Ballot effort against Kenai prison

Posted: Tuesday, May 15, 2001

KENAI (AP) -- A newly formed group on the Kenai Peninsula is trying to block a private prison proposal with an initiative it hopes to put on the October ballot.

Citizens for a Private-Prison-Free Peninsula is proposing an ordinance that would prohibit operation of a private, for-profit prison within the borough.

On Friday, James Price filed an initiative and referendum application with borough clerk Linda Murphy. If the language is approved, it will take just over a thousand signatures to place it before the voters.

''I am very anxious to get this on the ballot and get a ruling by the people, which won't be just an advisory vote, but a binding law by the people,'' Price said.

Price is prime sponsor of the effort. Mako Haggerty of Homer is alternate prime sponsor.

''If our elected officials aren't listening to the people, then I guess we're going to have to speak a little louder, and I think a vote will do that,'' Haggerty said. ''Once people get to examine the issue, I don't think there is any way this prison can fly.''

Richard Van Hatten Jr. of Kenai, one of 13 co-sponsors listed on the application, is president of the correctional officers' bargaining unit for the Public Safety Employees Association, which represents about 670 prison guards statewide. He said his involvement with the group is both personal and as a representative of the bargaining unit.

''My greatest fear -- assuming the governor doesn't veto the bill -- is that once the bill is signed into law and the borough signs the contract with Cornell, then it won't matter what any group says,'' said Van Hatten, referring to House Bill 149. That legislation, introduced by Rep. Mike Chenault, R-Nikiski, was passed by the Alaska Legislature and is awaiting a signature or veto from Gov. Tony Knowles.

The bill directs the Alaska Department of Corrections to enter into a lease agreement with the borough for the prison.

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