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News Day Round Up [June 15, 2017]

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Budget impasse: Alaska airports shut down July 1?

Suzanne Downing

As unlikely as it is that Gov. Bill Walker allows state government to shut down in two weeks, if Republicans and Democrats in the Legislature cannot unlock horns on the budget, what would happen at certain Alaska airports?

Some might have to close down jet service. Enormous volumes of people, cargo, and fish would be stranded.

All runways with a “Part 139” designation, where planes carrying more than 30 passengers land, are required to have fire suppression available on the ground during landing and take off.

These are FAA-set, unmovable regulations. With no fire suppression, only small air carriers such as Raven and Penn Air can use these runways.

Among airports affected are Ted Stevens International in Anchorage, as well as Kodiak, Kenai, Fairbanks, Barrow, Bethel, Cordova, Deadhorse, Nome, Kotzebue, Dillingham, Petersburg, Sitka, Wrangell, and Gustavus. [Source]


$2,000-plus dividend is back on the table as fiscal plan sails out the window

Matt Buxton

Time is running out on the special session and hope has vanished for a fiscal plan, so the House decided it might as well fully fund this year’s permanent fund dividend.

In a surprise amendment to the capital budget put forward this morning by Rep. Gabrielle LeDoux, R-Anchorage, the House put about $700 million in the capital budget for PFDs. The money was intended to go to government as part of the restructure of the Alaska Permanent Fund, but that—and the fiscal plan—appear doomed, at least for now.

The amendment passed 26-14.

[Our House Representative Kreiss-Tompkins voted NO]
Though no legislation has made it to Gov. Bill Walker’s desk that would actually restructure the permanent fund, the operating budgets passed by the House and Senate only contained about half of the money for the dividend. With the operating budget in conference committee, the capital budget was the only vehicle to restore funding for this year’s dividend.

Don’t get too excited about a bigger dividend this fall, though. Walker vetoed half the dividend last year when the Legislature also failed to send him a restructure of the permanent fund. With his insistence on a fiscal plan, he’s likely to do the same this year. [Source]

In Victory for Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, Court Finds That Approval of Dakota Access Pipeline Violated the Law

The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe won a significant victory today in its fight to protect the Tribe’s drinking water and ancestral lands from the Dakota Access pipeline.

A federal judge ruled that the federal permits authorizing the pipeline to cross the Missouri River just upstream of the Standing Rock reservation, which were hastily issued by the Trump administration just days after the inauguration, violated the law in certain critical respects.

In a 91-page decision, Judge James Boasberg wrote, “the Court agrees that [the Corps] did not adequately consider the impacts of an oil spill on fishing rights, hunting rights, or environmental justice, or the degree to which the pipeline’s effects are likely to be highly controversial.” The Court did not determine whether pipeline operations should be shut off and has requested additional briefing on the subject and a status conference next week.

“This is a major victory for the Tribe and we commend the courts for upholding the law and doing the right thing,” said Standing Rock Sioux Chairman Dave Archambault II in a recent statement. “The previous administration painstakingly considered the impacts of this pipeline, and President Trump hastily dismissed these careful environmental considerations in favor of political and personal interests. We applaud the courts for protecting our laws and regulations from undue political influence and will ask the Court to shut down pipeline operations immediately.” [Source]

Five officials will face manslaughter charges for Flint water crisis


FLINT, MI - Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette has charged five water officials -- including a member of Gov. Rick Snyder's cabinet and a former emergency manager -- with manslaughter related to their alleged failure to act in during the Flint Water Crisis.

Michigan Department of Health and Human Services Director Nick Lyon, former Flint Emergency Manager Darnell Earley, former City of Flint Water Department Manager Howard Croft, Michigan Department of Environmental Quality's Drinking Water Chief Liane Shekter-Smith and former district supervisor Stephen Busch will all face involuntary manslaughter charges related to their alleged failure to act in the Flint Water Crisis, Schuette announced in a release on Wednesday, June 14.

Involuntary manslaughter is a felony punishable by up to 15 years in prison and/or a $7,500 fine.

The manslaughter charges are connected to the death of Robert Skidmore, who died Dec. 13, 2015, due to the area's Legionnaires' disease outbreak. [Source]

Wells Fargo Is Accused of Making Improper Changes to Mortgages


Even as Wells Fargo was reeling from a major scandal in its consumer bank last year, officials in the company’s mortgage business were putting through unauthorized changes to home loans held by customers in bankruptcy, a new class action and other lawsuits contend.

The changes, which surprised the customers, typically lowered their monthly loan payments, which would seem to benefit borrowers, particularly those in bankruptcy. But deep in the details was this fact: Wells Fargo’s changes would extend the terms of borrowers’ loans by decades, meaning they would have monthly payments for far longer and would ultimately owe the bank much more.

Any change to a payment plan for a person in bankruptcy is subject to approval by the court and the other parties involved. But Wells Fargo put through big changes to the home loans without such approval, according to the lawsuits.

According to court documents, Wells Fargo has been putting through unrequested changes to borrowers’ loans since 2015. During this period, the bank was under attack for its practice of opening unwanted bank and credit card accounts for customers to meet sales quotas.

The lawsuits contend that Wells Fargo puts through changes on borrowers’ loans using a routine form that typically records new real estate taxes or homeowners’ insurance costs that are folded into monthly mortgage payments. Upon receiving these forms, bankruptcy court workers usually put the changes into effect without questioning them. [Full article]


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