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AK Beat: Mid-size businesses get extension to comply with health care law

Alaska Dispatch

Mid-size businesses given another year to comply with Affordable Care Act: The White House has delayed implementation of the employer responsibility of the Affordable Care Act for some businesses, according to final regulations released Monday. Companies with between 50 and 99 full-time employees will not have to provide coverage for their workers until January 2016. Originally slated to begin this year, the date was pushed back late last year to 2015, and has now been pushed back again to 2016. Large employers, with 100 employees or more, will still need to offer coverage to 70 percent of full-time employees in 2015, and up to 95 percent the next year. Businesses with fewer than 50 employees do not need to provide coverage to their employees under the law.

Juneau journalist reportedly axed over ethics debate: The Juneau Empire has lost another state government reporter following a disagreement over coverage. KTOO reports that Empire reporter Jennifer Canfield was asked by publisher Rustan Burton to set up a meeting between himself and Rep. Mike Hawker over House Bill 275, which would allow municipalities to post public notices to their own websites instead of in newspapers, representing a loss of revenue to print publications. Burton also asked Canfield to report on the meeting, according to KTOO. Canfield -- a former employee of Alaska Dispatch -- objected to the idea on ethical grounds, and was reportedly fired the next day. Burton insisted that her objections to facilitating the meeting were not the reason for the split, saying "a decision had been made long before there was ever anybody asking for a meeting with Hawker." Canfield is the latest in a series of reporters to leave the Empire in recent years, the only daily newspaper in Alaska's capital city. Alaska Dispatch's Pat Forgey left the Empire in 2012, and his replacement, Andrew Miller, quit after one day, saying the work environment was "dysfunctional," according to KTOO. Burton took over as publisher last year.

Pebble Partnership property torched: Ten plastic totes belonging to the Pebble Partnership were reportedly intentionally set on fire at Pebble's incinerator site in the Alaska community of Iliamna, Alaska State Troopers said on Monday. The fire occurred on Feb. 1, and the Pebble Partnership reported it to troopers on Feb. 3, spokesperson Megan Peters said. The totes were valued at $1,000 apiece, and were completely destroyed, troopers write. Some wiring at the site also suffered heat damage from the fire. The Pebble Partnership is working toward development of the proposed Pebble Mine, a contentious project that has put environmentalists and mine proponents at odds.

Seeking capital for ivory mining: The trade in mammoth ivory is becoming big business. According to a Bloomberg report, more than 60 tons of the stuff changed hands globally last year, with single tusks fetching as much as $250,000. Those figures come from Peter Taylor, a mining engineer who served with a South African company until recently. Taylor is now seeking investment capital for a company that will “bring modern mining techniques to the search for the Ice Age creatures. Hunting for the remains was like exploring for alluvial gold, he said.” Alaska and Siberia, with their melting permafrost are prime regions for Taylor’s company --which believes there are as many as 140 million mammoth remains waiting to be dug up -- to target. The company is pitching the venture as a benign alternative to the global trade in elephant ivory, which, despite a worldwide ban, results in the poaching deaths of 22,000 pachyderms last year. But some critics say it merely burnishes the image of ivory driving demand for both fossil ivory and its illicit counterpart higher.

Begich a member of "class of Obama?" A Los Angeles Times report examines the reelection bids of eight Democratic senators that it says were “swept into office partly on Barack Obama's 2008 coattails.” Alaska’s junior senator, Mark Begich is numbered among that group. The story makes the case that these senators -- in swing states, or traditional Republican strongholds -- are most vulnerable to defeat, especially since this year’s election doesn’t have the race for president on the ballot. Republicans are seeking to pick up at least six seats, a number that would allow them to control the Senate. But New York’s Democratic Senator (and chair of the party’s senatorial campaign committee in 2008) says the group might be les vulnerable than conventional wisdom holds: “Obviously an off-year election is more difficult. But each of them has a good record of accomplishment and each of them is a more savvy politician today than they were then,” he said. Whether that’s true or not, Begich has been acting as though Obama’s a liability, or at least not an asset, the piece notes. “Begich, who frequently notes that he won his 2008 race even though Obama lost Alaska, distanced himself further from the president after last month's State of the Union address, expressing ‘disappointment’ and warning Obama against going ‘too far’ in issuing executive orders,” the Times wrote.

Slick trails make for fast Iditasport finish: The reborn Iditasport -- a 200-mile human-powered endurance race from the historic Iditarod Trail community of Knik to Skwentna and back -- was over in less than 24 hours this weekend thanks to the Southcentral Alaska's snow-short winter. The lack of snow that has the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race thinking about moving its March 2 restart north from Willow to Fairbanks proved a boon for the cyclists in the Iditasport. They found hard, fast trail on the historic run across the Susitna Valley to the Yentna River, and then an ice highway along the river north to Skwentna. Iditasport winner Kevin Murphy of Anchorage was back at the start-finish line just 22 hours and 13 minutes after leaving. His average speed was more than 9 mph, not bad for a fat-tired bike, with its inherent rolling resistance. Iditasport runner-up Bill Fleming came in only seconds behind Murphy. New this year after an absence of more than a decade, the race attracted about a dozen riders. It was dedicated to the late Rocky Reifensthul of Fairbanks, a legend in the early days of Iditasport. The Susitna 100, a shorter race for cyclists and runners, has about 100 entrants slated to take off from Iditarod musher Martin Buser's Happy Trails Kennel near Big Lake and loop the Su Valley this coming weekend. A companion Little Susitna 50 has about the same number of competitors. Both races are expected to be smoking fast in the cold.​