Movers and Shakers for June 24

Mark McGeorge has joined Ravn Air Group as vice president, safety, security and compliance. McGeorge, an experienced pilot, military commander, and training expert, will be taking the reins from John Marshall, who will focus on his role as Ravn’s chief operating officer. McGeorge has nearly 30 years of experience in aviation, flying operations, safety, and compliance. In addition to being a former colonel and F-15 instructor pilot in the U.S. Air Force, McGeorge also has extensive instructor, academic, and simulator experience. Prior to joining Ravn, McGeorge was the director of safety, assistant facility security officer, project manager and combat aviation training expert for a local Alaska-based company based in Palmer. He has also held positions as deputy Operations Group commander and chief of Exercises and Flying Training in the Air Force. Recognizing her ongoing contributions to the Global Health and Social Medicine Department at Harvard Medical School, Southcentral Foundation President/CEO Dr. Katherine Gottlieb has been reappointed as a visiting scientist. Gottlieb was first appointed to the faculty of the Harvard Center for Primary Care in 2015. The GHSM Department applies social science and humanities research to constantly improve the practice of medicine, the delivery of treatment, and the development of health care policies locally and worldwide. Under Gottlieb’s direction and guidance, SCF, a two-time winner of the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award, has become a global leader among health care organizations, recognized for its Nuka System of Care. Gottlieb serves as a director on the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium Board of Directors and the Alaska Native Medical Center Joint Operating Board and on the leadership team of the Institute for Healthcare Improvement’s 100 Million Healthier Lives Initiative. Jamie Acton was appointed as director of the Public Transportation Department, effective July 2, and Natasha Pineda as Director of the Department of Health and Human Services, effective July 9, for the Municipality of Anchorage. Acton has worked for the municipality in various capacities since 2005, first as a recreation programmer for Parks and Recreation and later as mobility planner for the PTD. She currently serves as a senior transportation planner for the Anchorage Metropolitan Area Transportation Solutions. Pineda comes to the municipality from the State of Alaska, where she currently serves as a deputy health official with the Department of Administration. Prior to joining the state, Pineda worked for the municipality as the community and family services division manager at DHHS. Pineda also served as a program officer for the Alaska Mental Health Trust Authority and as a program coordinator for the state Division of Behavioral Health. Troy Nesset of KPB Architects has obtained his professional registration for architecture in the state of Alaska. Nesset received a bachelor’s degree in environmental design and a master’s of architecture degree from Montana State University. Nesset is involved in a wide variety of projects for various clients throughout the state including Cook Inlet Housing Authority, Bristol Bay Native Corporation, Norton Sound Economic Development Corp. and First National Bank Alaska. Todd Shenk joined the Rasmuson Foundation as a senior program officer. Shenk worked from 1995 to 2002 for Denali Education Center including as education director. He then turned to Covenant House Alaska, where he worked from 2003 to 2005 as youth enrichment coordinator and developed an internship program for at-risk youth with the Anchorage mayor’s office. Shenk spent the next 12 years, from 2005 to 2017, with Seattle-based Casey Family Programs filling positions that drew on his technical, research and analytical skills. He managed grant portfolios and built relationships with groups including Native Americans in Philanthropy and Funders Together to End Homelessness. From 2011 to 2014, he served as a Casey Senior Fellow on loan to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Most recently, Shenk ran a consulting business based in Seattle that stretched to Alaska and work on youth homelessness. Col. Matthew W. Brown assumed command of the 1st Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division, from outgoing commander Col. Kevin J. Lambert in a June 21 ceremony. Brown graduated from the U.S. Military Academy and was commissioned as an infantry second lieutenant in 1997. His past assignments include assistant operations officer, Bradley platoon leader, support platoon leader, and battalion logistics officer in 1st Battalion, 18th Infantry at Camp Able Sentry, Macedonia, and Schweinfurt, Germany. He then served as a division operations officer in the 101st Airborne Division at Fort Campbell, Ky., and in Kuwait and Iraq. Subsequently assigned to 3d Brigade, he commanded C Company, 1st Battalion, 187th Infantry during Operation Iraqi Freedom I and Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 1st Battalion, 187th Infantry during Operation Iraqi Freedom IV. Following redeployment, he served as an exercise plans and operations officer in the Mission Command Training Program at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. Following battalion command, he attended the Joint Advanced Warfighting School and subsequently served as the Senior Advisor to the 205th Afghan National Army Corps in Kandahar, Afghanistan. Former Gov. Sean Parnell has joined the Holland &Hart Anchorage office. Parnell brings more than 30 years of combined public service and legal expertise. Parnell’s public service career includes serving from 2009-14 as Alaska’s governor. Parnell also served as lieutenant governor and is a former Alaska state senator and representative. As an attorney, Parnell’s decades-long experience in commercial transactions, natural resources, and litigation was developed in private practice, as in-house counsel, as director of state government relations for a major oil company, and in government service. At Holland &Hart, Parnell will continue serving his existing Alaska business clients, as well as new clients in energy and infrastructure development.

