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Alaskans might need passport for flights, military base access

If state lawmakers don t pass new legislation soon, Alaskans may not be able to use their State of Alaska driver s license to fly or access military bases. That s because of the Real ID Act passed by Congress in 2005, designed to create minimum security standards for all state ID cards nationwide. Now, 12 years later, the Alaska Department of Administration says Alaska is one of five states left that have not implemented the new system. States that have enacted the measure include a yellow star in the corner of the license. The stamp means a person s identity is confirmed through a stricter process.

The only thing that Real ID demands that we do is validate the information that a person gives to us, said Department of Administration Commissioner Sheldon Fisher. So, if they give a birth certificate, we have to validate that that birth certificate is, in fact, valid in another state; if they give us a passport, we have to validate that that passport is valid.

Alaska is one of the few states that doesn t already do this. The Alaska Division of Motor Vehicles will have to start issuing real IDs by June or Alaskans could run into trouble.

They will no longer be able to enter a federal installation without Real ID compliant identification, Laurie Hummel, Adjutant General for the Alaska National Guard and Commissioner of the Department of Military and Veterans Affairs, told reporters last month. The same soon goes for boarding flights, according to the Department of Homeland Security[1]. Governor Bill Walker has introduced legislation to allow Alaskans to choose whether to get a Real ID or keep their current state driver s license. The Alaska Department of Administration estimates implementing the Real ID Act will cost the state $1.5 million. Walker s House Bill 74[2] proposes a $25 fee for the new license to help cover that cost.

But the measure has received pushback from both sides of the aisle. Representative DeLena Johnson (R-Palmer) sponsored a resolution[3] urging congress to drop the act entirely. She and 37 other House members agree the federal government should not push new costs on to the state.

I m just not quite ready to go there yet and pay for the privilege, Johnson told reporters at a press conference last month. $1.5 million in the time when we re trying to reduce our budget. I mean it s time to just kind of push back on that. Some legislators are also worried about the security of Alaskans data.

In terms of data, we currently store data and we will continue to store data. We don t share that stored data with others and nothing changes, said Fisher of the concern.

The House finance will take public testimony on the HB 74 Tuesday at 4:30 p.m.

For a complete list of Real ID compliant documents, click here. [4]


  1. ^ according to the Department of Homeland Security (
  2. ^ House Bill 74 (
  3. ^ a resolution (
  4. ^ click here. (

Chemical leaks prompt protective gear talks

Two recent incidents involving anhydrous ammonia leaks in Princeton are prompting local officials to consider better protecting the emergency responders who deal with such situations. Princeton City Council members were briefed on the leaks, at the Agrichem facility on U.S. 62 West, by Princeton Fire and Rescue Assistant Chief Brent Thompson. Anhydrous ammonia, a widely-used nitrogen-based farm fertilizer is stored under high pressure in a liquid state.

When released from compression, its temperature drops to minus 28 degrees Fahrenheit, enough to freeze-burn skin on contact, and to freeze clothing to the skin. In addition, the chemical, which contains no water, will seek out water or any moist areas, including living tissue.

When anhydrous ammonia contacts water, it forms ammonium hydroxide. Living tissue is dehydrated quickly and the cells destroyed on contact, a report from the North Dakota State University Extension Service states. The alkali formed in the reaction also causes serious chemical burns.

Anydrous ammonia is extremely destructive to animal tissue, the NDSU report notes.

Skin is reduced to a sticky, gooey substance as the chemical burn progresses. Skin that is chemically burned by the ammonia actually is killed and is not capable of healing or replacing itself.

The chemical also vaporizes quickly. A cubic foot in its liquid state produces 855 cubic feet of ammonia gas. Exposure to high concentrations can cause serious injury and death.

It s a hazardous material that we have to deal with when these things happen, Thompson told the council Monday.

Anhydrous is a very dangerous chemical, and we have a very large distribution plant, he said. The chemical is transported to Agrichem by rail and transferred to a large storage tank.

In January, fire and rescue personnel responded to the plant for an anhydrous leak that occurred when a valve was inadvertently opened during a transfer. The two leaks during the weekend were attributed to faulty tank seals, Thompson noted. The assistant chief extended appreciation to the Princeton Police Department for officers assistance in shutting down U.S. 62 around the plant during the leak responses.

