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Alaska Lawmaker Accused of Inappropriate Behavior Resigning - U.S. News & World Report

Juneau Hot Topics - 8 hours 29 min ago

U.S. News & World Report

Alaska Lawmaker Accused of Inappropriate Behavior Resigning
U.S. News & World Report
FILE - In this Jan. 17, 2017 file photo, state Rep. Dean Westlake, D-Kotzebue, talks with another legislator during a break in the opening session of the Alaska Legislature in Juneau, Alaska. Staff for Westlake, who was accused by several women of ...
Accused of sexual harassment, Rep. Westlake resigns from LegislatureJuneau Empire
Alaska lawmaker accused of inappropriate behavior resignsPueblo Chieftain
Alaska lawmaker accused of inappropriate behaviour resigningNews1130

all 14 news articles »

Alaska lawmaker accused of inappropriate behavior resigning - San Francisco Chronicle

Juneau Hot Topics - 8 hours 30 min ago

San Francisco Chronicle

Alaska lawmaker accused of inappropriate behavior resigning
San Francisco Chronicle
Casey Steinau, the chairwoman of the state Democratic party, said Westlake made the right decision. "We are committed to our zero-tolerance sexual harassment policy and will work with our candidates going forth in understanding our Code of Conduct and ...
Accused of sexual harassment, Rep. Westlake resigns from LegislatureJuneau Empire
Alaska lawmaker accused of inappropriate behavior resignsPueblo Chieftain
Alaska lawmaker accused of inappropriate behaviour resigningNews1130

all 12 news articles »

Alaska settles long-running dispute with major oil companies over pipeline rates

Alaska News - 8 hours 45 min ago

In a deal said to be worth billions of dollars, Alaska officials have agreed to settle a nearly decade-long dispute over shipping rates with the oil company owners of the trans-Alaska pipeline.

The proposed settlement, which needs regulatory approval, is designed to end an epic battle that has pitted the state, along with Anadarko Petroleum and Tesoro Alaska, against the owners of the trans-Alaska pipeline, primarily BP, ExxonMobil and ConocoPhillips.

"The settlement is historic," said Robin Brena, a private attorney in Anchorage representing Anadarko and Tesoro, companies that ship oil in the 800-mile pipeline but don't own a piece of it.

Sparking the settlement negotiations were decisions two years ago by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and the Regulatory Commission of Alaska. The agencies said the pipeline owners could not recover costs of a badly managed upgrade project by charging higher fees to move oil.

[Oil companies lose pipeline case that could be worth hundreds of millions.]

The major oil companies sued in state and federal courts, challenging the regulatory decisions, said John Ptacin, chief assistant attorney general for Alaska.

The proposed settlement involves more than 40 rate cases from 2009 to 2015. The state had argued the pipeline shipping rates were too high. Higher rates mean less revenues for Alaska, in the form of royalties and taxes.

Under the terms of the proposed deal, the state can keep $224 million it has already collected, and collect another $165 million, the Department of Law said in a prepared statement Thursday.

The pipeline owners also agreed not to recover $625 million by boosting pipeline shipping rates. That amount stems from capital costs associated with the strategic reconfiguration project that automated and electrified equipment along the pipeline.

The project began in late 2003 but lasted years longer and cost hundreds of millions dollars more than anticipated. The errors included a lack of scrutiny on project details, FERC said.

Because those capital costs can't be recovered in shipping rates, Alaska can count on higher royalty and tax revenues, Ptacin said.

"It is in our view a victory for the state," he said of the settlement.

The settlement will keep future rates lower, the statement from Law Department said.

Taking into account future benefits, the long-term value of the deal is in the billions of dollars, Brena said.

Before the settlement is final, approval is required from FERC and RCA.

A statement from a ConocoPhillips Alaska spokeswoman said the company is pleased all parties reached a settlement and is looking forward to approval from state and federal regulators.

Ptacin said the dispute has lasted eight years and totaled $16 million just to litigate the first two years of rate cases.

To help prevent future legal battles, the state and pipeline owners have agreed to a new method of calculating interstate rates through 2021.