Transport rules examined; pot event organizers fined

The director of marijuana law enforcement would like to see new requirements to tighten security for transportation via the road system including advice on locking products in a vehicle and where to store marijuana overnight. James Hoelscher gave a report to the Marijuana Control Board June 14 on possible revisions to current practices. A transporter now can have a backpack or duffle bag of marijuana or products in the back seat or trunk of their car as they travel on the road system. To differentiate them from black market operators, they travel with a manifest that is filed ahead of time with Metrc, the state’s tracking contractor. The printed manifest provides an address from point A to B and all the planned stops in between, even a bathroom break or gas fill-up. Notices of violation were issued to a Fairbanks grower this spring after the manifest didn’t contain all of the transporter’s expected stops. In transportation regulations, the board “has clearly stated marijuana needs to be sealed and locked inside the vehicle” and can’t be open during transport, Hoelscher said. The person driving the product from the cultivator to the retail store can’t make stops in between except as specified on the manifest. But what happens now isn’t safe, he said. The transport can be “one of the most vulnerable points in the chain.” If transportation is an extension of a business’ license to operate, then security measures along a highway need to be tighter by spelling them out in new regulations, he said. “It hasn’t happened yet, but suppose a vehicle gets stolen or a licensee is robbed?” Hoelscher asked the board. “Now that’s my concern.” If a car is broken into, not only the marijuana gets stolen. The cash does as well. Colorado and Washington both require strong boxes that are welded into the vehicle. “That box is secured and locked in Colorado and Washington,” Hoelscher said. “(A thief) can get to it if they have time. The purpose is to make it a deterrent and so difficult it’s not worth the effort. If there’s a report on the manifest that the product hasn’t arrived on time, we may have good idea of where it will be.” The vehicle then could be quickly located by law enforcement. Compared to a locked box, a gym bag takes away aspects of security and offers no deterrent, he added. Also, what happens when a transporter has to break for the night, sleeping at a hotel or a friend’s house? In that case, Hoelscher recommends the transporter take the marijuana to be stored overnight at a licensed marijuana facility. “Alaska is Alaska and there will be weather or mechanical issues,” he said. “But there are licensees and I hope they go by the golden rule to treat others as they want to be treated. If I got stuck in let’s say Sitka, I would hope a Sitka licensee would let me manifest the marijuana into their facility.” Retail stores and cultivators, any marijuana business operating legally, will have cameras and safe boxes for keeping overnight. Bringing it to a hotel room or into a friend’s house overnight raises too many security questions, Hoelscher said. Currently, the manifest that contains all the information pre-filed on Metrc helps with security because Metrc will notify AMCO if a package doesn’t show up after 12 hours. So far, Hoelscher said, transporters have been diligent in changing the manifest when they decide they don’t need to stop, or do need to schedule one. As for issuing violations for not following the manifest, Hoelscher said enforcement takes a look at the whole picture first. “We would look at all things. What efforts were made to update the manifest or contact with AMCO, and what were their efforts to secure the product?” he said. AMCO wouldn’t necessarily write a violation notice. Chairman Mark Springer saw all these as legitimate concerns. “I wouldn’t be adverse to seeing a new regulation project to flesh out these out,” he said. Festival organizers fined A couple who sell “judgeships” for a marijuana competition they put on annually called the Alaska Cannabis Classic was fined $10,000 by state regulators after people lit up at their event and then posted the activities on Facebook. They were also fined $10,000 for illegally selling marijuana without a license. But the combined $20,000 fine was reduced to $5,000 after $15,000 was suspended on the condition that the Cory and Kendra Ray do not commit similar offenses in the future. Alcohol and Marijuana Control Office Executive Director Erika McConnell told the board June 14 that she had a lot of dialogue prior to the May 19 Cannabis Classic with the event planners, who are Oregon residents who hold similar events at various west coast locations. The couple advertised the classic as an event meant to increase the quality of marijuana products through education and competition. About a week prior to the event, McConnell learned that the Wrays were advertising a bake-off competition. It asked for bakers to submit a minimum of 100 servings in one of the six categories and advertised that judges would evaluate the appearance, tastes, aroma and “effect.” McConnell contacted the Wrays to let them know this event was not legal and the state would seek a restraining order of they moved ahead. The Wrays changed the bake-off rules to exclude cannabis infusion. McConnell said she also warned the Wrays in writing that public consumption of marijuana is illegal, and it is illegal to sell marijuana without a license issued by AMCO. Yet, at the event, from 6 to 9 p.m. at 420 W. Third Ave., participants were clearly seen smoking pot and posting photos of the event on Facebook. One of the two civil fines McConnell wanted imposed was for allegedly selling marijuana without a license. The contention by AMCO is that the Wray’s competition, which involves selling judgeships for $350 to people who pass a test of written questions on marijuana, allows participating judges to pick up samples they “must consume and rate the products before the Cannabis Classic.” “Essentially, the Wrays are selling marijuana to individuals through their website,” McConnell wrote in her memo to the board. Then, despite being clearly informed that there could be no onsite consumption at the Cannabis Classic, the “Wrays made no apparent effort to prevent public consumption of marijuana at the event, and allowed a vendor, Bushwackers, to light joints and hand them to consumers,” McConnell wrote to the board. State law allows less than an ounce of marijuana to be given away. The location where the event was held is owned by Robinson Garcia, who was also recommended for a $10,000 fine by McConnell. The violation reads that Garcia should be fined for allegedly “knowingly allowing, on his property, violations of the (statute) which prohibits public consumption of marijuana.” The Third Avenue building formerly housed a marijuana social club called Pot Luck that closed on April 21, 2017, after McConnell and state Attorney General Jahna Lindemuth declared to be operating illegally. Garcia told the board he had specified “no consumption” in the rental contract signed by the Wrays. “I did what I was asked to do,” Garcia told the board. “I don’t see the justification for this.” In the end, the board agreed not to fine Garcia after board member Nick Miller, a marijuana business owner, noted that it’s not so common to fine “landlords after those renting his venue went out of control.”

