Law students expect to earn $125,000 per year to start

A recent survey by Corporate Legal Times of 700 law students found that almost 50 percent of all first-year law students expect to make more than $125,000 a year upon graduation. Interestingly, only 17 percent of third-year law students expect to make that much.Over 600 of the participants in the survey say they expect to work at a law firm upon graduation while only 22 expect an in-house position. The most interesting finding is that 573 of the 700 students surveyed say they expect to leave the legal profession. A lawyer’s worst nightmareWhether they pass or fail, most bar exam takers are certain that there has been a mistake made when they receive their results. In the case of Jordan Sebold and one other person, they are right. Sebold received a "we regret to inform you" letter from the New York Board of Law Examiners.It turns out, however, that a clerical error was made and that Sebold actually passed. That same error means that someone who received a congratulatory letter failed the exam.Evidently, the entrance ticket number given to Sebold at the exam center did not match his name or Social Security number. The error was discovered by Sebold, who remembered his seat number and saw a different number on the letter from the Board.Said Sebold of the incident, "My entire Thanksgiving was basically ruined." No word yet about all the things that were ruined for the person who learned later that he or she actually failed the exam.The singing juristA California judge has been reprimanded for making "undignified comments on the bench." To be more specific, for singing undignified comments on the bench. While presiding over a misdemeanor arraignment court, the judge sang to an accused shoplifter "when you’re stealing, when you’re stealing" to the tune of "When You’re Smiling." More attorneys, fewer attorneysAccording to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the number of lawyers in the United States will increase by 28 percent by the year 2005. This is approximately twice the rate of increase expected for other occupations.While there are more lawyers, there are also more nonpracticing lawyers. Between 1990 and 1995, the number of law school graduates practicing law dropped from 82 percent to 76 percent.HistoricalIn the early 1900s, an elephant was tried, convicted and hanged for murdering a politician’s daughter during a circus parade.FootnoteWhen called up on stage by a comedian at a comedy club, a Georgia man confessed to committing several bank robberies. "I have something on my mind that I want to share with you," the man said during the performance. The club owner had the police called and the man was arrested.Have something to share with Out of Court? E-mail it to Chet Olsen at ([email protected]).

Companies ask to stop gas pipeline permitting

ANCHORAGE -- A group of pipeline builders has asked the state to stop the permitting process for a natural gas pipeline to the Lower 48, saying they cannot move ahead until producers of Alaska’s vast gas reserves commit to the estimated $20 billion project.Foothills Pipe Lines Alaska Inc. asked the Alaska Gas Pipeline Office in Anchorage to stop processing an application to run the gas line across state land and along the Alaska Highway.With no project to permit, some Gas Pipeline Office employees could face layoffs as the agency prepares to shut down this summer in reaction to the news, said Bill Britt, the agency coordinator.The announcement May 28 comes a month after three companies with rights to produce most of the North Slope’s proven gas reserves of 35 trillion cubic feet concluded the project does not make financial sense at the moment.Phillips Alaska Inc., BP and ExxonMobil Production Co. are awaiting the outcome of federal legislation that could sweeten the project, including tax breaks.Until the producers commit, Foothills and its partners do not have a pipeline to build.-- The Associated Press

Private sector eyes Alaska's future

Most of the 2002 discussion on Alaska’s future economy has been focused on the annual legislative debate over the state budget and the perennially predicted shortfalls in revenue, the cash that fuels government, second only to oil as Alaska’s biggest "business." The budget may have consumed most of the news and commentary since January, but there’s been significant discussion occurring in the private sector over Alaska’s future as well. It’s been a discussion focused primarily on "what if" questions: What if there were steadily declining oil revenues, no congressional delegation with the seniority to pump billions of federal dollars into the 49th state, and contraction in state government spending back to the basics. In other words, what if Alaska had an economic environment more similar to the rest of the nation in the entrepreneurial creation of wealth and investment through the production of goods and services. Simply stated, Alaska is creating little wealth, measured by such factors as per capita income, private capital investment, or exports of products and services. Alaska’s economy is driven by oil revenue to the state and by federal expenditures, recirculated through the populace. There may be a bright future for our children in Alaska if they happen to choose government as a profession. But if they’re looking for promising and stimulating careers in the private sector, our kids are more likely to think about seeking their fortunes elsewhere. The discussion has been engaged on a number of important levels to think strategically about home-grown economic development. The Alaska Humanities Forum’s 20/20 project is reaching out to Alaskans and communities to develop a consensus on our future 18 years from now and beyond, in ways that can be benchmarked as an annual scorecard of our progress. The agenda includes the economy, health, education, environment and public services, evolved from a first forum of some 500 Alaskans held in November. Now comes the hard work of drawing out the opinions, hopes and dreams from Alaska’s diverse cities, Bush villages, institutions like schools, nonprofit organizations and industry trade groups, and Alaskans who might be called the silent majority. On the streets now is a citizen’s questionnaire on the five topic-area visions and draft goals to achieve them. Alaska 20/20 is an ambitious undertaking, with most of the work performed by subcommittees in the five topic areas, supported by the university and other researchers who are attempting to tie visions and goals to solid numbers that can be tracked over time. In the case of the economy, a benchmark might be per capita income, prevailing wages or employment among industries. In another initiative that began last year, a working group of business organizations has analyzed the reality of the Alaska economic base to identify the components that represent actual wealth-creating activity as opposed to pass-through activity from state and federal spending. Their goal is to develop a market-sustainable economic model that can guide true economic diversification. You could think of it, for example, as "value-added" processing of raw resources from oil, timber, fish and minerals, or the creation of new enterprises in the new, knowledge-based industries, or capitalizing on geographic advantage such as air cargo hubs. In other words, cash-producing enterprise that can flourish whether or not government largesse continues to flow. The Alaska State Chamber of Commerce, Resource Development Council for Alaska Inc., Alaska High-Tech Business Council, and Alaska Science & Technology Foundation’s goal is to stimulate public understanding of our current base, government and oil, in ways that can suggest new directions in economic development and public-private investment. The working group also is acting as the economic development committee for the 20/20 project. Among the more disturbing realities of these efforts is the recognition that neither the state nor most communities have adopted effective economic development plans as a foundation for growing sustainable private wealth. Nor have they engineered strategies for economic vitality as communities across the United States have done. These discussions and activity by business and industry leaders over the past year in part have stimulated a broad-based project in Anchorage to create an economic development plan. Led by the Anchorage Chamber of Commerce, the Anchorage Economic Development Corp. and a score of other organizations, the project has formed a steering committee, retained community economic development consultants and recently completed a first round of focus group meetings. The focus groups discussed Anchorage’s education, workforce, technology and natural resource industry assets and opportunities. The goal is to craft an executable plan of action. Much has been written and debated in Juneau on the necessity for a fiscal plan albeit framed solely on new tax sources as a path to lead the state of Alaska out of its budget dilemma. No less important are well-constructed, privately led economic development plans and strategies at both the statewide and regional levels. Instead of a statewide "we’re-going-broke" mentality, the economic development conversations that have taken root are exploring the exciting possibilities and grassroots routes to achieve them. Watch for them at a forum near you. Sally J. Suddock is executive director of the Alaska High-Tech Business Council trade association and its Information Technology Careers Consortium. She can be reached via e-mail at ([email protected]).  

