Voters may get to decide taxes, pot, cruise-ship fees

Posted: Wednesday, June 25, 2003

JUNEAU (AP) Alaska voters going to the polls in 2004 may get their say on taxes, bear baiting, cruise-ship fees, the draft and decriminalizing marijuana.

But they won't get to vote on seceding from the United States. The lieutenant governor's office turned down that proposal last week.

Lt. Gov. Loren Leman has certified two other proposals one to ban bear baiting and one to set up a task force to study exempting Alaska from the draft but has yet to decide on three other initiative applications filed this year.

Once an initiative application is certified, its supporters still must collect 23,286 signatures to get the measure on the ballot.

Citizen-initiated bills usually stem from dissatisfaction with something the Legislature has done or failed to do.

Karen E. Bretz of Anchorage is backing a proposal to require voter approval or a 75 percent legislative majority to impose new taxes or increase existing ones. Bretz said she and other sponsors were inspired by talk in the last legislative session of sales or income taxes or raising the tax on motor fuel.

''We felt these taxes would fall disproportionately on the average Joe,'' Bretz said. ''We think that the people who are going to be taxed should have some voice in it all.''

The proposed initiative includes license and permit fees and other user fees that are similar to taxes.

Dissatisfaction with the Legislature's record in dealing with cruise ships led to a proposed initiative that would tax the ships and require them to get environmental permits. It's sponsored by Joe Geldhof, Gershon Cohen and Karen Jettmar.

Another idea the Legislature would likely never touch a measure to decriminalize marijuana is backed by Linda Ronan, Georgia Mario and Timothy J. Hinterberger.

They propose that production, distribution and consumption of hemp products not be prosecuted, although they'd allow the state to regulate ''hemp intoxicating products'' as it does alcohol and tobacco.

George R. Pollard, John E. Erickson, and former Lt. Gov. Lowell Thomas Jr. are sponsoring a measure to ban baiting or intentionally feeding bears.

Scott Kohlhaas, state chairman of the Libertarian Party, is pushing a proposal to require a state task force to study exempting Alaska men from federal requirements that they register for the draft.

Kohlhaas and fellow Libertarians Leonard Karpinski and Billy Toien also put forward the proposal that Alaskans vote on seceding from the union.

But that can't be done by initiative, said Sarah Felix, an assistant attorney general, whose advice prompted Leman to reject the proposal.

The state and federal constitution and court rulings limit the things citizens can do through the initiative process, and seceding from the union isn't one of them.

''Basically what they're seeking to do is amend the federal constitution and also to amend the state constitution,'' Felix said.

The initiative says if a vote on secession is not legal, the state must seek statutory and constitutional changes that would authorize a secession vote. But that language does not fix the basic problem with the initiative, Felix said.

Kohlhaas said he intends to appeal the state's decision in court.

There's no deadline for filing initiative applications, but citizens aiming to get proposals on the 2004 general election ballot would be wise to have them filed already, initiative veterans say.

It can take a few months to get an application through the Department of Law. Then, supporters must collect 23,286 signatures by Jan. 12, 2004, when the next legislative session starts.

That's a job best done in the summer, Kohlhaas said, when state fairs, bluegrass festivals and similar events are going on.

''Petitioning is the art of taking advantage of someone else's crowds,'' Kohlhaas said.

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