings report released recently. Alaska is dealing with multibillion-dollar deficits amid low oil prices.

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Recovery efforts to resume for three people presumed dead in Sitka landslide

By Rachel Waldholz, KCAW – Sitka, and The Associated Press

Sitka_landslide_KramerAve1_joelcurtis-300x225.jpg
Credit Joel Curtis / National Weather Service
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National Weather Service
A new home under construction on Sitka’s Kramer Avenue was obliterated in the slide. A neighboring home is unscathed.

 Three people are presumed dead after heavy rains triggered what now appear to be at least six landslides in Sitka Tuesday morning. The slides and flooding prompted the city to declare a state of emergency. Fire officials told The AP last night that recovery efforts were suspended until a geologist assesses the stability of the slide area this morning. City officials identified one of the dead as 62-year-old William Stortz, who is the city's fire marshal and a building official. The fire department says the others are brothers, Elmer Diaz, age 26, and Ulises Diaz, age 25. All three were involved in the construction of several new homes about two miles from downtown Sitka.

Other landslides were in undeveloped areas. The National Weather Service recorded more than 2.5 inches of rainfall in the Sitka area in the six-hour period between 4:00 and 10:00 a.m. Tuesday. Flooding at a laundry center parking lot opened a sink hole the size of a large van in the pavement.  

Governor Bill Walker announced Tuesday night he will be in Sitka on Wednesday, and will visit the site of the Kramer Avenue landslide.

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