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March 24: Fairbanks Daily News-Miner on fish and wildlife laws by initiative:

Posted: Monday, March 27, 2000

The Alaska Constitution for more than 40 years has prohibited its citizens from passing initiatives to make law on certain subjects. During this time, never has there been a public outcry that these restrictions are undemocratic or were imposed by arrogant delegates who didn't trust the people.

So why are we hearing such an outcry this year, when some Alaskans are advocating a similar constitutional ban on making fish and wildlife law by initiative?

The Alaska Constitution contains an entire separate article (XI) on the subject of initiatives (making law by public vote) and referendums (repealing existing law by public vote).

The Constitution says both initiatives and referendums are permissible, but the use of neither tool is open-ended.

''The initiative may not be used to dedicate revenues, make or repeal appropriations, create courts, define the jurisdiction of courts or prescribe their rules, or enact local or special legislation,'' the Constitution states.

In addition, the Constitution states, ''the referendum shall not be applied to dedications of revenue, to appropriations, to local or special legislation, or to laws necessary for the immediate preservation of the public peace, health or safety.''

In addition, the Constitution itself cannot be amended by initiative.

So why did the framers of our Constitution place all these restrictions on our right, as people of the state of Alaska, to vote on the actions and structure of our own government? Is it because they were disdainful of the wisdom of the people?

Not exactly, but they did recognize that some subjects were best left to a deliberative rather than democratic process.

''Generally speaking, Alaska's (constitutional) convention delegates were ambivalent about direct democracy, for while they authorized it on the one hand, they greatly restricted its use on the other,'' observed constitutional scholar Gordon S. Harrison in the 1986 edition of his book ''Alaska's Constitution: A Citizen's Guide.'' ''Constitutional hedges on the use of the initiative and referendum reflect faith on the part of convention delegates in the wisdom and responsibility of the legislature, fear on the part of some delegates that these devices would be exploited by special interests for their own narrow purposes, and outright suspicion by others of the passions and impulses of the voters.''

So today we have before us a resolution in the Legislature that would add another area of lawmaking -- fish and wildlife management -- to those that our Constitution exempts from amendment by initiative.

The question is not whether this resolution is some kind of assault on our system of government. By firmly established precedent, it is not.

Rather, the principal question today is whether Alaskans think initiatives are an appropriate way to make laws affecting fish and wildlife management.

Let's find out. The Legislature should let Alaskans vote on a constitutional amendment to ban initiatives that try to dictate fish and wildlife law.



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