Legislature(1999 - 2000)

03/29/1999 01:40 PM FIN

Audio Topic
* first hearing in first committee of referral
+ teleconferenced
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
HOUSE JOINT RESOLUTION NO. 3                                                                                                    
Proposing an amendment to the Constitution of the State                                                                         
of Alaska relating to initiatives regarding natural                                                                             
resources belonging to the state.                                                                                               
REPRESENTATIVE CON BUNDE stated that the purpose of the                                                                         
proposed amendment would be to raise the bar for the passage                                                                    
of all natural resource ballot initiatives.  HJR 3 would                                                                        
require a natural resource initiative to obtain a two-thirds                                                                    
vote in order to pass. Raising the bar for management of                                                                        
resources would encourage that scientific data, both pro and                                                                    
con, become available to the public on issues.                                                                                  
Representative Bunde wanted to see that resource management                                                                     
be well reasoned and based on sound scientific principles.                                                                      
He recommended that Alaska should try to avoid the                                                                              
proliferation on initiatives that have plagued other states                                                                     
and that we maintain access to natural resources.                                                                               
Recently, the Alaska Supreme Court in the Brooks vs. Wright                                                                     
case, Opinion No. 5066, January 15, 1999, found that the                                                                        
legislature does not have exclusive law-making powers over                                                                      
natural resources and that management of the State's natural                                                                    
resources could be an appropriate subject for an initiative.                                                                    
Representative Bunde pointed out that Alaska's historic                                                                         
voter turnout is not a good credit reflection.  The number                                                                      
of people that vote in an election is relatively small in                                                                       
comparison to the number of registered voters.  HJR 3 would                                                                     
prevent resource management from being dictated by the                                                                          
"majority of the moment".                                                                                                       
Representative Bunde believed that Alaskans can not properly                                                                    
maintain resources if they do not participate in the                                                                            
process.  He emphasized that Alaska is an "Owner State" and                                                                     
should have a stake in assuring that a clear majority                                                                           
manages resources.                                                                                                              
Representative Austerman pointed out that when the fish                                                                         
initiative was placed before voters' two years ago, it was                                                                      
"thrown out" by the Courts indicating that the "initiative                                                                      
process" would not be the best avenue from which to allocate                                                                    
resources.  Representative Bunde noted that the case which                                                                      
he had referenced was the wolf snaring initiative.  The                                                                         
Supreme Court stipulated that the Legislature does not have                                                                     
the sole authority in the management of resources.                                                                              
GEORGE UTERMOHLE, ATTORNEY, LEGISLATIVE LEGAL AND RESEARCH                                                                      
SERVICES, LEGISLATIVE AFFAIRS AGENCY, referenced the fish                                                                       
initiative case, Helen vs. Palmer, in which, the Supreme                                                                        
Court stated that the constitutional provision prohibited                                                                       
initiatives dealing with the subject of appropriations.                                                                         
That was applicable to the initiative which attempted to                                                                        
provide a preference for an allocation of fishery resources.                                                                    
In the purpose of that constituitonal prohibition against                                                                       
initiatives, the Court found that the State had sufficient                                                                      
interest in ownership of the fish and game resources, that                                                                      
the allocation or granting of a preference to that fisheries                                                                    
resource would be an appropriation and was therefore,                                                                           
prohibited by the Constitution.                                                                                                 
During the deliberations on that initiative, the Court                                                                          
raised the issue that it could be prohibited by the                                                                             
provisions of Article 8, stating that the "Legislature                                                                          
'shall' provide for the conservation, utilization and                                                                           
development of the resources of the State".  That was the                                                                       
issue litigated in the Brooks vs. Wright case.  The Court                                                                       
found that indeed, fish and game matters were proper                                                                            
subjects for initiatives and could be addressed by the                                                                          
Mr. Utermohle commented that the Brooks vs. Wright case did                                                                     
not disturb the decision in the fish initiative case,                                                                           
stating that fish and game initiatives which involve                                                                            
appropriations were not appropriate to change, however, the                                                                     
Legislature could deal with other fish and game issues.                                                                         
Co-Chair Therriault questioned if that meant that the Courts                                                                    
had left the concern of whether "methods and means" would                                                                       
rise to the level of appropriation.  Mr. Utermohle replied                                                                      
that had been the issue before the Court in the Brooks vs.                                                                      
Wright case.                                                                                                                    
Representative Grussendorf pointed out that since 1960,                                                                         
there has been twenty-nine initiatives.  Of those, only five                                                                    
addressed the area of natural resources.  He pointed out                                                                        
that most of those initiatives were defeated.  It appears                                                                       
that voters have been able to track initiatives and that                                                                        
they have voted according to their conscience.                                                                                  
Representative Bunde pointed out that in other states, there                                                                    
has been a growing number of initiatives and that the                                                                           
passage of even one "bad" could negatively affect the                                                                           
allocation of resources.                                                                                                        
Representative J. Davies commented that the Court case                                                                          
clarified that those allocations are clearly off limits.                                                                        
The Courts have stipulated that certain allocations such as                                                                     
means and methods would be okay.  The uncertainty stems from                                                                    
combining the mixture of the two. Representative Bunde                                                                          
corrected his previous statement commenting that he should                                                                      
have used the term "management".                                                                                                
Co-Chair Therriault inquired why the resolution had not used                                                                    
the two-thirds bar to the list of restrictions.                                                                                 
Representative Bunde did not believe that the public would                                                                      
support the two-thirds bar.  If an initiative was to happen,                                                                    
it should be reflective of the majority of citizens.  He                                                                        
added that he was concerned with an all resource harvest and                                                                    
that should be managed on a scientific basis, not as a                                                                          
popularity contest.                                                                                                             
Representative Grussendorf asked if there was a way in which                                                                    
the problem could be addressed so that citizens would not                                                                       
feel disenfranchised.  Mr. Utermohle explained that the                                                                         
Constitution provides for an initiative and for the                                                                             
Legislature to provide for an amendment to the Constitution.                                                                    
It would be within the scope of the Legislature to make an                                                                      
amendment to this effect.  He advised that the power of the                                                                     
Legislature is restricted to making an amendment to the                                                                         
Constitution.  That provision would make a "sweeping change"                                                                    
to the Constitution and would be considered a revision.  At                                                                     
present, there is no basis to determine whether or not                                                                          
prohibiting people from voting on matters such as a natural                                                                     
resource initiative would be considered by the Courts to                                                                        
constitute a revision.                                                                                                          
Representative Bunde pointed out that the Alaska Supreme                                                                        
Court outlined four items in the Brooks vs. Wright case and                                                                     
that HJR 3 meets that criteria.  He questioned at what point                                                                    
would this become a "sweeping change".  Representative Bunde                                                                    
argued that the proposal would not require a constitutional                                                                     
HJR 3 was HELD in Committee for further consideration.                                                                          

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