Legislature(1995 - 1996)
02/05/1996 01:30 PM JUD
* first hearing in first committee of referral
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
SJR 31 VOTER APPROVAL:AK STATEHOOD ACT AMENDMENT SENATOR DRUE PEARCE, sponsor of SJR 31, gave the following history and synopsis of the legislation. The statehood compact, as entered into by the people of the State of Alaska, is an agreement that outlines our relationship with the federal government. The provisions within the agreement were designed to assure Alaskans that their rights under statehood are protected. Constituent concern about the state's role in amending the statehood compact has been expressed. Currently there is no constitutional guidance as to the proper process Alaskans should use to amend the compace. The Legislature passed AS 01.10.110 which allows, by statute, the Legislature to amend the Compact unilaterally, without bringing any proposed changes to a vote of the people. This issue has become very sensitive as the debate about opening ANWR to oil and gas development continues before Congress. The congressional legislation would give the State 50 percent of the mineral royalties. The question as to what royalty share Alaskans will accept should be decided on its merits, and should be taken to the people of the state. It would be more appropriate to answer the fundamental question of how changes should be addressed, by placing the question on the November ballot. A mechanism needs to be created by which Alaskans can accept changes to the statehood compact because other issues will arise in the future. SJR 31 is offered as a solution to the problem. She materials contained in committee members' packets which include Charles Cole's article in the Wall Street Journal regarding the lawsuit filed in 1993 against the federal government for breach of the Alaska statehood compact, a legislative update by Attorney General Botelho (#22). She noted the final brief was filed by the United States in November, and oral arguments should begin soon. SENATOR TAYLOR questioned whether the wording of the amendment would require the legislature to affirmatively act on something before the people would be asked to ratify that action. He asked if the question of whether to split the royalties 50-50 or 90-10 would be up to the people themselves, and whether the legislature would merely be supplying the vehicle for public action. SENATOR PEARCE replied that providing the vehicle means the Legislature has to affirmatively pass a resolution to put the question on the ballot, which is the only way to get to the ballot. Number 238 SENATOR TAYLOR thought SJR 31 might go beyond that because the phrase, "A law, enacted by the legislature, giving the approval of the State to an amendment of the Act...," would mean that the Legislature has voted affirmatively to approve, in this example, the 50-50 split. That split would then be ratified by the people. He suggested having the legislature pose the question of approval to the people. SENATOR PEARCE felt any legislature that puts a compact question on the ballot would do so only if the majority of legislators approve of it, however she would not be opposed to changing that language. She stated her goal is to get the question to the people. Number 343 SENATOR ADAMS disagreed with Senator Taylor's opinion of the language. Under changes made in 1976 legislation, any legislature is permitted to take action on an activity that involves the royalty split of 50-50 versus 90-10. SENATOR ADAMS felt the committee should review the legal opinion, since the 50-50 provision in the NPRA was not challenged by any Alaskan. He added that SB 200 provides for legislative action on ANWR, however is only germane to ANWR. SENATOR PEARCE commented she is personally uncomfortable placing the ANWR split before the people on the ballot until Congress has taken action. SJR 31 was drafted to fit the statutes so that it follows the same legislative approval process and adds voter ratification. AS 01.10.110 could be changed at a later date if the ballot passes. Number 369 SENATOR TAYLOR felt the question to be the vehicle by which the change occurs: either through the legislative process or through the legislature calling upon the people for approval. In the 1976 legislative vote the legislature assumed it had this power unto itself. SENATOR ADAMS asked if there are any other amendments being considered to the statehood compact at this time. No one was aware of any. SENATOR TAYLOR asked if the provision under discussion is part of the Mineral Leasing Act. SENATOR PEARCE replied affirmatively, and explained the statehood compact provided that all laws of Congress would effect Alaska as they did other states. Under the Mineral Leasing Act other western states get 50 percent of the royalties and an additional 40 percent is placed in a fund under the Reclamation Act for distribution to states for reclamation projects. SENATOR TAYLOR stated it is his sense from the outset of this issue that the appropriate way to find authority for the type of amendment being contemplated is to return to the people who gave their consent to be governed in this fashion originally. There was a significant debate on the issue of statehood itself and because the issues debated were of such magnitude it is important they be revisited. One of those serious provisions is being changed in Congress unilaterally at this time. The Governor's decision to not sue on behalf of the people for the violation of the statehood compact was disturbing since the Governor put himself in the position of being sued for failing to protect Alaska's Constitution. Senator Taylor urged the Governor to bring the issue to the people for decision, and was informed by the Attorney General of the 1976 legislation giving that power to the legislature alone. Senator Taylor believes, if challenged, that argument would fail, on the same basis that the legislature's attempts to further define and amend the constitutional budget reserve by legislative action failed before the court because the legislature does not have the power to redefine a constitutional amendment. He repeated his concern about the manner in which the vehicle created in SJR 31 brings a vote to the people. The true debate is whether the legislature will make the decisions about amending the statehood compact, or whether those decisions will be placed before the people that consented to be governed in this way in the first place. Number 425 SENATOR PEARCE explained that there is a basic misunderstanding in Washington, D.C. about the compact lawsuit before the court. The state has already sued on 90-10. The Governor has said that if Congress passed 50-50, he would drop that portion of the lawsuit. To date, the Administration has not done so. She added that conversely, Alaskans may want to change the compact themselves, at some point in time. In such a case, Alaska would move first and then ask Congress to approve the action. She did not foresee the legislature taking a position on an Act and placing it before the voters. SENATOR TAYLOR stated to get it from us to them, some would argue that the legislature would unilaterally be able to speak for the people. Conversely, it is conceivable that the state could tell Congress it wants a 95-5 split. SENATOR PEARCE felt that requiring both legislative approval and voter ratification would eliminate that problem. SENATOR TAYLOR stated the committee will have to take a serious look at the attorney generals' opinions that have been rendered over the last several years, as well as the 1976 law. SENATOR PEARCE commented that the actions taken on NPRA are the weak link in the statehood compact lawsuit, if one exists. DAVID BATTENBERG, representing the Northern Alaska Environmental Center in Fairbanks, testified in support of voter ratification of amendments to the statehood compact, regardless of whether the amendment pertains to ANWR. He commended Senator Pearce for her work on SJR 31. SENATOR TAYLOR announced the committee would hold a worksession on SJR 31 next week, and hopefully move it from committee at that time. SENATOR ADAMS asked that the committee request a legal opinion on the legislation passed in 1976 in regard to the statehood compact. SENATOR TAYLOR agreed to do so.