- Associated Press - Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Here is a sampling of Alaska editorials:

Sept. 8, 2018

Ketchikan Daily News: Ballot Measure 1

Ballot Measure 1 is a risky way to make law.

The measure is a reaction to Pebble Mine, but would affect economic development throughout Alaska.

Its sponsors - led by a Native chief in the Bristol Bay region where the Pebble Mine is located - gathered sufficient signatures for registered Alaska voters to place the measure on the Nov. 6 ballot. Outside special interests allied with sponsors in an effort to use the initiative to shut down economic development throughout Alaska.

The initiative encountered delays, however, when Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott wouldn’t certify it because the state maintained its content was unconstitutional. It wound up before the Alaska Supreme Court, which removed a couple items, maintaining that what remained retained the spirit of the measure.

The removed items attempted to usurp the authority of the Legislature and state agencies provided for in Alaska’s constitution. The constitution designates authority for management of state resources.

The measure seeks to amend Alaska’s anadromous fish habitat permitting law, establishing new permitting practices for development projects with the potential to affect fish habitat.

Existing projects, operations and facilities with current permits wouldn’t be affected until, and if, they would need a new or renewed permit.

The measure provides three types of permits for anadromous fish habitat. They include a general permit, plus two permits with a double-track permitting system. Minor permits would be for projects with little potential effect on fish habitat. Major permits would be for projects with potentially significant adverse effects, and mitigation would have to occur at the site of the effect. Currently, mitigation can be accomplished at another site.

Opportunity for public comment on major permits and public notice of all permits also is included in the initiative, as are requirements for appeal processes and penalties for violations.

The Pebble Mine concerns are legitimate. If the mine is to proceed, it cannot be at the expense of the salmon in the Bristol Bay area and their habitat.

Nor should other fisheries around the state be placed in jeopardy because of economic development.

But, concurrently, salmon shouldn’t be placed above all other natural resources and economic development.

Initiatives such as this often create havoc for the state because they are poorly written and fail to consider the multiple concerns surrounding a topic. This measure doesn’t affect only salmon in the Bristol Bay area. It affects every public and private, including Native, development project located near a water body - big or small - in the state. The initiative has the potential to affect cities, towns, villages, boroughs, all of which require economic development and jobs. It would affect both existing and potential mine projects in the state’s Southeast region. Roads, bridges, water and sewer upgrades, and other public infrastructure projects would be affected. Pipelines, as well as new and expanding business and industry, are examples of other projects that the measure would affect.

It has the potential of delaying projects that used to take months to acquire a permit to years. Beyond that, not all of the implications are readily evident.

And Alaska already has an intensive permitting process.

The Legislature exists to deal with changes in law. It’s where topics such as these can be thoroughly reviewed for the benefit of the whole state instead of special interests. Specific to fish habitat, reform should be in such a public forum and include science-based research.

Come this November, Alaska cannot risk its economic future, particularly with a looming budget deficit and Alaska Permanent Fund dividends already reduced in response to the deficit. This measure will increase costs that the state can’t afford and decrease revenue-generating potential.

Let the Legislature, which represents the Alaska point of view, look at the topic in its next session.

Lt. Gov. Mallott has scheduled nine public hearings on the measure. The first occurred Friday in Juneau. Other hearings are in Kotzebue, Nome, Anchorage, Sitka, Fairbanks, Bethel and Dillingham. A statewide teleconference is set to begin at 1 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 13, for two hours. Residents of Ketchikan, Metlakatla and Prince of Wales Island would be able to join other Alaskans and testify telephonically from the Legislative Information Office.

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Sept. 9, 2018

Anchorage Daily News: Stopping abuses of power starts with holding perpetrators to account

A recent spate of complaints about crimes and abuses perpetrated or ignored by rural law enforcement officials shines a light on a serious problem in Alaska: the fact that those in positions of power are prone to abusing that power, sometimes in ways or places that leave victims with little recourse when seeking justice.

Most recently, a Nome police dispatcher filed a complaint after she said her police colleagues failed to investigate after she was the victim of a videotaped rape in March 2017. Ultimately, she reported the incident to Alaska State Troopers out of concern that it would not be pursued locally. A few weeks previous, news had broken that a Nome officer who had punched a homeless woman while on duty had been shuffled into work as a dispatcher himself. Such incidents are hugely corrosive to public trust in law enforcement; they should be dealt with transparently and consequences for offenders should be serious.

Abuses by those in power is by no means only a problem in rural communities, of course. In a high-profile case in 2011, Anchorage police officer Anthony Rollins was convicted of raping five women in custody in 2008 and 2009; he was sentenced to 87 years in prison and the municipality settled claims related to the cases for $5.5 million.

