Tense debate precedes vote on paintball resolution

Posted: Thursday, April 12, 2001

JUNEAU (AP) -- After a tense, angry debate Wednesday, the Senate voted 16-2 in favor of a narrowed version of a House resolution condemning recent paintball attacks on Alaska Natives in Anchorage.

It passed only after the Senate amended the measure to condemn only ''unlawful'' discrimination, a change that raised the ire of some senators.

The measure is in response to an incident earlier this year in which three young white men videotaped themselves shooting paintballs at Alaska Natives in downtown Anchorage. The measure condemns the act and calls for the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights to investigate that and similar incidents.

Sen. Loren Leman, R-Anchorage, said the word ''unlawful'' needed to be added to the measure because some forms of discrimination are legal, such as providing state aid based on income or allowing people to vote and drive based on age.

Sen. Pete Kelly, R-Fairbanks, pointed to services or privileges only Natives receive such as Indian Health Services care and ownership of shares in Native corporations as examples of lawful discrimination.

Democrats in the Senate objected to the change.

Sen. Bettye Davis, D-Anchorage, said it's obvious from the context of the resolution what kind of discrimination it refers to. She said some forms of discrimination such as name-calling are legal, but nevertheless hurtful, and the Legislature should condemn them as well.

Sen. Georgianna Lincoln, R-Rampart, agreed.

''I just bothers me that we're wordsmithing here,'' Lincoln said. ''I knew what discrimination was the first day I went to school and I went home crying to my mother and she didn't talk to me about lawful discrimination.''

But Sen. Jerry Ward, R-Anchorage, said he couldn't vote for the resolution without the change because he didn't want to be condemning thoughts or words that are ''politically incorrect'' but not illegal.

The amendment nearly failed on a 10-9 vote, but Sens. Drue Pearce, Kelly and Gary Wilken changed their votes from no to yes and it passed. Sen. Alan Austerman, R-Kodiak joined Democrats in voting against it.

An amendment by Davis to add language asking that schools be active in eliminating discrimination failed.

Sen. Gary Wilken, R-Fairbanks, and Sen. Lyda Green, R-Matanuska-Susitna Borough, voted against the resolution itself.

Green said doesn't believe the problem is anything government can fix.

''It's what's in the heart that's going to change people,'' Green said. ''It's not a resolution of words.''

Wilken said he was voting against it because he didn't think it was the Legislature's role to get involved. He compared it to a drunken-driving accident last year that killed prominent Juneau residents and said the Legislature didn't pass a resolution condemning that. Rather, it allowed the justice system to take care of it, he said.

''My 'no' vote does not mean I condone racism,'' Wilken said. ''What troubles me is this is not the place for a Legislature. This is not the place for us to ring in.''

Davis said the Legislature should speak out, and she was surprised the issue even needed to be debated.

''I thought we'd be able to vote on it without any discussion,'' Davis said.

Lincoln said the paintball incident made news because it was videotaped, but it's not an isolated case. The Anchorage Police Department has records of 81 bias-motivated crimes between 1983 and 2001, against people of 10 different groups, including African-Americans, whites and Natives, Lincoln said.

Wilken gave notice that he might bring the measure up for reconsideration Thursday, at which time members could change their votes.

If the resolution passes in its current form, it will have to go back to the House, which will vote on whether to accept the changes.

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