Drug testing progams protect businesses and employees

A program for the substance abuse testing of employees is becoming a more commonly observed component of an employer’s human resources policies and procedures. Although not legally mandated for most employees, transportation employees in safety-sensitive positions being the exception, testing is being considered and evaluated by employers for a variety of reasons.The development and implementation of such programs require careful thought and attention but can produce business benefits well worth the investment of time and resources.Justifying a drug testing programAn initial and obvious reason for a testing program is compliance with legal requirements. Federal law, for example, mandates the drug testing of transportation workers. Other safety sensitive jobs are certainly susceptible to the review of public policy makers. Some state legislatures, as well, have enacted drug testing legislation applicable to private employers.A second and related reason concerns public health and safety. Alcohol and illegal as well as legal drug use imposes a substantial economic burden on the state and the nation as a whole. Our local, state and federal governments annually spend billions of dollars to combat drug and alcohol misuse and additional billions to treat the health effects of the misuse.The noneconomic social and emotional costs are immeasurable. An employer’s attentiveness to the health and safety of employees, including a well thought-out drug testing program, can assist in reducing such economic and social costs.Such employer attentiveness, third, can also promote individual employee well-being. Drug abuse is frequently symptomatic of deeper problems and issues. A positive test result can lead to a constructive course of professional counseling and rehabilitation for an employee who otherwise might never receive such services.A fourth and basic business consideration is the legal liability to which an employer may be subject because of employee substance abuse. An employer in many situations may be legally responsible for an employee’s job-related activities.Like anyone else, employers are held generally to standards of reasonableness for their own actions and those of their agents within the scope of their employment.A properly conceived and properly implemented drug testing policy can forestall events giving rise to liability and can, as well, provide evidence of due and reasonable conduct on the part of the employer where such events nonetheless occur.Fifth, an appropriate testing program can enhance profitability by enhancing workforce productivity. Individual employee productivity frequently declines with substance abuse. Moreover, the abuse of one individual can adversely affect the performance of a business unit.Other employees, though not substance abusers themselves, may have to cope directly and daily with the fallout of abuse by a co-worker. The negative effect on efficiency and morale can prove debilitating to business operations and directly impact the bottom line.Finally, public expectations, particularly where that "public" includes clients and customers, may necessitate rules of business conduct that include a drug testing policy.Consumers are increasingly sophisticated in all commodity sectors. They are quick to perceive the direct and indirect manifestations of substance abuse, whether through personal interaction or business performance. Inattention to detail, missed commitments and poor attitude will drive customers and their buying power to other suppliers in a hurry.Appropriate drug testing policies can thus serve multiple business, employee and customer interests on a positive cost-benefit basis.Developing a drug testing programWhile careful analysis and planning are required, the development of a functionally and legally sound drug testing program is not an overly complex undertaking. An all-inclusive testing policy typically requires substance abuse testing under the following circumstances: Upon employee hire, promotion, transfer or demotion, as the final step in the selection process; Testing when an employee is involved in a motor vehicle accident while performing job duties if the accident results in a moving violation, serious injury, or property damage; Upon reasonable suspicion; and Periodic, unannounced, random testing of employees.A policy may be tailored to fit an employer’s business, its needs and the resources available to implement the policy. Just like any other resource available to an employer, the promulgation of a substance abuse testing policy necessitates a review of the enterprise.That review could begin with a human resources audit in which employer and employee comments, including goals and objectives, are collected and analyzed. If a drug problem exists within the business, an audit would serve to ferret it out.An audit also provides a better understanding of the workplace and conditions therein. This less confrontational approach than the unilateral institution by the employer of a mandatory drug testing policy without defining its parameters. It also provides the employer with much needed insight as to how to effectuate a testing policy that not only benefits the enterprise but also the employees upon whom the employer relies.It is from such gathering of information that, if a problem exists, a solution often develops prior to the finalization of even the audit itself. Because the review is inclusive, rather than exclusive, the employer is seen as being part of a solution rather than being labeled autocratic or dictatorial by employees.Finally, program development should consistently reflect the considerations recited above that justify imposition of the program in the first place. Maximum business and personal benefit will occur only to the degree the drug testing program is structured to produce those benefits.By clearly articulating all of the goals up front, an employer can ensure that resulting policies will produce the greatest dividends for the business, its employees and customers.Former Anchorage Municipal Attorney Mary K. Hughes is affiliated with Hughes Thorsness Powell Huddleston & Bauman. She can be reached via e-mail at ([email protected]).

June-Issue-1 2002

Agency predicts more oil in petroleum reserve, ANWR

ANCHORAGE -- Undiscovered oil and gas reserves on federal lands on Alaska’s North Slope are much larger than previously estimated, according to a government report released May 16.The U.S. Geological Survey report says that the 23-million-acre National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska contains a mean amount of 9.3 billion barrels of recoverable oil, more than four times the amount predicted in a previous 1980 study.The report says even more recoverable oil, an estimated mean of 10.3 billion barrels, is in the 1.5 million-acre coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.By comparison, the Prudhoe Bay oil fields on the North Slope, the largest in the United States, have an estimated recoverable reserve of 12 billion barrels of oil and 30 trillion cubic feet of natural gas.The USGS says the NPR-A contains a mean of 59.7 trillion cubic feet of gas.The new study benefitted from sensitive seismic technology that can detect reserves that previously would have been nearly invisible, said Kenneth Bird, a USGS research geologist who presented the study at a news conference in Anchorage. A news conference also was held in Washington, D.C.The reassessment was prompted by recent oil discoveries at Phillips Alaska Inc.’s Alpine oil field, a 429-million-barrel field just east of the NPR-A. The Alpine field went into production last November and is performing better than expected.Bird said in doing the reassessment, USGS scientists extended the geologic trend found at Alpine west into the NPR-A."I think these numbers are very realistic given what we now know of the geology of the area," Bird said.The study underscores the importance of opening ANWR’s coastal plain to oil development, said Sen. Frank Murkowski, R-Alaska.The senator said the report proves that ANWR would be a better source for oil than the NPR-A because the area for drilling would be more concentrated and oil could be extracted more cheaply.The study says that if oil prices are below $35 a barrel, the refuge would be the better economic alternative. Prices above $35 a barrel favors the reserve. Alaska North Slope crude has been trading in the $27 a barrel range recently for delivery to West Coast markets."Development in the coastal plain would be far more concentrated, likely improving the economics and certainly lessening the environmental impacts," Murkowski said in a statement.The report, if anything, supports arguments to stay out of ANWR, said Eleanor Huffines, Alaska regional director for The Wilderness Society. If the report is right and substantial reserves can be found in the NPR-A, it makes even less sense to go into the refuge, she said.