Board ponders tax changes as $1M per month pours in

A million dollars per month in marijuana taxes paid mostly in cash to the Alaska Department of Revenue is creating a few headaches. About 76 percent of all taxes are paid in cash, Tax Division Director Ken Alper said, and the rest comes in money orders. The Department of Revenue made a presentation June 13 before the Marijuana Control Board at its meeting in Anchorage to address the issue of taxes. The board is pondering a recommendation to the Legislature to change the tax structure on the industry to a retail tax from the current flat excise tax on cultivators, but wanted input from Revenue before making its proposal. That led to an in-depth discussion about what’s currently going on in the cash-only industry. Chairman Mark Springer asked if collecting taxes in cash “stinks as much as you thought it was going to?” “Yes,” said Revenue Audit Supervisor Kelly Mazzei, who made the presentation to the board with Alper and Deputy Director Brandon Spanos. Large volumes of cash necessitated the recent purchase of a new money counting machine at the Department of Revenue. The new machine, similar to what banks use, cost $20,000. “We’ve had one since we started accepting cash,” Spanos said. “But it had only two trays. One tray for cash and two for the money to come out. We needed to separate it by denomination and it takes more time. We’ve lost bodies in the Tax Division due to budget cuts so we’re doing more with less people. In order to continue to process the same amount of cash, we’ve purchased a larger machine with nine output trays.” Over the past four years, the Revenue Department lost 22 positions to budget cuts and is down to 107 positions to handle the different taxes the state collects. Meanwhile, the number of taxpayers continues to grow as new marijuana cultivation licenses are granted. That wasn’t a bad problem to have when the state began collecting incrementally more in taxes per month, Revenue officials said. “It’s been a big headache over the past few years,” Spanos said. “We’re pleased that we are able to accept the payments and process them, but it would make things easier if Congress did something to help banks feel more comfortable taking the cash. And it would be safer for everyone, not only for our employees.” Revenue hires an armored truck to take the money to the bank, Spanos said. The cash counting activity goes on almost daily, he said. The many questions from business owners also resulted in spending a considerable amount of time on the phones, Spanos said. “We talk with every new licensee on the phone. We’re getting welcome packets to everyone and issue instructions on how to pay in cash. We’ve done more FAQs. Then the almost daily processing of cash and the cost of transporting the cash,” Spanos said. “And it’s not slowing down.” Other states such as Colorado, California and Oregon have also been struggling with the cash-only nature of the business. Board member Brandon Emmett found, while attending an industry conference in Washington, D.C., that Washington state has adapted by having the taxpayers make a deposit at a specific bank. “They have worked out that 97 percent of their tax payments are made through Salal (Credit Union of Seattle) to alleviate safety concerns,” he said. “Have you explored doing something like that?” Alper responded that yes, they’ve explored establishing a bank account that the industry taxpayers can use to make direct payments to the Revenue Department. “The problem is that no bank or credit union is willing to work with the industry. If one were to step forward, we would work with them,” Alper said. The fear is that, given marijuana’s continued listing as a Schedule I drug in the federal Controlled Substances Act, banks could be charged with breaking the law by accepting money from the industry. But these smaller credit unions, such as Salal, have worked out ways to remain in compliance with state laws and early on received the guidance of the U.S. Treasury’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, or FinCEN. In February of 2014, just as Colorado and Washington were setting up their recreational marijuana markets, FinCEN released guidance saying that they would not charge a bank with federal crimes for accepting weed money if the financial institution made sure that the business was following all state laws and the directives of a previous memo from the Department of Justice, according to an industry publication called The Stranger. As for progress made proposing a shift in how the Alaska industry is taxed, the board is still in the fact-gathering mode, Springer said. At the June 13 board meeting, discussion was also tangled up in what voters intended in supporting the initiative that made marijuana legal. Board member Loren Jones noted that the $50 per ounce tax at the cultivator level was put to the public as part of the initiative when they voted to make marijuana legal in the state. “Now we’re going to come back and say it’s not right. Now we’re saying it’s killing the industry,” Jones said. “Every industry says it’s overtaxed.” But board member Emmett countered that there’s shame in admitting they “got it wrong.” “It was palatable to voters at the time, but it’s not working. If we had a black market on the ropes, almost stamped out, then it wouldn’t be an issue,” Emmett said. As it is, the legal industry has a hard time competing on prices to customers when they must calculate in $800 in taxes per pound of marijuana. Growers in California and elsewhere are making illegal shipments to Alaska that continue to fill the black market niche. To be more competitive, prices at the counter for marijuana sales need to be lower, matching with the high supply available from Alaska’s 90 cultivators, he said. Considering the industry brings in about $10 million monthly in revenue and pays $1 million a month in taxes, the tax is working out to be 10 percent, Alper pointed out. “That’s not a gigantic tax when you look at the whole picture,” he said. Only the Alaska Legislature can change tax laws. Alper said the Department of Revenue will be running various scenarios for a report for the board in the coming months to help it decide on what to recommend to the Legislature. Naomi Klouda can be reached at [email protected]

