House backs amendment limiting judges

Posted: Monday, May 01, 2000

JUNEAU (AP) -- The state House voted Sunday to put before voters a proposal to bar judges from changing the wording on proposed constitutional amendments.

The measure also would define that a constitutional amendment is a change limited to one subject, even though it may effect multiple sections of the constitution.

The measure, itself a proposed constitutional amendment, was defeated by one vote April 21. On Sunday, it won a required two-thirds majority, 28-12.

Rep. Pete Kott, R-Eagle River, and Rep. Carl Moses, D-Unalaska, opposed the measure nine days ago but voted yes on reconsideration.

If the Senate agrees to changes made by the House, the measure will appear on the November ballot.

Sen. Dave Donley, R-Anchorage, sponsored Senate Joint Resolution 27 with 10 other senators in response to a ruling by the Alaska Supreme Court ago that tossed an amendment Donley proposed off the ballot. The court ruled in 1998 that Donley's proposal to limit the rights of prisoners was a revision of the constitution, not simply an amendment. The constitution can only be revised by a constitutional convention.

In the same decision, the court changed the wording of a different constitutional amendment aimed at banning same-sex marriage in Alaska. That measure stayed on the ballot and passed easily.

Donley said the court's action upset the balance of power between branches of government. He also said the ruling likely would have invalidated some previous amendments approved by voters.

After the House defeated Donley's proposal the first time, Rep. Lisa Murkowski, R-Anchorage, sponsored changes that refine the definition of a constitutional amendment. Her changes tie amendments to one subject. She said Donley's proposal was needed diminish confusion over the ability to amend the constitution.

''We're trying to give some quantifiers to what an amendment is,'' Murkowski said.

All minority Democrats except for Moses continued to oppose the measure.

Rep. John Davies, D-Fairbanks, said the proposal opens the door to wide-ranging constitutional changes even if amendments are limited to one subject.

He also said sponsors of the measure have overstated the effect of the court's rejection of Donley's amendment. Previous amendments passed court scrutiny, Davies said, because they were not the sweeping changes that Donley's prisoners' amendment had proposed.

''What's the problem we're trying to fix?'' Davies said.

After listening to debate, Rep. Ben Grussendorf, D-Sitka, said he would adhere to his long-standing rule of voting against changes in the constitution unless there was a clear reason for an amendment.

''When in doubt, it's best to vote no,'' Grussendorf said. ''I'm of the opinion that this body doesn't understand the consequences of what this would do.''

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