Forest Service recommends no new Tongass wilderness

JUNEAU -- No new areas of the Tongass National Forest would be designated as wilderness based on a recommendation in a draft environmental impact statement released by the U.S. Forest Service May 16. But officials say the determination isn’t final."This is very much just a starting point. We haven’t closed the door to the potential of new wilderness recommendations," said Dennis Neill, Forest Service spokesman. "It’s certainly within the range of alternatives to make those kind of recommendations."In a three-volume, court-ordered analysis of possible new Tongass wilderness, the Forest Service recommends no action, in effect using a 1997 forest plan revision that was the result of "a significant collaborative effort," according to the draft. It doesn’t make sense to walk away from the previous work, said Larry Lunde, Forest Service project team leader."We need to let people come up to speed with the new information, work together and see if there’s another balance that works," he said.The idea of protecting undeveloped portions of the Tongass has been the subject of court battles and public hearings in recent years. Wilderness areas are created by an act of Congress and afford permanent protection against road building, logging and other development.The draft supplemental impact statement comes in response to a March 2001 order from U.S. District Judge James Singleton. His ruling said the Forest Service violated federal law by not considering some areas as eligible for wilderness designation in the 1997 Tongass Land Management Plan.In response, the Forest Service began work on a supplemental environmental impact statement last year, evaluating 115 inventoried roadless areas for additional protection.The draft study looks at eight possible recommendations, ranging from 723,000 to 9.5 million new acres of wilderness.Deirdre McDonnell, an attorney for environmental law firm Earthjustice in Juneau, said she was surprised the preferred alternative recommends no new wilderness."From our perspective, we certainly hope that they’re open to changing their minds when they see the public comments," she said. "I do think it’s significant in that it’s one of the first tests of the new administration in terms of protecting wilderness."Because only Congress can designate wilderness, areas selected in the proposal would be managed as "recommended wilderness" until congressional action occurs.Public hearings on the proposal are scheduled throughout Southeast Alaska in the weeks ahead, including a June 18 hearing in Juneau.

Mackenzie gas producers award pipeline contract

CALGARY, Alberta -- Natural gas producers in Canada’s Mackenzie Delta have awarded a contract for preliminary engineering work for a proposed pipeline to bring their rich natural gas deposits to southern markets.The project is a rival to the proposed natural gas line from Alaska’s North Slope.The Canadian contract, announced May 16, went to ColtKBR, a firm with deep roots in northern Canada and connections to Dallas-based Halliburton. The company has been involved with the pipeline proposal for several years.ColtKBR will study and design the routing of the pipe’s main line down the Mackenzie Valley, as well as ancillary facilities such as compressor stations and gathering lines. The company will also look at infrastructure such as roads, helipads, boat docks and camp locations, said Hart Searle of Imperial Oil Ltd.The contract includes helping the producers and aboriginal groups involved in the project through the regulatory process. It will provide cost estimates to help with the decision on whether the project, estimated to cost $2 billion, is economically feasible.The line would be expected to move a billion cubic feet of gas daily, about a fourth the proposed capacity of the line from the North Slope. It could be completed by 2007 at the earliest.Imperial’s partners are Shell Canada Ltd., Exxon Mobil Corp. and Conoco Inc., which is planning to merge with Phillips Petroleum Co. later this year."I think it sends the message that we are moving forward. We are building momentum and we’re striving towards completing the work we need to do to file our regulatory application," said Searle of Imperial Oil.Gas producers in Alaska have concluded that a pipeline route down the Alaska Highway is too expensive and risky to build at this point.ColtKBR is a long-term joint venture between Calgary-based Colt Engineering and Kellogg, Brown and Root, a subsidiary of Dallas-based engineering multinational Halliburton Co.

Your bank should fit your needs

Banks in Anchorage offer the marketplace the most selection and best quality in years. Whether you need the services of the large multi-national Outside headquartered institution or the community bank with local ownership and control, we have it all. But how do you decide which bank meets your particular needs?First of all, review the qualities of the bank. What does it feel like when you enter the bank? Are the employees smiling? Is there someone new to help you each time you enter the bank? Do they show an interest in you?Also, do the employees seem more interested in what is on their desk? What does the facility look like? Is it clean? Does it look like there is pride in the work environment?Ask for the mission statement to determine what is important to the bank. What authority do the employees you deal with have? Can they reverse a fee, approve a loan or are decisions centralized at some higher level?Is the bank making changes, such as updating its Web site, renovations or new products? Answers to these questions can help you determine if the bank is a good employer, fair, efficient, looking for better ways to serve and fun with which to do business.The second issue is, of course, what products do you need and which bank can meet those needs. Every commercial bank is a "deposit-taker" and "loan-maker." If all you need in a bank is a place to park money or borrow money, any bank will do. It’s worth checking fees and rates for the best deal and you may want to consider how loan decisions are made. Some banks have an automated scoring system, others involve a review by someone outside Alaska and others are reviewed locally.If convenience is a factor, review the locations available and methods of product distribution. Large banks can allow you to visit a branch while traveling statewide or nationally and are great for that Alaska student attending a college away from Anchorage.Other convenience features to ask about are the ability to deposit or borrow money through a bank’s Web site. Also, does the bank offer online banking? Can the bank receive your payroll electronically? How does the bank respond to telephone inquiries? Will the bank come to your place of business to pick up deposits, discuss loans or address other needs?Many banks offer a much greater portfolio of financial services than others. Some examples would be financial planning, trusts, investment management, credit card processing and even insurance.Finally, consider the safety of the bank. Often, answers to the first issue will provide clues: Employees smiling could imply the bank is doing well.What are ways to determine the safety of a bank? Chartered commercial banks are highly regulated. Financial statements are delivered quarterly and are available to the public.Rating agencies review banks quarterly and provide a "safety" grade. Do not take one agency’s rating at face value, however. Each rating agency establishes its individual grading scale. As any bank lender would tell you, "Get behind the numbers to determine the true financial condition."The three most widely known rating agencies that review Anchorage banks are Bauer Financial, Veribanc and Weiss. Each weighs risk differently.A recent example showed a local bank with satisfactory ratings from Bauer and Veribanc, but a weak rating from Weiss. Another received the highest rating from Bauer, "good" with Veribanc and barely "above average" from Weiss.As with any outside analyst’s review, don’t use a grade assigned by a rating agency as your reason for a decision. The safety grade assigned to a bank each quarter should prompt you to ask further questions of the bank.The bottom line is: Pick a bank that you like, that feels good to you, that you enjoy going to and that fits your needs.Ron Kukes is president and chief executive of Alaska First Bank & Trust. He can be reached via e-mail at ([email protected]).