It should also be noted that the vast majority of law enforcement officers across Alaska do difficult jobs well. The list of police officers and troopers killed in the line of duty underscores the risks those in the field accept when they go to work every day. It is no comfort to a victim of abuse, however, to know that they encountered the sole bad actor in the department. The only acceptable number of people in a law enforcement department who abuse their power is zero; that should be as true in Anchorage as it is in Alakanuk. If any abuses are tolerated or swept under the rug, it makes the lives of those who do the job well far more difficult: Suspicious residents lose confidence that incidents they report will be fairly investigated. Rumors spread. Those who actively seek to undermine credibility in law enforcement gain traction.

In small communities, where departments consist of only a few officers, this is especially true. And because of the isolated nature of communities not on the road system, it’s even more important that residents be able to trust those in positions of power - and remove them if that trust is violated. Standards for background checks for officers in some communities are spotty; Alaska should enforce a uniform minimum standard for such checks statewide to give residents confidence that bad actors aren’t being shuffled from one place to another without proper vetting. The Legislature, with the input of law enforcement and communities across the state, should make sure such standards are enacted.

With regard to abuses perpetrated on the job, the only answer is a transparent, thorough public accounting to restore public confidence proper action has been taken and that punishment, if necessary, fits the offense committed. When it comes to blatant abuses, simply assigning an offending officer desk duty or a demotion in rank isn’t usually sufficient to convince community members that the problem has been corrected and won’t reoccur.

Alaska’s law enforcement officers do a hard job in challenging conditions and cover areas far more expansive than most of their colleagues in the Lower 48. Alaskans’ faith and trust are crucial to their ability to do that job, so it’s vital that incidents of bad behavior by those in law enforcement positions be investigated and dealt with in as thorough and transparent a manner as possible.

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Sept. 9, 2018

Fairbanks Daily News-Miner: Signing HB 240 into law helps consumers, pharmacists

Last week, Gov. Bill Walker signed into law House Bill 240, which will improve the pharmaceutical industry in Alaska for both the consumer and the pharmacist.

Ester Democrat Rep. David Guttenberg introduced the bill, which passed unanimously in the Alaska House and Senate. Republican Sen. Cathy Giessel of Anchorage introduced a similar bill in the Senate.

The law changes how pharmacy benefit managers interact with pharmacies in Alaska. Pharmacy benefit managers - PBMs - are businesses that act like middlemen among pharmaceutical companies, insurance companies and the pharmacists. About 95 percent of the U.S. prescription drug market uses a benefit manager. According to a November 2017 article by the Pharmacy Times, these managers “now impact almost every aspect of the prescription drug marketplace.”

This new Alaska law - and prescription drug users will be happy about this - prevents one of these managers from issuing a gag order on pharmacists. These gag orders have prevented pharmacists from explaining to consumers how they might buy their prescriptions at a lower cost. For example, until last week, a pharmacist could not tell a consumer when it is cheaper to pay out of pocket for their medicines rather than using their insurance. Gag orders have been lifted.

One role that PBMs play in the pharmaceutical industry is oversight of insurance reimbursements to pharmacists. Before the bill was signed, pharmacists who receive what they think are an unfair reimbursement on the prescriptions filled would have no other option but to appeal. It was problematic.

During the legislative session, Sen. Giessel testified on the Senate floor about the problems this can create:

“Wholesale distributors in this example last year were selling Tamiflu for about $58 for a prescription. But the PBMs were reimbursing the pharmacy $20 for that prescription. Every time a pharmacy dispensed Tamiflu, they were losing $38. There’s not many businesses that can stay in business with that kind of loss, Mr. President.”

In fact, independently owned pharmacies have been decreasing in recent years as a result of these unfair reimbursements.

The law also requires a third-party mediator to settle reimbursement disputes between PBMs and pharmacies. Rep. Guttenberg said states that have mediators to give the final say on reimbursement appeals saw a steep drop in complaints from pharmacists. Ultimately, Alaska’s pharmacists will be treated better in the insurance reimbursement process.

Alaska still has the highest health care costs of any state in the union. This bill was a positive step toward stabilizing the health care market in Alaska. And, it was accomplished with bipartisan support.

“Senator Giessel is the opposite of me, politically,” Rep. Guttenberg said, “and this is an issue we could get together and do the right thing for the people.”

It’s encouraging to see our legislators working together on an issue crucial to Alaskans. Alaska legislators should keep working together to address rising health care costs.

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