OPINION: Employers have every right to Stand for Alaska

The usual ado is being made about so-called “Outside” corporations contributing millions of dollars toward the defeat of the Stand for Salmon initiative that could appear on the ballot this November. While the Supreme Court ponders the constitutionality of the measure after oral arguments in April with a decision to be issued in September, the companies with billions worth of investments at stake have plunked down $5 million collectively for the opposition group Stand for Alaska as of the most recent public reports. They include Kinross Gold Corp., which just announced a $100 million expansion of the Fort Knox mine near Fairbanks, and the parent company of the proposed Donlin gold mine that is nearing the end of the environmental review process and has a construction price tag north of $5 billion. There’s also ConocoPhillips, which has spent billions over the past several years to bring CD-5 into production and to develop the Greater Mooses Tooth-1 project that will start adding oil to the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System this year to be followed not long after by Greater Mooses Tooth-2. Those three combined projects will add nearly 100,000 barrels to the daily throughput of TAPS at no small cost to ConocoPhillips and no small benefit to the state treasury and Permanent Fund. Other contributors include the owner of the Kensington gold mine near Juneau, which went through a 20-year fight with environmental groups before beginning operations, and the owner of the Red Dog mine in Northwest Alaska that also cleared multiple obstacles by opponents before becoming one of the state’s great resource development success stories. Yet despite these and other companies’ long histories in Alaska, their tens of thousands in employees, billions in payroll through direct and indirect jobs along with generous contributions to the state’s nonprofits, arts and education programs, they are still cast as “Outsiders” attempting to unfairly use their monetary resources to “exploit” the state. The refrain has become as tired and predictable as “it’s our oil.” Even setting aside companies whose headquarters may be located outside the state’s borders, there is no shortage of local companies and groups opposing the measure represented by the Alaska Support Industry Alliance, the Resource Development Council, the Alaska Chamber and the biggest local chambers of commerce in the state including Anchorage, Juneau, Ketchikan and Fairbanks. There’s also the Alaska Native regional corporations, with the exception of the Pebble-opposition captured Bristol Bay Native Corp., who have joined together against the Stand for Salmon initiative. All outsiders, right? The argument is ridiculous on its face, but the attitude is pervasive and it should be no surprise the resource industry that has built Alaska and shoulders virtually the entire burden of taxation is not messing around when it comes to defeating the measure or waiting to see if the Supreme Court does the right thing and strikes it down as an unconstitutional seizure of the Legislature’s authority. Andrew Jensen can be reached at [email protected]

‘Poison pill’-free Interior Dept. spending bill moves ahead

Sen. Lisa Murkowski is touting her Interior and environment budget bill as much for the process behind it as what’s in it. Alaska’s senior senator emphasized in a June 14 call with reporters that the $35.8 billion fiscal year 2019 discretionary spending bill passed unanimously out of the Senate Appropriations Committee earlier that day, which she said is a sign that Congress might finally be returning to regular order when it comes to funding the government. Murkowski chairs the Appropriations subcommittee covering the Interior Department, Environmental Protection Agency and the Forest Service. “As of (June 14) we have moved through over half of the appropriations bills,” of which there are 12, Murkowski said. “All, all of them on a strong bipartisan basis, many of them, like we did with the Interior bill, unanimously. So it’s a new day on the Appropriations Committee and I’m optimistic about our way forward, but we’re going to have to be diligent to stick to a commitment to achieve results and not just send a message.” The messages she referenced are political ones inserted into spending bills that otherwise don’t belong there. “We had to stand down on some of the controversial provisions that have been included in years past that have been the poison