Wilderness proposed in Chugach forest

ANCHORAGE -- The U.S. Forest Service is recommending that 1.4 million acres of Alaska’s Chugach National Forest be set aside as wilderness. But environmental groups weren’t pleased that none of the proposed wilderness is in the Copper River Delta near Cordova.The proposal came to light May 16 when the federal agency inadvertently posted a news release on its Internet site that said the Forest Service will ask Congress to protect a quarter of the 5.4-million-acre Chugach from logging, road-building, mining and other activities.The proposed wilderness area is around Prince William Sound. It marks the first wilderness recommendation by the Forest Service in more than a decade, the agency said.The forest currently has no areas congressionally designated as wilderness, which would put most development activities off limits."The public has an overwhelming desire to keep the forest as it is today, wild in character," wrote Denny Bschor, Alaska Regional Forester.Sen. Frank Murkowski, R-Alaska, welcomed the proposal. He said it creates new bear habitat conservation areas on the Kenai Peninsula and protects special areas while observing the spirit and letter of the "no-more" clause inserted into the Alaska Lands Act specifically to protect Alaskans from more administrative land withdrawals.The plan permits the current 1.8 million board feet level of yearly timber harvest to continue, Murkowski noted."Given the danger of wildfire on the Kenai due to the spruce bark beetle infestation, it is important that this plan provides the flexibility to improve forest health while protecting the unique areas of Prince William Sound that Congress had previously set aside for study as potential wilderness," he said.Environmentalists jumped all over the Forest Service’s plan, saying it fails to protect the biologically important Copper River Delta."I’m angry. It seems like the public process has been ignored," said Jim Adams, lawyer for National Wildlife Federation in Anchorage.Adams said thousands of public comments poured into the Forest Service, the majority expressing support for wilderness in the Copper River Delta, on the Kenai Peninsula and along the coast of Prince William Sound.Nicole Whittington-Evans, Wilderness Society assistant regional director in Alaska, was also disappointed with the area the Forest Service is recommending for wilderness designation."A good portion of it will be rock, ice, mud and sand," she said.Whittington-Evans said she supports the Forest Service’s decision to reduce the amount of Chugach on the Kenai that’s open for motorized use to 82 percent.

Russian center organizes visit with Anchorage health care providers

The American Russian Center in Anchorage is coordinating its first educational visit by health care professionals from the Russian Far East as part of a federal program.Ten program participants from Yakutsk and Khabarovsk will tour Anchorage health care facilities and agencies through June 9, said Irina Dubinina, project manager for the University of Alaska Anchorage American Russian Center. They arrived in Anchorage May 18.The American Russian Center has hosted six other Community Connections delegations, training entrepreneurs as well as educational and government officials.The U.S. State Department’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs sponsors the Community Connections program, which aims to help develop a free-market economy in Russia. The Community Connections program for health care professionals seeks to promote professional development of Russian public health representatives.The program also works with other countries, formerly republics of the Soviet Union. Community Connections has trained more than 4,500 Russian entrepreneurs and other professionals in 50 U.S. communities in the past several years.Funding for the Alaska visit totals $29,000 for travel, administering the program and other costs, Dubinina said. Program funds come from a State Department grant.The center, which provides business training to Russian business people, has led more than 500 business and other courses to educate more than 18,000 participants since 1993.Dubinina has coordinated the itinerary, which includes visiting Anchorage health care professionals and facilities."I’ve been getting a lot of help from the medical community," she said.Program participants will attend lectures on health care management at the UAA College of Business and Public Policy, Dubinina said. They also will tour the Anchorage Neighborhood Health Center, the UAA School of Nursing and the Alaska Native Medical Center.Delegates will meet with representatives from private insurance companies, Hospice of Anchorage and the state Division of Epidemiology for information on HIV, hepatitis and tuberculosis programs.At Providence Alaska Medical Center, participants will learn about assisted living, cancer and telemedicine programs, Dubinina said.The American Russian Center also has arranged meetings for individual delegates. For example, one Russian HIV specialist will meet with representatives from the Alaskan AIDS Assistance Association.They also are scheduled to visit the Centers for Disease Control’s Arctic Investigation program, which studies infectious diseases and their affects in northern regions.The Russians may lend their expertise to Alaska health care agencies like the CDC program, said Jay Butler, director of the Arctic Investigation program."We have a lot of areas in common," Butler said.Butler and his staff may query the Russians for more information on infectious diseases in arctic areas, he said.The Russians’ visit to Anchorage aims to present advantages and disadvantages of some methods and programs, Dubinina said. The program is not a "panacea for their problems" but could help them understand risks and gains if they follow the Alaskans’ ideas, she said.

CIRI hit by Nevada gambling rules

ANCHORAGE -- Cook Inlet Region Inc. has hit a snag in its intent to reap casino profits from its Ritz-Carlton hotel, which is under construction at Lake Las Vegas.The Nevada Gaming Control Board has delayed a vote on CIRI’s request for a waiver from Nevada rules that could exclude some Native shareholders from receiving casino profits.Under Nevada regulations aimed at weeding Mafia influences out of the state’s gambling industry, anyone who has a criminal record or is incarcerated can be barred from sharing in casino revenue.Some of CIRI’s nearly 7,000 shareholders fall into that category. Thus they could be excluded from receiving profits, in the form of a dividend, from the Ritz-Carlton casino unless Nevada regulators grant a waiver, according to CIRI and Nevada officials.The Anchorage-based company and its partners hope to open the casino early next year.Mark Kroloff, CIRI’s chief operating officer, said the waiver is necessary because all shareholders must be treated equally under the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act, which created Native corporations in 1971.Although CIRI has invested in another hotel-casino at Lake Las Vegas, the company has not sought state permission to share in the gaming profits. It acts as a landlord at the Hyatt Regency, and another company runs the casino, Kroloff said.At the new Mediterranean-style Ritz-Carlton resort, CIRI would co-own the casino and hotel. The casino would be larger and more lucrative than the Hyatt’s, and that’s why CIRI wants a stake.Kroloff said the snag with Nevada gaming officials largely stems from their lack of familiarity with Native corporations, which are privately held outside the scrutiny of the Securities and Exchange Commission."This corporation doesn’t fit within the traditional framework,’’ Dennis Neilander, chairman of Nevada’s gaming control board, told the Anchorage Daily News. "The way our laws are written is to accommodate the normal corporation.’’Gaming officials and CIRI staff are investigating the relevant laws and searching for possible solutions.One alternative might be for CIRI board members and officers to undergo criminal background checks and be licensed by the Nevada Gaming Commission, Neilander said.CIRI has committed to investing $40 million in the construction and ownership of the hotel, according to the company’s annual report. It also plans to invest $24 million in the casino. CIRI’s partners in the development are Transcontinental Properties and investors Sid and Lee Bass.

