New session, old resolution

Posted: Sunday, February 18, 2001

JUNEAU -- It's an annual winter exercise for lawmakers, crafting a resolution urging Congress to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil and gas development.

So far it hasn't worked. Resolu-tions are simply statements of opinion, not law, and the refuge remains closed.

But lawmakers continue passing the measures on ANWR and other politically popular topics, especially at the beginning of legislative sessions when more substantive bills haven't made it through committees yet.

This year legislators have asked the National Collegiate Athletic Association not to take action that could endanger the Top of the World Classic and the Great Alaska Shootout basketball tournaments.

They've urged Congress, President George W. Bush and Governor Tony Knowles to work to overturn the Clinton administration's roadless policy in the Tongass and Chugach National Forests.

They've asked the governor to declare November as Avalanche Awareness Month.

And the Senate on Friday urged Congress to fully fund the operational readiness and recapitalization requirements of the U.S. Coast Guard.

Sen. Kim Elton, D-Juneau, calls the measures ''political puffery.''

''We could be doing an awful lot more on issues that are important if we kind of pushed to the side political statements on issues that we have no control over,'' Elton said.

''You show resolve when you don't have anything else to show, anything substantive to show,'' said House Minority Leader Ethan Berkowitz, D-Anchorage.

But Rep. Peggy Wilson, R-Wrangell, said she thinks resolutions do matter in Washington, D.C., where many of them are directed.

''They hear a lot, they get lots of individual concerns, but if a state can pull together as a whole and the state Legislature sends something, that tells them much more than if just one person tells them something,'' Wilson said.

She's on five committees, three subcommittees and three caucuses and said she wouldn't have spent time sponsoring a resolution on the roadless policy if she didn't think it could make a difference. The policy banning road-building in the Tongass hurts the already suffering timber industry in Southeast Alaska, she said.

''Economically, my district is struggling,'' Wilson said. ''It's like somebody that is drowning and we're just crying out for help any way we can.''

Resolutions often take positions that are widely accepted by Alaskans and are approved with near unanimity. No one in the Senate opposed the idea of funding the Coast Guard.

And Sobriety Awareness Month and African-American Citizen Recognition Month likely won't draw any no votes either.

''It trains the Democrats in the minority to vote yes,'' joked Senate Majority Leader Loren Leman, R-Anchorage.

He's pushing five resolutions, ranging from expressing support for repealing the federal marriage tax penalty to asking the Air Force to deploy F-22 Raptor aircraft at Elmendorf Air Force Base.

The congressional delegation at times has asked for the Legislature to indicate its support on issues, Leman said. U.S. Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska, sought the statement of support for the Coast Guard funding, he said.

Elton believes the measures get the same attention in Washington as correspondence that comes to his desk from Alaska communities. If his home district sends him something, he pays attention. If a community elsewhere sends him a resolution, it'll go in a file. Maybe it will come out again, and maybe it won't.

Despite his frustration with the measures, Elton plans to introduce a resolution himself.

He wouldn't say what the topic will be, but said it's an issue worth the Legislature's attention.

He also acknowledged that as a minority Democrat, he probably won't be able to push it through.

''If you define that as a waste of time, I would agree,'' Elton said.

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