pills,” Murkowski said further. “One person’s priority can be another’s poison pill.” Those poison pill messages that have in part been to blame for the government funding process that has been derailed in recent years. As far as anyone can tell, 2010 was the last time an Interior budget bill moved through the Appropriations Committee with bipartisan support, according to Murkowski. Since then the spending bills have largely moved on party lines only to get rolled into omnibus bills in good years and scrapped for continuing budget resolutions other times. Murkowski called that practice, which has become commonplace, simply “a bad way to run a government. Some call me overly optimistic but I need to believe that we can fix an appropriations process that has just been allowed to flounder.” Murkowski acknowledged everyone in the Senate, she included, has participated in the troubled process. Last November Murkowski released a similar, $32.6 billion Interior budget bill for fiscal year 2018 with language calling for the Forest Service to temporarily stop its transition to young-growth only timber harvest from the Tongass National Forest, amend the Tongass Management Plan and exempt the Chugach and Tongass National forests from the controversial Roadless Rule. Those provisions were ultimately scrapped from the $1.3 trillion omnibus spending bill Congress passed in late March amid the looming threat of a government shutdown. She said Appropriations chairman Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., made it a priority to return to the regular order of vetting and voting on the 12 annual spending bills when he took over the committee. Murkowski also thanked ranking Interior Appropriations Subcommittee Democrat New Mexico Sen. Tom Udall for gathering support amongst his caucus members to move the bill. Udall echoed Murkowski in a formal statement, noting the bill is “free of poison pill riders,” but he also stressed it does not include deep cuts to the EPA, and Indian Health Service budgets proposed by the Trump administration. “I thank Sen. Murkowski for her work and chairman Shelby and ranking member (Sen. Patrick) Leahy for their commitment to regular order. As this and other appropriations measures are considered, I am committed to working together to adequately fund the federal agencies and programs that provide New Mexico and Americans with the services and protections they deserve,” Udall said. Shelby noted in a June 19 statement that President Donald Trump vowed he wouldn’t sign another omnibus spending bill after approving the one in late March. He said the committee had passed seven of the 12 appropriations bills and was on track to consider all of them before the July 4 recess. “What has been truly remarkable, however, is not the speed of the fiscal year 2019 appropriations process, but the bipartisanship that has given it new life,” Shelby said. “All seven of the bills passed by the committee thus far have garnered overwhelmingly bipartisan support. Most of them, in fact, have been approved unanimously. This is no small accomplishment in today’s partisan political environment.” Interior appropriations Getting bipartisan support typically means spending, and Murkowski’s bill includes increases to the National Park Service’s deferred maintenance and construction budgets along with a $234 million increase to the Indian Health Service budget. The IHS funding includes $192 million for water and sewer infrastructure upgrades in Tribal communities as well as $30 million for construction of Tribal and Alaska Native health care facilities. “This is a very important bill for Alaska, very significant for Alaska. I say that this bill is about land, water and people,” Murkowski commented. The bill also provides $4.3 billion for wildfire suppression efforts, which is the 10-year average funding level, and another $900 million in anticipation that the regular funding will not be enough, according to Murkowski’s office. Specifically to Alaska, it provides $9.5 million for legacy well cleanup in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska and $7 million for the U.S. Geological Survey to conduct assessments in the NPR-A to improve topographical and geological mapping. It also includes $22 million that should allow the federal government to fulfill its requirements to transfer selected lands to the State of Alaska and Alaska Native corporations, according to Murkowski’s office, among many other provisions. Elwood Brehmer can be reached at [email protected]