Accused of sexual harassment, Rep. Westlake resigns from Legislature - Juneau Empire

Legislative News - 9 hours 17 min ago

San Francisco Chronicle

Accused of sexual harassment, Rep. Westlake resigns from Legislature
Juneau Empire
I have spent time deliberating on their guidance, and it is with a heavy heart that I respond now and announce that I will be resigning as a member of the Alaska State Legislature.” The Democrat from Kiana was elected in 2016, unseating longtime ...
Alaska lawmaker accused of inappropriate behavior resigningSan Francisco Chronicle
Alaska lawmaker refuses to resign amid misconduct claimsKaplan Herald
Investigate, then actKetchikan Daily News
Alaska Dispatch News
all 12 news articles »

Rep. Westlake, embattled over sexual harassment allegations, will resign

Alaska News - 9 hours 39 min ago

Rep. Dean Westlake, D-Kiana, said on Friday that he will resign from his seat after being accused of sexual harassment by multiple women.

[Seven aides at Alaska Capitol say legislator made unwanted advances and comments]

"As recent allegations of my behavior have superseded discussions about my
constituents, my ability to serve them has been diminished," Westlake wrote in a letter to House Speaker Bryce Edgmon.

"Some people are angry with me; more are disappointed. I am too. To the women
who came forward, thank you for telling your story. I am inspired by your bravery, and I am sorry for the pain I have caused. To my constituents, I am sorry to have let you down. These allegations do not reflect who I am, nor who I want to be. I will learn from this experience and be a better man because of it."

[Read the full text of Westlake's resignation here]

Westlake, who is halfway through his first term, has been under fire since an Anchorage Daily News report last week that detailed allegations of sexual harassment from seven current and former aides.

Six of the women described the behavior after one of them went public and recounted unwanted touching and sexual comments in a letter to legislative leaders.

Democratic leaders asked him to resign. He refused in a statement on Tuesday, saying that his "friendly or funny" overtures were not interpreted the way he had intended and apologizing. Then an additional report surfaced, in a story on KTUU-Channel 2, from a woman who said he made inappropriate comments and sent an unwanted sexual text asking her to "lift up your parka."

[Legislators mull way forward after Westlake refuses to resign]

Democrats in Westlake's northern Alaska district will nominate three possible replacements for Westlake, one of whom will be chosen by Gov. Bill Walker to serve the remainder of Westlake's term. Walker's choice must be confirmed by House Democrats.

Westlake's letter of resignation did not specify when his resignation would take effect.

This story will be updated. Check back later for updates.

Grateful for what we have - Juneau Empire

Juneau Hot Topics - 10 hours 57 min ago

Juneau Empire

Grateful for what we have
Juneau Empire
The mining industry is particularly important for residents of over 50 communities throughout Alaska, half of them in rural Alaska where jobs are scarce. Northern Southeast Alaska has benefited greatly from its two mines, Kensington and Greens Creek ...

Trump judicial nominee fumbles basic questions about the law

Alaska News - 10 hours 59 min ago

WASHINGTON – Nomination hearings for U.S. district judges tend to be dry affairs that offer little in the way of mass entertainment – in other words, they're not typically the stuff of viral videos.

But a clip of one of President Donald Trump's federal judicial nominees struggling to answer rudimentary questions about the law garnered well more than 1 million views in a matter of hours on Thursday night and stoked speculation that another of the president's nominations might get derailed.

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., shared footage of Matthew Petersen, a nominee for the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, getting quizzed by Sen. John Neely Kennedy, R-La., on basic aspects of trial procedure during his appearance before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday.

For five painfully awkward minutes, Petersen, a member of the Federal Election Commission and a lawyer with no trial experience, fumbled with Kennedy's questions, visibly uncomfortable as the lawmaker pressed him about how things work in a federal courtroom.

"Hoo-boy," Whitehouse wrote in a widely circulated tweet of the exchange, seizing on the moment for maximum political effect.

MUST WATCH: Republican @SenJohnKennedy asks one of @realDonaldTrump’s US District Judge nominees basic questions of law & he can’t answer a single one. Hoo-boy. pic.twitter.com/fphQx2o1rc

— Sheldon Whitehouse (@SenWhitehouse) December 15, 2017

In Wednesday's hearing, Kennedy started by asking Petersen and the four other nominees who appeared with him: "Have any of you not tried a case to verdict in a courtroom?"