Sealaska hopes to regain profitability in 2002

The past two years have not been kind to Juneau-based Sealaska Corp., the Alaska Native regional corporation for Southeastern Alaska. But things are changing.Sealaska expects to regain profitability in 2002 after a $21 million loss in 2001 and a larger, $122 million loss in the previous year.The corporation was hit by successive years of lower earnings from portfolio investments, due to the weak stock market, and particularly by the decline in high-tech industries that hit a plastic injection molding venture in which Sealaska had invested.It was a triple-whammy, too, because continued recession and weak economies in Asia contributed to lower earnings of Sealaska Timber Corp., Sealaska’s timber harvesting and marketing subsidiary that has been a big engine for earnings in past years.Chris E. McNeil Jr., Sealaska president and chief executive, said most of the 2001 and 2000 losses reflected write-offs on unsuccessful ventures and that after reorganizations the Southeast Alaska Native regional corporation will be back on track this year."We expect to be able to meet our targets in our core businesses," said McNeil.One of the corporation’s major businesses is timber harvesting and sales from Sealaska-owned lands in Southeast Alaska. While the volume of harvesting has been cut back only slightly, earnings have been hit in Japan and Korea, where Sealaska Timber Corp., subsidiary of the regional corporation, does most of its sales, McNeil said.Those markets, affected by economic recession and competition, now appear to be set for a rebound. Also, some competitors who had been aggressively selling softwood into Japanese and Korean markets, undercutting exports by Sealaska, have now switched to selling to China, according to Richard Harris, Sealaska’s senior vice president for natural resources. He said the switch should reduce competitive pressures in traditional markets somewhat.Sealaska remains big in timberBy the Journal StaffSealaska Corp. of Juneau was formed in 1972 along with the other Alaska Native corporations, following passage of the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act.Today Sealaska owns 290,000 acres of surface lands and 590,000 acres of mineral estate, and is the largest private landowner in Southeast Alaska.The corporation has a diverse number of business activities. Its Sealaska Timber Corp. is the last major timber operation in Alaska. Other major companies in the forest products industry were dependent on the Tongass National Forest for wood supply. Changes in federal policy in management of the national forest have reduced those supplies.Sealaska, however, harvests timber from its own private lands on a sustainable basis. Wood markets cycle, but Sealaska is expected to use its sustained yield to stay in the timber business for many years.During 2001, Sealaska Timber said 53 percent of its employees were shareholders in timber operations. An economic study in 2001 showed Sealaska and its timber contractors to be the largest private employers in Southeast Alaska.The corporation enjoyed 16 straight years of profitable operation until 2000. The corporation has paid dividends and distributions to its shareholders, many who live in Southeast Alaska, for 18 years.In 2001, Sealaska paid $1 million in dividends and distributions to shareholders and $360,000 in special payments to elder shareholders reaching their 65th birthday from an Elders’ Settlement Trust.Since 1981, the corporation has awarded more than $5.5 million in scholarships to shareholders and shareholders’ descendants. About $813,000 in scholarships were awarded in 2001. Sealaska is also now investigating new markets in China, McNeil said. The growth potential there is staggering due to the enormous market size, he said.Meanwhile, Sealaska Timber Corp. will harvest about 100 million board feet of timber from corporation-owned lands this year. The harvest level is about the same as in 2001 but is down from somewhat higher levels in earlier years.The corporation has also done a major reorganization of a plastic injection molding venture. A plant in Vancouver, Wash., jointly owned with Arctic Slope Regional Corp. of Barrow is being closed. Closure of the facility will be complete within two months, McNeil said.A second plant, owned wholly by Sealaska in Guadalajara, Mexico, is being operated under a joint venture by Nypro Inc. of Clinton, Mass. That joint venture has performed well, McNeil said.The plastics plant being closed served many customers in high-tech industries, making products that ranged from molded computer cases to components for printers, telephones and cameras.But the decline of high-tech industries nationwide in 2000 and 2001 was felt by Sealaska. The Washington plant served many small customers in the Pacific Northwest as well as a few large customers like Boeingand International Business Machines. It was particularly affected by the decline of the region’s technology industries, McNeil said.The plant in Guadalajara serves a more diverse group of international customers, mainly large multinational corporations, and fared better than the domestic plant, McNeil said.The apparent success of the Nypro joint venture demonstrates a path to success for future business investments, McNeil said. Sealaska’s new strategic plan has an emphasis on investing in businesses with experienced partners, like Nypro, rather than the outright purchase of operating businesses.Another venture Sealaska is getting out of, this one closer to home, is a small operation mining very high quality calcium carbonate limestone on Prince of Wales Island in southeast Alaska. Sealaska’s SeaCal subsidiary sold the product to Pacific Northwest customers who used it in manufacture of construction products like gypsum.Sealaska will sell the mine this year, possibly to a buyer better connected to the market structure, McNeil said. "The calcium carbonate we have is the quality and purity that could be used to make high-end coated paper," he said.One business relationship that is making good progress is a venture Sealaska has with the San Pasqual Band of Mission Indians, which owns and operates Valley View Casino near Escondido, Calif.Sealaska provided $14.7 million in start-up capital in the form of a loan and has a continuing profit-sharing agreement with the San Pasqual tribe. The casino opened in April 2001."There is now a year of operating performance with this casino, and they are seeing steady growth. They are located in a very good market area," McNeil said.Another business initiative that has hit stormy weather was a foray into the world of wireless communications in a joint venture with two other regional corporations, Arctic Slope Regional Corp. and Doyon Ltd., along with AT&T, the telecommunications giant.Sealaska has $40 million invested in Alaska Native Wireless, the joint venture. The group bid on potentially lucrative wireless licenses in major U.S. cities being auctioned by the Federal Communications Commission after the previous successful bidder, NextWave, filed for bankruptcy protection and was unable to complete payment to the federal government.The deal got bogged down in litigation when the former owner sued the government. Attempts at settlement also failed, and the issue is now before the U.S. Supreme Court.While it is in limbo, the wireless initiative is still on a track that will eventually see a resolution. Meanwhile, the FCC agreed to refund much of the money bid by the joint venture. The partners were receiving no interest payments while their funds were on deposit, despite the delays in the deal."Sealaska’s investment in Alaska Native Wireless is structured with AT&T Wireless Service in a way that we continue to earn an excellent return, regardless of the outcome at the Supreme Court," McNeil said.Meanwhile, as part of the agreement on refunding part of the deposit, Alaska Native Wireless was awarded licenses bid on in smaller Western state communities, including in Alaska.Sealaska also has a new initiative under way to form minority-owned companies to compete for federal contracts using competitive advantages unique to Alaska Native corporations, McNeil said. One company being organized in this manner is a sand and gravel sales entity. Sealaska has been in sand and gravel sales before, he said.