INSIDE REAL ESTATE: Take extra step at closing to protect privacy

Even though the state of Alaska is a non-disclosure state when it comes to the final sales price on a property, the statewide Multiple Listing Service purchase and sale agreement contains the following clause pertaining to disclosure. 23) Authorization to Release Information to Brokers: Buyer and Seller authorize any Lender, escrow agent, closing agent, appraiser, home inspector, surveyor and any other related party to this sale to furnish and provide any and all information and copies of documents related to this sale to both the Listing and Selling Brokers and their Licensees. Taken at its most literal interpretation, this clause allows escrow closing agents to circulate a Housing and Urban Development settlement statement which discloses not only the sales price but also the seller’s net proceeds to the buyer’s licensee. With today’s instant communication, that financial information invariably gets passed on to the buyer via email or DocuSign. However, no buyer should have the right to know what a seller’s take home check is on a sale. That potential disclosure is an invasion of a seller’s financial privacy. Behind that seller’s net proceeds is his or her initial down payment, years of monthly mortgage payments, costly repairs and maintenance and perhaps even a refinance to pay for a child’s education or a spouse’s medical expenses. For a builder’s settlement statement, it is equally egregious but for different reasons. I frequently ask realtors how much they think a builder makes on a home and invariably they say 20 percent. I suspect they get that number from seeing the builder’s net proceeds at closing which is frequently about 20 percent of the purchase price. But what that net proceeds amount doesn’t represent is the cash equity and fees required to obtain the construction loan and, in many instances, purchase the lot. A builder generally receives 75 percent of the construction appraisal that frequently doesn’t represent the buyer’s purchase price. The buyer and selling licensee don’t also see the monthly interest paid on the loan, appraisal fees, inspection fees, permit fees, the overhead for general and administrative expenses including gasoline and vehicular repairs, trade labor and accounting expenses, to identify just a handful of expenses. A buyer may see a settlement statement for a builder’s $500,000 home and think he or she is making $200,000 and then wonder why he had to pay for all these upgrades! In reality, a buyer’s net profit may be more like 6 percent, or $30,000. But, unfortunately, that $200,000 is going to stick in that buyer and realtor’s mind for a very long time, which contributes to the myth of why new homes cost so much and makes negotiating for the next new home purchase more difficult than it actually should be. The solution is simple. If listing licensees do not want a buyer to see a seller’s net proceeds, they should simply cross out the No. 23 clause. It’s a few more keystrokes and separate settlement statements on the part of the escrow closing agents but it’s a good way to protect a seller’s financial privacy. Connie Yoshimura is the Broker/Owner of Dwell Realty. Read more columns by Connie at www.cyalaska.com. Contact her at 907-229-2703 or [email protected]