Petersen alone raised his hand.

Kennedy, a first-term Republican who has challenged some of Trump's previous judicial nominations, bore down.

Had Petersen ever handled jury trial?

"I have not," the nominee responded.

Civil? No. Criminal? No. Bench trial? No. State or federal court? No.

How many depositions had he taken – fewer than five?

"Probably somewhere in that range," Petersen said.

Had he ever argued a motion in state court? Federal court? No on both counts.

Kennedy then asked the last time Petersen had read the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure – the standards that govern civil cases in U.S. District Court, where Petersen is hoping to get a lifetime appointment.

"In my current position," Petersen stuttered, "I obviously don't need to stay as invested in those on a day-to-day basis, but I do try to keep up to speed." He added that he oversees a number of attorneys in the FEC's litigation division and advises them on legal strategy.

How about the last time he read the Federal Rules of Evidence, which regulate the use of evidence in civil and criminal trials, Kennedy asked. The rules are amended and republished every year.

"All the way through? Well, comprehensively, would have been in law school," Petersen said.

Kennedy kept digging.

"As a trial judge, you're obviously going to have witnesses. Can you tell me what the 'Daubert standard' is," the senator asked, referring to a critical and well-known rule on using expert testimony in federal court.

"I don't have that readily at my disposal," Petersen said. "But I would be happy to take a closer look at that. That is not something that I had to -"

Kennedy cut him off. "Do you know what a motion in limine is," he asked. A motion in limine is a widely used request for certain evidence to be excluded at trial.

Petersen said yes, then tried to sidestep the question. He reminded the senator that his background wasn't in litigation and said he hadn't had time to "do a deep dive."

"I understand the challenge that would be ahead of me if I were fortunate enough to become a district court judge," Petersen said. "I understand that the path that many successful district court judges have taken has been a different one than I have taken."

Kennedy said he was familiar with Petersen's resume, then asked again what a motion in limine was.

"I would probably not be able to give you a good definition right here at the table," Petersen said.

Petersen received his law degree from University of Virginia School of Law in 1999 and spent three years at the law firm Wiley Rein LLP in Washington, where he specialized in campaign finance law. After that, he worked briefly as counsel to the Republican National Committee and served as counsel for two congressional panels.

He was appointed to the Federal Election Commission in 2008 by President George W. Bush. There, he served for five years alongside Donald F. McGahn II, the current White House counsel.

Trump tapped Petersen in September to fill a vacancy on the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, one of the most important federal trial courts in the nation. Until now, his nomination has drawn little attention, and Trump's other nominees to the court in Washington have breezed through the confirmation process with bipartisan support.

When video of the interrogation made its way online, several high profile law professors tweeted their surprise.

"Don't want to beat up on the guy but the questions he was being asked could be answered by a second year law student," wrote Aderson Francois, a professor at Georgetown Law. "Even if you know zero about evidence the one doctrine every law student knows is Daubert because it's a very famous case about standard to admit expert testimony."

Anthony Michael Kreis, a professor at Chicago-Kent College of Law, said it was unreasonable to expect Petersen to have recently studied the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, a lengthy and complex document. "But," Kreis added, "if you have little or no trial experience, I'd hope you could speak a little bit about the law with some degree of sophistication. Daubert is pretty basic."

Others put their concerns more bluntly. "Seems like FEC Commissioner Petersen may not be leaving the FEC for the federal district court after all," wrote University of California Irvine professor Rick Hasen. "This is pretty devastating."

Petersen's testimony drew scrutiny one day after Judiciary Committee Chairman Sen. Charles E. Grassley, R-Iowa, said that two of Trump's nominees would not be confirmed to the federal bench following questions about their qualifications, disrupting an otherwise smooth streak of federal judicial confirmations for the president.

Brett Talley, nominated for a federal district court seat in Alabama, was thwarted after he was reported to be the author of a 2011 message board comment defending the Ku Klux Klan. Democrats had objected to his nomination from the beginning, noting that he had never served as a judge nor tried a case.

Jeff Mateer, nominated to the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas, was also blocked after speeches surfaced in which he advocated discriminating against members of the LGBT community and called transgender children proof that "Satan's plan is working."