Legislature adjourns after five extra days

JUNEAU -- Weary legislators finally closed out a five-day special session May 22 after failing to find compromise on a bill extending the Regulatory Commission of Alaska.The House adjourned the second special session of the 22nd Legislature just after 5 p.m., with the Senate following within an hour. That followed two consecutive days in which private negotiations continued until past midnight, with no resolution.It was an anticlimactic conclusion, with most of the major work of the session, including the biggest school construction package in two decades, completed over the weekend.Legislators will be back in a month, though, to deal with the issue they left hanging.Several representatives made it clear that they’d like to reach out and touch Sen. Robin Taylor, a Wrangell Republican, who almost single-handedly dragged the session out at least an additional day.By blocking the RCA bill, Taylor has added fuel to the "phone wars" waged periodically at the Capitol between Alaska Communications Systems and General Communication Inc."Nobody wants to talk to him," House Majority Leader Jeannette James, a North Pole Republican, told reporters."One or two people are making us all look bad," said House Finance Co-Chairman Eldon Mulder, an Anchorage Republican.Taylor, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, has agreed to only a three-month extension of the RCA’s life, which would "sunset" the agency on Sept. 30, 2003. As it stands, a one-year "wind down" of the agency would begin in six weeks, with the possibility that staffers would start looking for work and diminish the ability of the RCA to respond to complaints.Taylor has received campaign financing through ACS executives and lobbyists, while other legislators and Democratic Gov. Tony Knowles have been supported by GCI.The House, with just one dissent, approved a four-year extension for RCA, only to see Taylor try to bottle the legislation up in his committee and cast aspersions on the business practices of GCI.GCI, thanks to rulings by the commission, has broken into local phone markets previously monopolized by ACS, including Juneau, Anchorage and Fairbanks. ACS contends that it’s not being fairly compensated for use of its existing infrastructure. GCI officials say they’re worried that with RCA in a wind down, there will be no one "to call balls and strikes" on how interconnections are proceeding.Knowles has called a special session for June 24 to take up the RCA issue.

Statewide jobless rate declines in April

JUNEAU -- Alaska’s unemployment rate dropped to 6.7 percent in April as seasonal industries started gearing up for the summer, the state Labor Department reported May 17.While the jobless rate dipped from March’s 7.2 percent, it was still higher than April a year ago, when 6.4 percent of Alaska’s work force was looking for a job.Southeast Alaska showed a significant reduction, with that region’s rate falling to 7.6 percent from 9.1 percent in March. The rate a year ago was 7.0 percent. Juneau’s jobless rate in April was 4.9 percent, while Ketchikan’s rate stood at 9.6 percent, well above the 7.8 percent figure in April 2001.All regions but southwestern Alaska showed a decrease in the jobless rate for April compared with March. The April rate in Anchorage was 4.6 percent, while Fairbanks unemployment stood at 5.9 percent. The Gulf Coast region, which includes Kodiak and the Kenai Peninsula Borough, had a 9.9 percent jobless rate.Southwestern Alaska’s rate was 11.6 percent, with the Wade-Hampton census area there showing a rate of 20.3 percent, highest in the state. Lowest unemployment was in the Aleutians East Borough, part of the same region. The rate there was 3.5 percent.Statewide, the number of unemployed Alaskans dropped by 1,800 in April to 21,515.That figure was nearly 1,400 higher than April 2001, when 20,129 Alaskans were out of work.But the number of jobs has risen significantly over the last year, to 301,321 from 294,723 a year ago. That’s an increase of 2.2 percent.

