Supreme Court reins in governor and Legislature

Posted: Sunday, April 22, 2001

JUNEAU (AP) -- A ruling by the Alaska Supreme Court Friday could have a major impact on the battle over anti-abortion language in the Health and Social Services budget bill.

Lawyers on both sides agree the decision means the governor won't be able to simply veto language in the Senate bill that would halt spending for the entire department if a judge ruled some of it had to go for abortions.

The lawyer who argued the case for Gov. Tony Knowles thinks the ruling probably also makes it unconstitutional for the Legislature to put the abortion language in the bill.

But an attorney for the Legislature said that's not how she reads it.

The issue before the court was whether Knowles could veto language in a 1997 appropriations bill -- and whether the Legislature could put that language in the bill in the first place.

The justices ruled the governor's line-item veto power in appropriations bills doesn't allow him to veto intent language without vetoing the dollars that go with it.

''Upholding these vetoes would give the governor the power to spend appropriated monies without observing limitations enacted by the Legislature,'' Justice Robert Eastaugh wrote. ''This would permit a de facto re-appropriation.''

However, the court ruled that in three of five disputed sections of the budget, the Legislature was also wrong to put the language in the bill. That violated a constitutional prohibition against making substantive law in an appropriations bill, the justices decided.

''The upshot of the case is the Legislature won part, and we won part,'' said Assistant Attorney General Jim Baldwin, who argued the governor's case.

Baldwin and Pam Finley, an attorney for Legislative Legal Services, agree the decision means the governor can't veto the anti-abortion language in the Senate version of this year's budget.

They have different interpretations of the court's decisions on the Legislature's power to put such language in budget bills, though.

The court found that legislative language tying three Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute appropriations to a requirement that no high-level employees be based out of state didn't pass constitutional muster.

For one thing, the appropriations involved didn't fund those high-level positions, so the court found the language wasn't germane. The court also ruled that the language placed too much of a limit on executive branch staffing decisions.

Baldwin believes that means this year's anti-abortion language is invalid because it also is not germane to the appropriations it's attached to.

''It's appended to every appropriation made to the Department of Health and Social Services, so it's appended to appropriations that have nothing to do with abortion services,'' Baldwin said.

Finley said that's not how she reads it. She said the facts in the 1997 case are not similar enough to the current budget issue to say how a court would rule.

''That's going to have to be decided on a case-by-case basis,'' Finley said.

In fact, the court's decision on one of the other appropriations might help support the Senate's language, Finley said.

The court let stand language in which the Legislature prohibited halfway house money from being spent on programs run by municipalities. The court said that was valid, partly because it was necessary to explain the Legislature's intent about how the money was to be spent.

The Legislature also appropriated $400,000 for an inmate treatment program in Valdez, where costs didn't exceed a certain amount.

The court said the language appeared to merely describe the way the Valdez program was run, so it wasn't an attempt to make substantive law. That reversed the decision on that issue by Superior Court Judge Thomas M. Jahnke. The justices essentially left the rest of Janhke's ruling intact.

An attorney for Legislative Legal Services expressed doubt earlier this month about the constitutionality of the Senate abortion language.

In response to a query from Sen. Lyman Hoffman, D-Bethel, attorney Terri Lauterbach wrote, ''In my opinion, a court could easily find the above (anti-abortion) language unconstitutional as an attempt to enact substantive law in an appropriation bill.''

The Senate Finance Committee put the anti-abortion language in the budget out of frustration with a court ruling that the state must pay for abortions for poor women if it also pays for maternity services.

Whether the Senate language will end up in the bill sent to Knowles isn't yet decided. A House-Senate conference committee has been meeting to work out differences in the two budget bills.

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