No one is accusing Petersen of making controversial or insensitive remarks. But in Wednesday's hearing, Kennedy probed anyway, just to be sure.

"Any of you blog? Any of you ever blogged in support of the Ku Klux Klan?" he asked.

Petersen and the other panelists shook their heads no.

Marie Drake Planetarium

Juneau Events - 11 hours 57 min ago

Marie Drake Planetarium - 'Christmas in Space' - A mixture of science and humor. Learn how aliens and astronauts celebrate Christmas in space. Followed by ‘The Stars Tonight’ on the Spitz projector.

Cost: Free Date: Tuesday, December 26, 2017 - 19:00Website: http://mariedrakeplanetarium.org Type:  Tags:  Age Suitability : 

BP, once a leader in renewable energy, bets $200 million on solar

Alaska News - 12 hours 25 min ago

LONDON — BP had been at the forefront when it came to major oil companies going green. It invested billions in renewables. It was quick to acknowledge the link between fossil fuels and global warming. It adopted the slogan "Beyond Petroleum."

But that all fell by the wayside when the company was hit by the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill. On Friday, in what may be a move to repolish tarnished green credentials, the energy giant said that it would spend $200 million to acquire a large stake in Lightsource, a solar power developer based in Britain.

BP, like other major European oil companies, is responding to pressure from investors and governments, especially in the region, to shift away from the traditional fossil fuels blamed for climate change, like oil and gas, and into cleaner sources of energy. Statoil, the Norwegian giant, for example, is staking out a big position in offshore wind, and Total, the French company, last year bought a battery-maker called Saft for 950 million euros, or $1.1 billion.

"The European majors feel under pressure to diversify, to get exposure to different technologies so they are not left out," said Valentina Kretzschmar, an analyst at energy consultants Wood Mackenzie. "It is what a lot of their peer group is doing."

Indeed, renewables like solar and wind power are increasingly seen as not just a science experiment or a concession to political and environmental pressures, but a good business opportunity in their own right. Wood Mackenzie estimates that renewable energy products return between 7 percent and 10 percent on capital invested.

That figure is much lower, however, than the 18 percent in estimated average returns that a drilling project offers, in part because the newer technologies are in regulated industries where profits tend to be capped. But, Kretzschmar said, energy companies must at least test the waters to make sure they are in the game when renewables do take off.

Before the Gulf of Mexico oil spill hobbled the company, BP had been seen as a leader on environmental issues among traditional oil and gas companies. It said in 1997 that greenhouse gases resulting from the burning of fossil fuels played a role in global warming, and began making investments to offset their impact.

Under John Browne, chief executive from 1995 to 2007, BP invested around $8 billion in renewable energy early in the 2000s, including solar power, though with mixed results at best. Under pressure to pay damages and fines from the Gulf of Mexico spill — which have cost it $64 billion so far — BP has been focusing until recently on improving its oil and gas operations.

Though BP still has a large wind-power business in the United States as well as biofuels installations mainly in Brazil, its solar investments, some of which dated back to the 1980s, were problematic and have largely been closed down, according to the company. In an interview, Dev Sanyal, chief executive of BP's alternative energy business, said the company had chosen an ill-fated part of the solar business: manufacturing equipment like solar panels, an area now dominated by Asian companies that are better able to compete on price.

Lightsource, Sanyal said, takes a very different approach, focusing on developing and managing solar installations, rather than making the equipment or inventing the technology. The company "is completely agnostic as to what panels it installs," he said. He added that the attraction of Lightsource, which is privately owned, was that it could be a vehicle for BP to take advantage of what he forecast as 10 percent to 15 percent annual growth in solar power in the coming years.

By contrast, demand for oil, which has been growing strongly at around 1.7 percent per annum this year, is expected to eventually level off to less than 1 percent a year through 2040, according to forecasts by the International Energy Agency, a Paris-based organization. The agency attributed that slowing growth in demand to changes like the increasing prevalence of electric vehicles and improving fuel efficiency.