Fishermen watch helplessly as killer whales eat longline catches

KODIAK -- Killer whales are stealing so many fish, at least one long-line fishery appears to be on its last legs.May 1 marked the start of the once-lucrative turbot fishery. Turbot is similar to halibut, and this year’s harvest should produce roughly 16 million pounds from Bering Sea and Aleutian Island waters.But in recent years, killer whales have been taking so many turbot from long-line hooks, the fishery is no longer profitable and boats have dropped out, down from 24 two years ago to just three boats today. "I was shocked," said fishery consultant Janet Smoker, a former federal fishery manager who now tracks catches for long-line vessels.Smoker said she’s reviewed data to see if there’s a pattern to killer whale strikes, so she could advise the boats about places to fish and places to avoid. "I was flummoxed. The whales seemed to be everywhere. On one day some boats had almost 70 percent of their catch taken. So they’ve really caught on to this," Smoker said. The whales also wreak havoc with sablefish catches.Long-time fisherman Bill Harrington has lost many of his catches to killer whales. He shared some of his anger, awe and observations about being out on the water with the whales."The night shift is the big ones with the huge, tall fins, the males. The day shift is the females with all their kids, teaching them how to do it from early on," Harrington said. "It’s hard to tell how many there are because they seem to be everywhere."All you can do, if you see them in time, is drop your gear and steam away 20 miles, then come back and have a couple of guys on top of the wheelhouse looking for fins. Then you start hauling back your gear and seven out of 10 times, the whales are there. Sometimes after you’ve hauled a set, they come up to the roller and three of them, side by side, stick their heads up, and they have that stupid little grin. They look at you just like a dog (and seem to be saying), ’Got any more?’"They’ve learned that you can’t see them on the port stern quarter with a shelter deck, so they come up on that side and go under the boat and eat your fish. Now, instead of being opportunists, they’re actual thieves. They sneak up on you and rob you. When you’re out there and you’ve spent all this money and time baiting up and setting out, and it’s all taken away from you, it’s really frustrating."I think they’re tuned into the hydraulics. It’s like a dinner bell."I hate them. Still, it’s fascinating to see them. They take your breath away. But I’d rather not see any more. It’s hopeless. They’re way smarter than we are."Monitoring the monitorsVessel monitoring systems are coming under scrutiny by fishery managers. The North Pacific Fishery Management Council is forming a committee to help evaluate VMS, an electronics system that is tracked by satellite and gives the location and speed of a vessel.Starting June 10, boats using pots, long-line and trawl gear are required by federal law to have the tracking system aboard. The VMS is intended to protect Steller sea lions by making sure that boats are fishing at defined distances from rookeries or haul-out areas.The VMS committee might come up with other options besides the one system that has been certified by the federal government. "We’ve been made aware of other systems that offer the same kind of monitoring, but also have two way communication and other features besides simply tracking the location of a vessel. We want to evaluate those alternatives," said council director Chris Oliver.The VMS committee will meet over the summer and report to the fishery council in October.Catfish fightIn the face of competing imports, the state of Louisiana and industry promoters are launching a National Catfish Awareness campaign. According to WorldCatch News Network, surveys revealed that 18 percent of Louisiana’s restaurants are selling too much foreign catfish, primarily from Vietnam.The campaign is beginning with free handouts of a large, red, white and blue decals for restaurants that states, "We proudly serve 100 percent all-American catfish." The state Department of Agriculture and Forestry will send a simple contract to restaurant owners who wish to participate in the campaign that states only American catfish will be served. The contract also gives the department permission to verify if the restaurant is serving American catfish.On a related note, the Fish Information Service reports that the U.S. Department of Agriculture will give the national catfish farming industry a boost by purchasing up to $6 million of breaded catfish products for school lunches and other federal nutrition programs. "Catfish producers have faced difficult economic times in recent years and this purchase will provide some assistance for producers," said Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman.In a USDA statement, Undersecretary Bill Hawks said that school children will be the primary beneficiaries of the catfish meals, but adds, "The Mississippi catfish industry, its thousands of workers and their families will also benefit from a more stabilized market from the federal purchase."Mississippi fish farmers have been hurt by millions of pounds of catfish coming into the U.S. in recent years.Kodiak-based free-lance writer Laine Welch can be reached via e-mail at ([email protected]).

Goldbelt Inc. keeping wary eye on tourism

Like its big sister, Sealaska Corp., Goldbelt Inc., Juneau’s urban Native village corporation, has seen some tough times. But it expects to do better this year.Goldbelt lost $3.4 million in 2000 and $4.4 million in 2001. This year is looking better but no projections are being made because of the unpredictability of the 2002 tourism season, according to David Goade, Goldbelt executive vice president.Goldbelt has invested heavily in tourism, but suffered in the sector last year. For years Goldbelt was also in logging, but has now completed harvesting of its lands, investing the earnings mainly in tourism, which despite its uncertainties is seen as a growth industry, Goade said.Goldbelt owns 32,000 acres of land in Southeast. Much of the land was owned for its timber value, which has now been realized, but the corporation has other large land holdings near Juneau which are prime for residential development.The capital city suffers from available land for growth. A long-term plan for development of Goldbelt land on west Douglas Island, near the city, offers Juneau room to grow, Goade said.Meanwhile, Goldbelt is a major player in the Southeast Alaska tourism business. A number of tourism-related companies operating in Southeast Alaska, including the Mount Roberts Tram, the 105-room Goldbelt Hotel, one of the capital city’s premier hotels, and a sightseeing vessel equipped for day cruises, are Goldbelt owned and operated, Goade said.While the 2002 tourist season is looking better than it did late last fall after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, key segments of the industry, such as independent travelers, are still very unpredictable, Goade said.The tram is now Juneau’s most visible landmark. From late spring through early fall, it carries tourists from downtown Juneau to the 1,800 foot level on Mount Roberts, one of the peaks towering over the capital city.Goldbelt was a partner in construction of the tram and is now its full owner. Ridership has steadily increased, exceeding 200,000 last year, Goade said.Goldbelt expects to do better than that this year with an expected heavy influx of cruise tour passengers to Juneau this summer.Cruise operators have added capacity and heavily marketed Alaska to fill the big cruise ships, and Goade thinks that riding the tram for $21 for sightseeing or hiking on the mountain is a bargain for a shore excursion.The corporation has also built a restaurant, a high-end gift shop and a theatre at the upper terminal of the tram. It has worked with the U.S. Forest Service to improve hiking trails and facilities for sightseeing on the upper mountain, an effort which included protecting areas of delicate vegetation, Goade said.Still, ridership on the tram is heavily dependent on the weather, which is unpredictable in Southeast, he said.The tram pulls its business from the big cruise ships, but the Goldbelt Hotel and day-cruise vessel operation are more dependent on independent travelers, which are still a question mark for the summer season, Goade said.Independent tourists tend to spend more money in Alaska than package tourists, and the smaller cruise lines, hotels and shore-excursion companies are more dependent on independent travelers.Business was down somewhat last year for tour-related firms, including Goldbelt’s, that cater to independents, mainly because of softness in the U.S. economy.Some of the smaller day-cruise operators in Southeast Alaska didn’t make it and have gone out of business, but Goldbelt was been able to sustain its cruise business through the tougher times.The company operates a 78-foot catamaran sightseeing vessel that offers tours of Glacier Bay and Tracy Passage, departing from downtown Juneau.As for the hotel, Goldbelt Hotel in downtown Juneau is holding its own, doing as well as any of the other major hotels in the capital, Goade said. Advance reservations are somewhat down for the upcoming summer season, but the tourist season is so unpredictable that this is not considered a reliable indicator, he said.Independent travelers are heavily influenced by swings in the economy and the economy is doing better this spring, which may influence more people to decide to take a vacation to Alaska, Goade said.Another strategic initiative by Goldbelt is a plan to develop lands it owns on the south side of Berner’s Bay as a residential community for the planned Kensington gold mine, which is across the bay on the north side.The 1,300-acre land tract would be developed in phases, but if the Kensington Mine goes ahead, the first part would be a residential community where workers at the mine could live and commute to their jobs by a ferry.The corporation has also been working with Coeur Alaska Inc., developer of the mine, to build a small vessel dock at Cascade Point, a few miles from the end of the existing Glacier Highway.The dock would serve vessels traveling to the mine, and could eventually be a terminal for state ferry vessels operating from Juneau to Haines and Skagway on northern Lynn Canal, Goade said.Operating from Cascade Point would cut hours off the ferry transit times from Auke Bay, the present terminal, to Haines and Skagway, Goade said.Ferry passenger and vessel traffic to Haines and Skagway are heavy during summer because those communities are tourist destinations as well as connecting points for highways to Yukon Territory and Interior Alaska.

