Sen. Lisa Murkowski sat down with KTVA's John Thompson to speak about U.S. Attorney General William Barr’s decision to declare a law enforcement emergency in rural Alaska, the Pebble Mine Project and her recent support of the Lower Health Care Costs Act of 2019.

Interview highlights

Rural law enforcement emergency

Murkowski joined the attorney general in Bethel and Napaskiak on his visit to rural Alaska in June.

“In that village, I think he saw what we had been talking about. What he had been hearing, what it means to be a community with no viable means of law enforcement, no public safety,” Murkowski said.

There are just three Village Public Safety Officers serving the Bethel region, according to Murkowski. She says part of the reason for the lack of law enforcement in Alaska villages is because there aren’t many who want to get into the field.

“Primarily it’s because they’re funded just bare minimum, and again, have difficult jobs,” she said.

Murkowski says another part of the problem is the minimal training aspiring VPSOs and other law enforcement can receive.

“So much of the $6 million that will be made immediately available is to go for training,” she said. “Whether it’s to facilities outside the state or potentially training here, more of a regional training opportunity.”

Along with the $6 million from the Department of Justice, another $4.5 million will go toward officer recruitment. A separate $162,000 from the Bureau of Justice Assistance will be made available for a Project Neighborhoods site.

Murkowski also asked for federal help to examine the wave of missing and murdered indigenous women, in Alaska and other parts of the country. She says a key component of the investigation is finding data.

According to Murkowski, she is working with the U.S. Senate's Indian Affairs committee and the Department of Justice to build off of Savanna's Act and the Not Invisible Act to collect data on missing, murdered and trafficked indigenous women. 

Pebble Mine Project

In April, Sen. Murkowski urged the Army Corps of Engineers to extend the comment period for the Pebble Mine Project to an additional 30 days. The public comment had already been 90 days.

“We have to be ensured as Alaskans that the process that the process that would allow for exploration and permitting is a fair and honest, and transparent process,” she said.

According to Murkowski, she says those working on the draft environmental impact statement did not allow for enough time for public comment, which is why she requested the extension.

The Pebble Mine Project would sit on an environmentally sensitive area, Murkowski said. The Bristol Bay watershed has one of the largest salmon runs in the world and opponents of the project say the mine would jeopardize 14,000 commercial fishing jobs.

“I’m not willing to trade one resource for another,” Murkowski said. “I’m not willing to trade the mineral for the fish. Both must be able to stand on their own, and if the Pebble Mine can’t be permitted because it will harm the fisheries, it shouldn’t be permitted.”

The public comment period for Pebble Mine ends on July 1.

Health care

Murkowski recently voted in favor of the Lower Health Care Costs Act of 2019. The legislation looks at several health care solutions which aim to lower health care cost, increase access to care and promote drug price transparency.

In 2017, Murkowski voted against a partial repeal of the Affordable Care Act also known as Obamacare. She says the legislation put forward then focused on who could qualify for care.

“I have always said that the fight should not be about who has coverage and who doesn’t have coverage, and how much does everyone get to buy with that coverage” she said. “If we can reduce the cost of our health care, then maybe we can afford our health care insurance.”

The legislation puts provisions in place which would require companies to provide justification for increasing the cost of their product. The act also tackles what Murkowski called “surprise billing” for services such as air ambulance services and medevac.

What’s next

“What we have seen in terms of nicotine to children has not been through smoking of cigarettes,” Murkowski said. “It’s been through the vaping, the e-cigarettes. It has exploded.”

She says this is because of the way the products are marketed to children with kid-friendly flavors like cotton candy.

“Anybody that would tell me that those flavors are designed to attract an adult is not being honest,” she said.

Murkowski says the provision has bipartisan support and would increase the age to buy tobacco products from 19 to 21.

 

Correction: An earlier version of this story stated the public comment period for Pebble Mine ended on June 29. It ends July 1.

Copyright 2019 KTVA. All rights reserved.

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