BP said its $200 million investment would eventually give it a 43 percent stake in Lightsource, which will be renamed Lightsource BP, and the energy giant will take two seats on the board. BP's investment will be used to help Lightsource, which has been mainly focused on Britain, grow globally, the companies said. Lightsource develops solar projects and says it thus far has contracts to manage installations that could power about half a million homes. The investment is tiny compared to BP's capital expenditure of about $16 billion this year.

By buying into Lightsource, BP is, in a sense, outsourcing its solar effort.

"They need a renewable business to develop over time as part of energy transiting, but were lacking the ability to make solar profitable," said Oswald Clint, an analyst at Bernstein Research. "Lightsource might be the solution."

How 3,000 very good golden retrievers could help all dogs live longer

Alaska News - 13 hours 52 min ago

Most dogs get poked and prodded at the veterinarian's office. Piper, a 4-year-old golden retriever in Chicago, gets far more scrutiny than that.

Her annual checkup this month took three hours. Her flaxen hair was trimmed and bagged, her toenails clipped and kept, her bodily fluids collected. Everything was destined for a biorepository in the Washington suburbs that holds similar samples from more than 3,000 other purebred golden retrievers from across the country. The dogs, though they do not know it, are participating in an ambitious, $32 million research project that researchers hope will yield insights into the causes of cancers and other diseases common to goldens, other breeds and maybe even humans.

All the dogs were enrolled in the Golden Retriever Lifetime Study before they turned 2, and all will be closely tracked for their entire lives. The researchers, from Colorado State University and the Morris Animal Foundation, are not just analyzing biological matter. They're also compiling exhaustive data, recorded and reported each year by the dogs' owners, on every aspect of the pooches' lives: What they eat, where they sleep, whether their lawns are treated with pesticides, whether their teeth get brushed and more.

Longitudinal studies like this – with information gathered in real time – help researchers detect causes and effects that might be missed in other kinds of studies. Some focused on humans who have tracked thousands of babies born in the United Kingdom during one week in 1970 and monitored the cardiovascular health of residents of Framingham, Massachusetts. But this is the first and largest lifetime longitudinal study of pets, and the hope is that it will shed light on links between golden retrievers' health and their genetics, diets, environments and lifestyles.

Some of "these dogs will get cancer as they age . . . but in the meantime, they are doing everything that dogs do," said principal investigator Rodney Page, a veterinary oncologist who directs Colorado State's Flint Animal Cancer Center. As for tracking the minutiae of participants' lives, "some of these things seem kind of silly, but you never know what you're going to identify as a significant risk factor with an outcome that you could easily change."

That information, by extension, could be useful for other breeds, as well as people, who develop cancer and respond to treatments in similar ways to dogs.

At its core, the study is about cancer – what Page calls "the No. 1 concern among dog owners." The disease is the leading cause of death in dogs over age 2 and something diagnosed in half of dogs older than 10. The prevalence is believed to be slightly higher in golden retrievers, which most often succumb to mast cell tumors, bone cancer, lymphoma or hemangiosarcoma (originating in the lining of blood vessels).

But that is not the only reason the bouncy, amiable breed is the study's focus. Goldens are the third-most popular dogs in the United States, which made it easier for researchers to find 3,000 subjects; they also tend to have besotted owners who pay close attention to their health – an important criteria for a project that demands years of owner commitment.

Golden retrievers "are right beside us when we're running, when we're having dinner, when we're out traveling. They basically reflect a lot of the same exposures and activities that we have," Page said.

The study began in 2012. It has produced no major revelations yet; its oldest participants are 7 and not widely afflicted with cancer or other ills. But annual surveys have yielded interesting tidbits about the dogs' lives. One in five sleeps with its owner. Forty percent swim at least once a week. Twenty-two percent drink or eat from a plastic bowl, and about one in four eats grass.

And the researchers' prediction – that the breed's owners would be an enthusiastic study group – has been validated. They have an incredibly active private Facebook group, plus local meetups with their "hero" pets.

"We have a really passionate cohort, is the best way to describe it," study veterinarian Sharon Albright said.

When a Chicago golden named Piper briefly fell ill last year, her owner, Joe Brennan, posted a photo of her wrapped in blankets to the Facebook group. More than 100 well-wishers quickly responded, he said.

Brennan and his wife had enrolled Piper in the study shortly after they purchased her from a breeder. Brennan's mother had two golden retrievers that died of cancer, and he said he wanted "to give back and maybe play some tiny part" in reducing the breed's risk for the disease.

