Legislation Finalizing Sealaska Land Claims Advances in U.S. Senate

Photo Credit: SitNews

Photo Credit: SitNews

The Southeast Alaska Native Land Entitlement Finalization and Jobs Protection Act (S. 340) was approved Tuesday by the U.S. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee by unanimous voice vote. The bill now heads to the Senate floor for consideration.

The measure provides Sealaska Corp., the Alaska Native regional corp. for Southeast Alaska, with 70,075 acres to finalize transfer of land owed to the Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian tribes under the 1971 Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (ANCSA).

“It has taken six years, but today we’ve taken a major step toward fulfilling the promise made to Southeast’s 20,000 Alaska Natives more than four decades ago,” U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) said. “This has been a difficult process because every acre of the Tongass is precious to someone, but we have worked tirelessly with all of the stakeholders to address their concerns. I truly believe that all of that work has resulted in the best bill possible. It will help the region’s timber industry grow, while at the same time protect more than 150,000 acres for fisheries and habitat.”

Under ANCSA, which extinguished aboriginal land claims in Alaska, Sealaska was entitled to an estimated 375,000 acres of the 16.9-million acre Tongass National Forest to help improve the livelihoods of its shareholders. The government never made good on its promise.

Sealaska is currently owed some 85,000 acres, but under the compromise worked out in Murkowski’s bill it will accept about 15,000 acres less in exchange for 68,400 acres for timber harvesting, 1,099 acres for renewable energy resource and recreational tourism projects, and 490 acres of Native cemetery and historic sites.

Read more from this story HERE.

Lazy Approach to Public Policy Remains the Status Quo

Senate Bill 26 is terrible public policy that drastically alters the sale, exchange, permitting and use of state lands/water. It passed the House under its sister bill HB77. Obviously, the Governor has this on the fast track. Why?, one might ask.

Approximately 223,205 people (AKDOL, R&A, US Census 2010) – one third of the total state population, live in unorganized places all across the state. How will this legislation impact their lifestyles and/or livelihoods? Has this been studied?

Does city, borough or tribal governments have a role in the appeal process? It doesn’t seem so. Are any decisions throughout the appeal process resolved at the local government level before going to the highest (only) level which is Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Commissioner, or in some cases DNR Division Director?

Senate Bill 26 (SB26) gives much too much authority to one person – the Commissioner, Department of Natural Resources. To appeal the Commissioner’s decision is futile. One must appeal to the same Commissioner that wrote the first decision. The Commissioner of DNR is not even required to reply in writing.

SB26 shows an absence of fair appeal, no public impact study, and a minimal public comment opportunity. This combination makes for bad legislation. To add insult to injury, the accompanying fiscal notes say it won’t cost anything. That is unbelievable.

Contact your Senator before it becomes the law of the land. Get the word out. Let elected leaders know we want smarter public policy! We don’t need more sloppy, lazy, legislation.
Tara Jollie is the former Director of the State of Alaska Division of Community and Regional Affairs.

School Choice and NEA Opposition

Word on the street is that the NEA is desperately stalking the halls of the capitol in Juneau trying to keep a lid on the movement to bring school choice to Alaska. And they have quite a lobbyist on the payroll.

According to State of Alaska public disclosures, Alaska NEA lobbyist John Alcantra makes $57.83 per hour. Assuming a 40 hour work week, that’s more than $120,000 annually. If his listed wage does not include health benefits and retirement, it would not be unreasonable to assume that the total cost for Alcantra tops $150,000 a year. Solidarity, indeed.

But Alcantra and his posse have a reason to be rattled. School choice is an issue that has commanded bipartisan support in other states as well. Study after study shows the benefits of school choice for all the kids, including those from lower income families and ethnic minority groups.

Two separate polls conducted (Braun Research and Dittman Research) show a healthy majority of support for school choice among Alaskans. While Alaska’s education performance continues to lag behind other states, the Senate majority coalition being used by Progressives in the legislature to obstruct good legislation was defeated in the last election cycle.

If you haven’t called your State Representative or Senator to voice your opinion on school choice, be sure to do it. According to reports from Juneau, the Republican caucus will be discussing education in the near future.

There are a number of obstructionists inside of the Majority caucus who will make it their goal to characterize this issue as divisive and toxic. Some are genuinely more concerned with losing a reelection bid than obstructing public policy that is good for Alaska. Others are simply ideologues.

Given the nature of the caucus, and with Mr. Alcantra roaming the halls of Juneau, your help is needed to get this legislation moving. If you would like to see school choice become a reality in Alaska, call or email your representative and senator.