Legislature(1995 - 1996)
02/22/1996 09:43 AM FIN
* first hearing in first committee of referral
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
SENATE JOINT RESOLUTION NO. 31 Proposing an amendment to the Constitution of the State of Alaska relating to voter ratification of legislative approval of amendments of the Alaska Statehood Act affecting an interest of the State of Alaska under that Act. Testimony was given by the sponsor of the resolution, Senator Drue Pearce. She referred to a close association with the Legislature last year in working on the ANWR issue in attempting to get Congress to make the right decision in opening the ANWR to oil and gas leasing. This constitutional amendment would attempt to answer any questions regarding what has to happen in order for Alaska to accept any amendment to the statehood compact. There has to be some way that the action can be amended either through the legislature by law or through a vote of the people. She referred to AS 01.10.110 and read it into the record. There is concern in the Legislature and people around the State that we should never allow just the Legislature to accept a change; it should always go to a vote of the people. SJR 31 would put a constitutional amendment on the ballot this November that would put in our constitution an order to accept a change to the Statehood Act. It would only become effective after the Legislature passed a resolution putting the question on the ballot and a majority of the people in the State had voted in the affirmative. She advised, after checking with the drafter of the resolution, the language "qualified voters" means voters who actually went to the polls and not a majority of all eligible voters in the State. Senator Phillips wanted to know if there was a better way to phrase this and Senator Pearce advised that this was the standard language. The key word is "qualified" which means that they came to the election and voted. Senator Phillips expressed concern this was a constitutional amendment and care must be taken. Senator Pearce suggested Mr. Chenoweth could be contacted to see if there was clearer language. Senator Rieger asked if there was discussion about the word "legislates" on page 1, line 9. Senator Pearce advised that this was language changed by the Judiciary Committee and the chairman of that committee would have to be asked if he discussed the matter with Mr. Chenoweth. Senator Rieger also asked about "affects an interest" and if that is different from "altering an interest". Senator Pearce said that the "affects" language was taken directly out of the statehood compact and mirrors the language in AS 01.10.110. Senator Frank said he is also concerned about the wording and asked that if the Legislature adopted a resolution and then it was ratified by a vote of the people, is that right? Senator Pearce said that it is the process set forth in this amendment. Senator Frank said that it should be reworded and the people of the State of Alaska should get to make the choice and then it could be followed up with a requirement that a resolution has to be forwarded to the people by the Legislature so that it is clear. If it was made more clear to the people it would be more well supported by them. Senator Pearce again said that Mr. Chenoweth could provide more comfortable language. The chairman of the Judiciary Committee had an interest in putting something on the ballot without the Legislature ever acting like it affirmed the action. But the Legislature will always have the responsibility to put the question on the ballot. If the Legislature does not then they have turned down an amendment without the people ever voting on it. People would be pleased that they had the opportunity to vote before a change could be accepted. Senator Donley said he did not know how the judiciary language would work. Senator Pearce said that the Legislature has to pass a resolution to put the question on the ballot. Discussion between Senator Pearce and Senator Donley followed regarding two-thirds and majority vote for passage of the joint resolution. Senator Pearce said that it was her intent that if the Legislature chose not to put the question on the ballot then the Legislature has not accepted the change. Senator Donley commented that if the question is put on the ballot it has to be in the form of the affirmative. The Legislature has to act to give its approval. Further discussion followed regarding what form could be used to put the amendment on the ballot. Senator Donley felt the question should be posed in a neutral manner. Senator Pearce further advised that she has been told by her caucus that Alaskans will never accept any change regarding the state compact act and Senator Phillips concurred. Senator Rieger asked if there would be a situation where there might be a ratification of a proposed change before there is a law enacted by Congress. Senator Pearce said no because the statehood compact is a Federal document. The State cannot amend it. Only Congress can. We want to be able to assert our right to deny their changes. There would be no question to put before the people if Congress acted on something before the Legislature passed it. The Legislature can always ask the Congress to do something they ask without the vote of people. Co-chairman Halford asked if there were a hurry to make something effective is the limitation to a general election something necessary? Senator Pearce said perhaps not and that leeway should be given to include a special election. Co-chairman Halford believed that "at the next general election" could be deleted and it would essentially then be a "general or special election" and would still require a majority of the registered voters voting on the question. Senator Zharoff wanted to know if this was consistent with other states and Senator Pearce said there may be other states that have had court suits over their statehood compacts. Senator Zharoff asked at what point does Federal law supercede State law? Senator Pearce said that Congress does not have the power to supercede our compact with the Federal government. The compact called for a vote of the people of Alaska before it was accepted. From the compact case whether or not the Feds can do something to us without our approval is the whole point. Congress said they have superceded in many cases and it's their law. She indicated she would be willing to work with those members and Mr. Chenoweth who have brought up questions regarding specific language and try to clarify them. Senator Phillips said that he generally agreed with the intent of this constitutional amendment. In 1958 the voters in the territory of Alaska approved the statehood compact act and it would take the voters to undo it, not us. In this case the voters have absolute jurisdiction. Co-chairman Halford will HOLD SJR 31 for further discussion and asked Senator Pearce for a proposed CS.