And one of the conditions as Kelly Hinkle adopted Maizie in 2016 was that she keep the 2 1/2-year-old dog in the study. "I'm like, 'Of course I'd continue!' " said Hinkle, a Silver Spring, Maryland, veterinarian who was especially excited by the project's emphasis on exposure to both inside and outside environmental factors.

"A lot of common things, like hip dysplasia, that's the way they're bred," she said. "But getting tumors or cancer – is that a genetic thing or something we've done throughout their lifetimes to cause that?"

Although cancer rates may be higher among golden retrievers, they're not necessarily increasing. Cancer is a disease of older age, and today's dogs, which mostly stay indoors and see vets more often than their ancestors, are living longer. Experts say the prevalence in goldens may be partly explained by their sheer abundance.

"Do you see a lot of goldens that have skin diseases? Do you see a lot of goldens that have flea allergies? Yes," said Jaime Modiano, a canine cancer researcher at the University of Minnesota's College of Veterinary Medicine who is not involved in the study. "Golden owners as a group tend to be very attentive and attached to their dogs," and so they seek out care when they suspect a problem.

The project's focus on golden retrievers might be an inherent limitation, said Modiano, whose lab has done multi-breed studies that found certain genetic markers create a higher level of risk in some kinds of dogs. "If you look at a single breed, you're going to lose part of the picture," Modiano said. Still, the study's large sample size and systematic, controlled approach will yield data that could fuel research on questions that go well beyond cancer, he said – such as whether goldens in some geographic regions or with certain traits, like size or coat color, are more or less likely to have particular conditions.

"Being able to discriminate random chance becomes a lot easier when you have large numbers," he explained. "It really is ambitious, and the treasure trove of material that they are going to get will be remarkable."

Gathering all this data depends on owners, whose vet visits are subsidized. One is Matt Morley, a lawyer in Chevy Chase, Maryland, whose retriever, Hayley, had lymphoma and died in 2013. He enrolled her successor, Nellie, in hopes of helping other dogs as well as people.

"Whatever they learn in this study could have real human applications," Morley said. "All the drugs my original dog was taking, they're all drugs that people who have cancer take."

Owners commit to spending a few hours for the study every year. They say goldens are well worth it.

"They're the smartest dogs ever," Brennan gushed. "They're the most loyal things you'll ever meet in your life."

Piper was found to have a bit of hip dysplasia but no other issues at her recent exam, where Brennan snapped a photo of her. It shows her sitting proudly, wearing a green bandanna printed with a yellow silhouette of a golden retriever and the words "Study Enrolled Dog."

Republicans finalize tax plan, expand benefits for working families in bid to win over Rubio

Alaska News - 14 hours 22 min ago

WASHINGTON – Congressional Republicans finished rewriting their massive plan to overhaul the tax code on Friday, adding in a significant expansion of the Child Tax Credit aimed at boosting benefits for low-income families.

The change was added to meet demands from Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., who threatened on Thursday to vote against the bill unless the credit was expanded, injecting last-minute chaos into a process.

Rep. Kristi Noem, R-S.D., one of the Republicans tasked with ironing out a final bill, said the credit had been expanded, particularly for low-income and working-class families.

"I believe that we're in a good spot and should be able to earn his support" she said of Rubio.

A Rubio spokeswoman said Rubio was waiting to see whether he'd support the final measure.

"We have not seen bill text, and until we see if the percentage of the refundable credit is significantly higher, then our position remains the same," she wrote in an email.

House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Kevin Brady, R-Texas, said negotiations were complete but would not say if Rubio had been placated.

"We ought to have every senator's support on this tax reform bill," Brady said.

Republican negotiators have proposed to expand the Child Tax Credit from $1,000 per child to $2,000 per child, but in earlier versions of the plan, that expansion would not be available to every family. Many lower-income families would only qualify for a $1,100 child tax credit.

Noem said Friday the plan's credit for such families had been increased to $1400.

Rubio, in a series of Twitter posts earlier Friday, said he needed the credit needed to be "meaningfully higher" for families that earn between $20,000 and $50,000 a year.