COMMENTARY: FCC is committed to rural telemedicine in Alaska

One of my earliest trips as a Federal Communications Commission commissioner was to a health care clinic in Fort Yukon, Alaska, population 554. The clinic may not have all the amenities of a big-city hospital, but it does have a broadband connection. High-speed internet access has made a big difference for this clinic. It’s meant access to doctors far away who can review medical information beamed to them by a local nurse. Fort Yukon’s story isn’t unique. Today, communications technology has fundamentally transformed the delivery of health care in rural America. Telemedicine can help address the workforce shortages that are too common in rural health facilities. Rural patients can use interactive videoconferencing to consult with specialists anywhere in the country — expert care that was unavailable and unimaginable not long ago. Chronic disease management has been revolutionized as wearable sensors can detect real-time complications and alert a family member or first responder to intervene. Digital tools can empower people with diabetes to monitor their blood-glucose levels. Bottom line: digital medicine helps rural communities increase access to health care, reduce costs, and improving patient outcomes. No state stands to benefit more from telemedicine than Alaska, which is home to many of the most remote communities in America. In a filing with the FCC, the Alaska Native Health Consortium estimated that 20 percent of Alaska Natives rely on telehealth, and that remote consultations within their network save $10 million annually in avoided travel costs. They put it simply: “(W)e cannot provide care in rural Alaska without telecommunications.” But there’s a fundamental challenge in Alaska, as in many parts of the Lower 48: promoting enough broadband to support digital health services. Nearly one-quarter of Alaskans can’t access fixed broadband service to support high-bandwidth applications like telemedicine. In rural areas, that number is dramatically higher. Established in 1997, the FCC’s Rural Health Care Program is an essential tool for closing these gaps in internet access. This program helps health care providers afford the connectivity that they need to better serve patients. But it’s facing some real problems. Most significantly, the program is currently underfunded. Its budget hasn’t increased a dime beyond its initial allocation of $400 million a year in the late 1990s. A second problem is that under today’s rules, if the program is oversubscribed (that is, if more than $400 million in reimbursements is requested from the program), every recipient sees a funding reduction. In 2016, program recipients saw a 7.5 percent trim in support. For funding year 2017, we’re looking at a chop of up to 26 percent. We need to update the FCC’s Rural Health Care Program to better reflect the needs of and advances in digital health care. That’s why I recently introduced a plan to increase the program’s annual funding cap from $400 million to $571 million. This new spending level reflects where the cap would be today if it had been adjusted for inflation all these years. This 43 percent increase would apply to the 2017 funding year in order to give rural health care providers immediate relief. Going forward, the plan would also give providers more certainty by adjusting the cap annually for inflation and allowing unused funds from prior years to be carried forward to future years. Notably, support for this approach is bipartisan. This May, Sens. Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan joined a coalition of 30 U.S. Senators from Alaska to Alabama and New Hampshire to New Mexico in calling on the FCC to increase the Rural Health Care Program’s spending cap. And the Trump Administration has broadly recognized the value of telemedicine, especially for veterans. And this proposal is just a start. We also need to make sure that every dollar spent in the program is spent wisely to benefit health care providers in Alaska and their patients. That’s why the FCC is moving forward on a separate track to make sure that the program functions more efficiently. This proposal is also personal. I grew up in rural Kansas, the child of rural doctors. I can remember my father waking up early to make long drives to small towns in order to treat patients who otherwise would never see a specialist. For me, this issue isn’t about technology; it’s about people and their ability to access to basic care they need to lead healthy lives. As long as I am FCC chairman, one of this agency’s top priorities will be harnessing the power of communications technology to improve health care in rural America. Devoting the resources necessary to make the FCC’s Rural Health Care Program a 21st-century tool will go a long way toward achieving this result. ^ Ajit Pai is the chairman of the Federal Communications Commission.

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