Bond deal clears way for adjournment

State lawmakers approved $453.5 million in bonds and other capital project authorizations May 19 as they worked to adjourn a special session called after the regular 2002 legislative session ended May 16.A package of proposed general obligation bonds for schools, the Anchorage Museum and the University of Alaska totaling $236.8 million was approved May 19.Separately, legislators approved $226.7 million in transportation projects at the end of the regular session, May 16. Transportation funding included a mixture of general obligation bonds and reimbursement by the state for municipal bonds issued for ports and other local projects.The regular session was extended for two days from the required ending May 14, after 120 days, as the state Constitution allows.General obligation bonds must be approved by voters in the November 2002 state general election. Legislators made the municipal debt reimbursement contingent on voter approval of the general obligation bonds.Lawmakers are under the gun to build new schools and rehabilitate several old schools in rural Alaska under a state court decision that found bias in favor of urban schools in appropriations over several years.If voters approve, eight new schools would be built, and design and engineering would be done for five more new schools, mostly in rural Alaska. These are the top 14 projects on the state Department of Education priority list for school construction, and would be financed by $170 million in state general obligation bonds.Another $61.7 million in university projects and $5 million in improvements at the Anchorage Museum of History & Art would be paid for with general obligation bonds.Separate from the bond package, a number of urban schools would be built under the debt reimbursement scheme, where municipalities would issue bonds for school construction with 70 percent of the debt paid by the state.This is contingent on passage of the general obligation bonds under the legislation passed, but it did not include a total dollar amount.On other issues, the Legislature failed to take action on a plan to cover the state’s long-term fiscal gap when it concluded its regular session.A state personal income tax was passed by the state House, along with a proposed change in the way the Alaska Permanent Fund manages income that would make some fund earnings available to the state treasury.The state Senate did not approve either of these initiatives, nor another proposal passed by the House to use some permanent fund income to help fund municipal services.The only new revenue measure passed was an increase in state alcohol taxes, which would generate about $19 million per year.The expected fiscal gap, the difference between recurring state income, mostly from oil and gas, and state expenditures, will total almost $1 billion this year. The state will withdraw money from the Constitutional Budget Reserve, a state cash account, to cover the deficit.Lawmakers also failed to take up subsistence this year. When the Legislature calls itself into special session it can take up any issue, but subsistence was not included in the list of unfinished business included on the special session agenda.Knowles may yet call a special session on subsistence, his spokesman, Bob King said. Knowles may wait to see if there is any change in the position of key senators who oppose a constitutional amendment on subsistence before including it on the agenda of a special session he may call, King said.When the governor calls a special session, he or she sets the agenda instead of the Legislature.

Legislators pass bill allowing doctors to negotiate with insurers

Physicians would be allowed to form groups to negotiate with insurance companies under terms of a controversial bill approved by state lawmakers during a two-day extension to the regular 2002 session.The measure faced opposition, however, from other health provider groups, retirees and the Knowles administration. The bill is now on the governor’s desk for approval, or veto.Senate Bill 37, sponsored by Sen. Pete Kelly, R-Fairbanks, would provide a way around federal anti-trust laws for doctors dealing with large insurance companies.Anti-trust laws are intended to prevent individuals, in this case physicians, from meeting to set monetary or other terms of business, but Kelly argued that the U.S. Supreme Court recognized that the public interest is not served by applying the laws strictly to doctors.They are at a disadvantage when dealing as individual practitioners with large insurance companies, Kelly said. The high court gave states the authority to provide limited protection from anti-trust laws for physicians, but the terms must be set out in state law, which SB37 accomplishes.Under the bill, groups of physicians would have to seek approval from the state attorney general to negotiate with insurers, and the state would oversee the negotiations.A position paper prepared last January by staff of the Federal Trade Commission for Rep. Lisa Murkowski, R-Anchorage, chairwoman of the Labor and Commerce Committee, warned that giving physicians exemption from anti-trust to negotiate monetary terms with insurers would lead to higher health care costs.However, Bob Lohr, director of the Division of Insurance, told the House Finance Committee that is is extremely difficult to eliminate cost considerations from discussions of things like critical necessity and quality of medical care."The Federal Trade Commission has said that it has never seen a negotiation over noncost issues that didn’t really have costs at the heart," Lohr said.Ed Sinton, a state attorney, said he doubted SB37 would pass muster with the Federal Trade Commission as meeting the terms of the exceptions from anti-trust laws for health care set out by the U.S. Supreme Court.The court required that the negotiations be done under state supervision and contemplated a form of regulatory proceeding where hearings would be held and witnesses called, Sinton told the Finance Committee.Senate Bill 37 allows only limited state oversight, he said. Once an agreement in a negotiation is reached, the state is required to approve it under the bill.The bill was opposed by insurance companies, nurse practitioners and the American Association of Retired Persons.Nurse practioners want to be excluded from the bill, but they argued that if physicians were allowed anti-trust exemption to negotiate, independent health practitioners like nurse practitioners and physical therapists could be affected and disadvantaged by the outcome of the talks.The AARP complained that the bill has no mechanism for consumer input.Lawmakers approve property tax exemptions for redevelopmentA bill extending the period for which muncipalities can grant exemptions from property tax for developers planning to rebuild derelict and rundown buildings was approved by state lawmakers during a two-day extension to the 2002 session.House Bill 389, sponsored by Rep. Vic Kohring, R-Wasilla, was approved by the Senate after earlier passing the state House. It is now before Gov. Tony Knowles.The legislation extends existing authority to grant such exemptions, which otherwise would have expired this July. One project the new law will help, if the governor approves it, is a plan to redevelop the derelict MacKay Building in downtown Anchorage.The project is stalled by financing problems, and an extension of authority for the Municipality of Anchorage to grant the developer an exemption from property tax will help secure financing needed to complete the project, Kohring said.Insurance pooling legislation dies as Legislature adjourns sessionA bill dealing with rising insurance costs for small businesses and nonprofit groups, as well as air carriers, failed to become law on the Legislature’s final day.Senate Bill 191, which would have allowed the state to form health insurance pools for small employers with two to 50 employees and nonprofit corporations, died when the Legislature adjourned without voting, in a technical procedure, to concur in a minor amendment.The bill was on the final calendar for approval after passing the House and Senate, but was left as unfinished business when the Legislature was required to adjourn after a two-day extension. The proposal is now dead.SB191 also included a provision that would have allowed air carriers to form insurance pools.The bill was important for small businesses, which have seen sharply rising health insurance costs, and for air carriers, which have been severely affected by higher insurance costs.

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