Republicans passed an earlier version of the tax overhaul bill through the Senate with Rubio's support by a 51-49 margin. If Rubio were to oppose the bill, he could imperil the legislation's chances of becoming law. Complicating matters, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., is in the hospital and his health status next week remains unclear.

A number of Republicans have opposed Rubio's idea to expand the child tax credit for people in this income bracket, saying many of those families do not pay federal income taxes and would end up receiving checks from the government.

But Rubio has held strong views on this issue for years, believing more must be done to help working families.

Rubio's demands Thursday sent shock waves through Washington.

"People are really infuriated by it," said Steve Moore, who was a top economic adviser to President Trump during the campaign. Moore said it remained unclear what Republicans would do if Rubio remains intractable.

Trump on Friday expressed optimism the bill would pass, telling reporters that the Child Tax Credit is "increasing on a daily basis."

"The Democrats have done nothing on the child tax credit . . . we're putting in a tremendous child tax credit," Trump said.

The Child Tax Credit is just one component of a sweeping tax overhaul that Republicans have moved through Congress swiftly since November. The package would slash corporate tax rates, temporarily lower taxes paid by many households, and eliminate a number of tax breaks.

As Republicans sought to secure votes in the final weeks, they've made a number of changes to their plan meant to expand benefits to businesses and wealthier Americans. But Democrats – and some Republicans – have complained there should have been more done to help the middle class and the working poor.

The total package is expected to cut roughly $1.5 trillion in taxes over 10 years. Expanding the Child Tax Credit to accommodate Rubio's demands could force Republicans to scale back other tax reductions, as Senate rules limit the total amount the plan can add to the national debt.

Republicans have been crafting a plan to reconcile different bills that passed through the House and Senate in recent weeks.

After Republicans said they'd completed final changes, House members began signing what is known as a "conference report."

The House and Senate plan to vote on the measure next week. If approved by Congress, the final bill could be signed into law by Trump.

– – –

The Washington Post's Jeff Stein and Heather Long contributed to this report.

Firefighter dies as vicious winds continue to plague crews battling California wildfires

Alaska News - 15 hours 8 min ago

LOS ANGELES – Firefighters in California will be tested by vicious winds on Friday morning as they battle a huge wildfire that has claimed the life of one of their colleagues and torched more than 700 homes.

Cory Iverson, 32, a California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection engineer, was killed on Thursday while fighting the so-called Thomas Fire in Ventura and Santa Barbara counties.

"Cory Iverson … made the ultimate sacrifice to save the lives of others," said Ventura County Sheriff Geoff Dean during a community meeting on Thursday night.

Fire officials released little information about the circumstances surrounding Iverson's death. The Los Angeles Daily News reported that he perished in an accident near the community of Fillmore, where a mayday alert was sounded.

Santa Ana winds and humidity in the single digits have helped stoke the blaze that has swept through dry vegetation since it erupted on Dec. 4 near a small private college in Ojai. It has since blackened more than 249,000 acres (about 390 square miles) and is now the fourth-largest wildfire on record in California since 1932.

On Friday morning powerful winds are forecast which will subside during the day, the National Weather Service said.

"Winds will weaken Friday, turn westerly early Saturday, then become offshore and gusty again late Saturday night through Sunday evening," the service said in an advisory.

The wildfire remained a threat to some 18,000 homes and other structures in the communities of Santa Barbara, Carpinteria, Summerland and Montecito along California's coastline, especially if hot, dry Santa Ana winds return.

The Thomas Fire, which was 35 percent contained as of Thursday evening, has burned 729 homes to the ground and damaged another 175. The blaze has displaced more than 94,000 people.

The fire and others to the south in San Diego and Los Angeles counties have disrupted life for millions of people over the last 11 days.

They have caused schools to close for days, shut roads and driven hundreds of thousands from their homes and into shelters. The fires are also responsible for poor air quality throughout Southern California, forcing some commuters to wear protective face masks, local media reported.

(Additional reporting by Brendan O'Brien)

White nationalist charged with murder in Virginia car killing of protester

Alaska News - 15 hours 50 min ago

A white nationalist accused of killing a 32-year-old woman when he plowed his car into a crowd of counterprotesters in Charlottesville, Virginia, in August was charged with first-degree murder on Thursday.