Police Chief Don Weedman, in turn, credited the fire department s quick response for keeping the impact of the leaks to a minimum. At the same time, he said, the personnel responsible for stopping the leak need better protective equipment. Ideally, level A hazmat suits would be used, Thompson noted.

The suits offer the highest level of protection against chemical exposures. At one time, the local department had access to such suits, when post-9/11 federal Homeland Security funds were directed to states to form hazardous materials/weapons of mass destruction response teams. Kentucky had 14 such teams, and Caldwell County served as host county for the Pennyrile region s team, known as HazMat-2.

The grant money dried up, and everybody s hazmat teams have gone away, Thompson told the council.

Princeton had 10 level A suits at one time, provided through the federal grant, but they had a five-year shelf life, and replacing them would cost in excess of $1,500 each, he added.

Those did expire, and because of the cost, we did not buy new ones. Now, Paducah is the nearest city with level A suits. The local fire department has level B suits, which are less expensive but also offer less protection.

In the recent incidents, responders used their regular turnout gear and taped down the openings around their boot cuffs and gloves to guard against exposure to the chemical. Several of the department s firefighters have completed hazardous material technician training, and fire officials hope to train the remainder of the department as well.

We need to get the rest of them up to that level, said Thompson. An initial 40-hour training is required, as well as a 24-hour recertification every two years.

Barring another agency stepping in to handle such hazmat incidents, the responsibility for future responses will remain a local one.

It s basically up to the fire departments now if we re going to do this or not, Thompson told the council. It s not going away.

For public safety’s sake, Governor Justice was right to veto budget bill

As a history buff, I have long believed that we should learn from the good and bad decisions of the men and women who preceded us. We have all known people who feel they can get another year out of their 30-year-old roof that s leaking, or a few more miles from a set of bald tires. Such decisions invite bad outcomes. The budget that legislators had proposed for the West Virginia Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety is even more dangerous than placing a bucket under the leak or leaving bald tires on your daughter s car. Both need to be fixed or you risk facing expensive and dire consequences. The budget approved by the Senate and House of Delegates, which was then vetoed by Governor Justice, would have resulted in a $9.4 million reduction for Military Affairs and Public Safety when compared to what the governor had introduced.

West Virginia s Division of Corrections would have been hit with $7.2 million of that budget cut, at a time when it struggles to recruit and keep employees and has hard-working, full-time employees who qualify for government assistance. Our correctional facilities, meanwhile, await a combined $100 million worth of repairs to roofs that should have been replaced or fixed years ago, among other structural issues. The Division of Corrections has shifted money meant for unfilled positions to pay its operating bills since 2010, to make up for the lack of funding in that part of its budget. This presents a danger to public safety and represents the worst scenario of kicking the can down the road. At the heart of this situation are the lives of correctional officers and inmates. I have traveled the world, and can declare with confidence that the West Virginia National Guard is the best of the best. The work that they have performed, for example, in response to natural disasters speaks for itself. Rightfully, they are heroes to the flood victims in West Virginia. They need money to refit and repair and to prepare for the next disaster, but instead would have received a $478,409 reduction in their budget.

Just as lawmakers talked about helping our correctional officers, only to cut their budget, our legislators discussed giving our State Police enough money for a new cadet class and then delivered to them a nearly $1 million budget reduction. Other offices and agencies within Military Affairs and Public Safety were to receive reductions totaling $660,572. These included the West Virginia Intelligence Fusion Center, which works with law enforcement both here and across the country, and the Homeland Security State Administrative Agency that helps first responders throughout West Virginia obtain needed equipment and training. Both agencies were formed after 9/11 to prevent terrorist attacks and have been very successful. To cut the budgets of these agencies is very risky. I submit to the citizens of West Virginia that a roof with holes in it is fine until it rains, but public safety does not have the luxury to place buckets under its problems and wait for the repairman. Public safety is the repairman. We cannot allow anything to hinder the repairman, because he or she needs to respond 24/7 and be at peak performance.

(Jeff S. Sandy, CFE, CAMS, is secretary of the Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety.)