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U.S. Senator Mark Begich was in Homer over the weekend to provide an update on what’s happening in Washington, DC. He also spent his time during the town hall forum to talk about his expectations for Alaska.

A crowd of about 50 people gathered at the Kachemak Bay Campus Sunday afternoon to connect with the senator. Begich started out discussing the most recent announcement from the United States Postal Service regarding ending Saturday mail delivery, the need for Congress to tighten the purse strings on federal coffers and the upcoming March 1 sequestration deadline, which is when a series of automatic spending cuts go into effect unless Congress acts to prevent them.

About 100 people rallied in Sitka to protest what they see as the first step in introducing scientifically modified animals into the American diet. For Southeast Alaska, it’s especially worrisome because the area depends largely on fishing for its livelihood.

Lance Preston owns and operates a boat called, “The Sea Boy” in Sitka. He’s made a living as a fisherman since 1993 and says these new fish could bankrupt Alaska.

Legislation to ban sale or shipping of genetically modified salmon in the United States, and to require that such products be labeled as genetically engineered was introduced in the U.S. Senate Feb.7 by Sen. Mark Begich, D-Alaska.

“Alaska has been supplying the world with nutritious salmon for decades,” said Begich, who chairs the Senate Subcommittee on Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries and the Coast Guard. “We cannot afford to experiment with the world’s largest wild salmon stocks without the certainty that these fake fish won’t pose a serious environmental risk, especially to wild salmon and their habitat.

“I’m introducing these bills to prevent against science experiments on the plates of Alaska families,” he said.

Sen. Mark Begich is co-sponsoring legislation aimed at improving mental health care in this country.

The proposal is an expansion on a measure that Begich proposed last year to improve mental health services on college campuses but that died with the last Congress. The new plan has drawn bipartisan support, which Begich said should help the measure gain traction.

The measure, entitled the Mental Health First Aid Act of 2013, has eight other original co-sponsors, including three Republicans — Sens. Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire, Roy Blunt of Missouri and Marco Rubio of Florida.

“Senator Mark Begich has worked tirelessly for Alaska’s children and the employees that work in Alaska’s schools”, stated President Ron Fuhrer. “NEA-Alaska’s PACE members endorsed Begich in 2008, and were proud to do so again. Senator Begich is accessible to all Alaskans and we stand ready to work hard to ensure he will continue to be in the Senate to protect Alaska’s interests.”

Three reasons the committee stated for endorsing Begich included:

1. His deep understanding of the unfunded mandates and problems with ESEA (NCLB).

2. He co-sponsored the repeal of Social Security’s GPO (Government Pension Offset) and WEP (Windfall Elimination Provision).

3. He stays in touch with Alaska’s teachers and education support professionals.

During the holidays the Food and Drug Administration issued its environmental assessment concluding that the fish, tweaked to grow at least three times faster than normal, will not have any significant impacts on the human environment and is unlikely to harm wild stocks. The FDA’s environmental green light is the last step before AquaBounty, the creators of so called Frankenfish, can send the mutant to markets. The public has until Feb. 26 to send comments to the FDA.

Alaska Sens. Mark Begich and Lisa Murkowski have written to the FDA asking for a 60 day extension to the comment deadline, citing the holiday timing and new transitions in Congress. Senators from Washington, Oregon and Maryland also signed on to the comment extension request. No word yet on if the request has been granted.

Alaskan U.S. Senators Mark Begich and Lisa Murkowski are asking the FDA for an extension on the public comment period for the FDA’s Environmental Assessment (EA) of so-called “frankenfish”.

The fish in question are genetically modified, farm-raised salmon engineered by AquaBounty Technologies. They are designed to reach marketable size considerably faster than natural salmon through manipulation of the fish’s genes.

The FDA’s assessment resulted in a Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI) by the fish on the environment or human health.

On December 28th, the Senate voted heavily in favor of a five-year extension of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act Amendments Act, known as FISA. That’s quite a mouthful, but the most familiar aspect of the legislation is well-known to any American who follows Washington politics, warrantless wiretaps. The Senate voted 73 to 23 in favor of the extension. Among the 23 opposed were senators Mark Begich and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska.

Begich was joined by sixteen other Democrats in voting against extension, while Murkowski was accompanied by only Rand Paul of Kentucky and Mike Lee of Utah in rejecting the five-year extension among Republicans. KTNA contacted Senator Murkowski’s office to gain an understanding of why the senator joined the heavily Democratic opposition to FISA extension.

Alaska’s U.S. senators say they oppose an executive order that would give members of Congress a pay raise.

Sen. Mark Begich said on his Facebook page Sunday that the American people don’t get an automatic pay raise, and neither should members of Congress. Sen. Lisa Murkowski said she supported the congressional pay freeze that has been in effect and will work to keep this raise from taking effect in 2013. In an interview Monday, she said she was “stunned” to learn of the executive order, and said she would ask President Barack Obama to rescind it.