James Fields Jr., 20, appeared at Charlottesville District Court for a preliminary hearing, during which a previous charge of second degree murder was changed to first degree murder.

Fields would face up to life in prison if convicted of first-degree murder, while second-degree murder carries a penalty of five to 40 years in prison, according to the Virginia penal code.

Court officials and the local district attorney were not immediately available for comment.

Fields, from Ohio, is accused of killing Heather Heyer and injuring 19 people.

The incident took place amid clashes between hundreds of white supremacists and counter-protesters. After hours of clashes, a sedan driving at high speed plowed into the crowd before reversing along the same street.

Charlottesville is home to the University of Virginia's flagship campus.

Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe blamed neo-Nazis for sparking the unrest in the town, where rival groups fought pitched battles using rocks and pepper spray after far-right protesters converged to demonstrate against a plan to remove a statue of a Confederate war hero.

After the rally, President Donald Trump inflamed tensions by saying there were "very fine people" on both sides, drawing condemnation from some Republican leaders and praise from white supremacists.

(Reporting by Ian Simpson and Jon Herskovitz)

'Edibles' scandal hits Alaska's marijuana board - Juneau Empire

Juneau Hot Topics - 17 hours 3 min ago

Juneau Empire

'Edibles' scandal hits Alaska's marijuana board
Juneau Empire
The Alaska Alcohol and Marijuana Control Office has already ordered retailers to stop selling all Frozen Budz products, and the board could shutter the business entirely. Frozen Budz is either the largest or second-largest manufacturer of edible ...

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Squid fishery proposed for Southeast - Juneau Empire

Juneau Hot Topics - 17 hours 3 min ago

Juneau Empire

Squid fishery proposed for Southeast
Juneau Empire
A proposal to create a squid fishery in Southeast is slated for the Alaska Board of Fisheries meeting Jan. 11-23 in Sitka. If adopted, the board would work with fishermen and stakeholders to develop a purse seine fishery for market squid, which are ...

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Fisheries Board calls for proposals - Juneau Empire

Juneau Hot Topics - 17 hours 9 min ago

Fisheries Board calls for proposals
Juneau Empire
Proposals must be received by Tuesday, April 10, 2018 at the Boards Support Section office in Juneau. Postmark is not sufficient for timely receipt. The Board of Fisheries proposal form, including the online proposal form, is available at the Boards ...

Proposal would add stair access to Mendenhall Wetlands - Juneau Empire

Juneau Hot Topics - 17 hours 23 min ago

Proposal would add stair access to Mendenhall Wetlands
Juneau Empire
... Marjory & Edgar Huizer Fishing Access Site and would include five parking spaces along the highway, an information kiosk, stabilization of the bank below the parking area, and the staircase. The trust is attempting to raise $75,000 by March 31 to ...

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New revenue forecast shrinks Alaska's budget deficit a bit | Juneau ... - Juneau Empire

Legislative News - 17 hours 23 min ago

Juneau Empire

New revenue forecast shrinks Alaska's budget deficit a bit | Juneau ...
Juneau Empire
Gov. Bill Walker will release his budget proposal for the fiscal year that starts July 1, and when he does, the state's fiscal picture will be slightly better than it was last week. On Tuesday, the Alaska Department of Revenue announced the state is ...

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New revenue forecast shrinks Alaska's budget deficit a bit - Juneau Empire

Juneau Hot Topics - 17 hours 23 min ago

Juneau Empire

New revenue forecast shrinks Alaska's budget deficit a bit
Juneau Empire
The deficit now stands at $2.25 billion, a figure that will increase in the next fiscal year because the Alaska Legislature's approved budget spends from some accounts that will be empty by July 1. Despite that increase, Tuesday's announcement is still ...

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New revenue forecast shrinks Alaska's budget deficit a bit - Juneau Empire

Legislative News - 17 hours 23 min ago

New revenue forecast shrinks Alaska's budget deficit a bit
Juneau Empire
The deficit now stands at $2.25 billion, a figure that will increase in the next fiscal year because the Alaska Legislature's approved budget spends from some accounts that will be empty by July 1. Despite that increase, Tuesday's announcement is still ...

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