Court nixes state ballot language on Legislature move

Posted: Thursday, August 08, 2002

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- The state must rewrite the ballot language for an initiative that proposes to move legislative sessions out of Juneau, the Alaska Supreme Court has ruled.

In a 3-2 decision handed down Wednesday, the court ruled the ballot language approved by the lieutenant governor is biased and paints the measure in an ''unnecessarily negative light.''

The decision means the state will have to change the language before the Nov. 5 election.

Ken Jacobus, an attorney for the sponsors of the initiative, called the ruling a victory. But Win Gruening, head of the Juneau-based Alaska Committee, which opposes the measure, said the decision changes little.

''It's much to-do about nothing,'' he said.

The measure sponsored by Alaskans for Efficient Government seeks to move legislative sessions to the Matanuska-Susitna Borough or Anchorage. The measure also repeals part of the so-called FRANK initiative, which mandates the state provide estimates of the cost of moving the Legislature and requires voter approval of those costs before a move can happen.

At issue in the lawsuit was how the state summarized the latter part of the measure on the ballot.

The challenged ballot stated ''the bill would repeal the requirements that before the state can spend money to move the Legislature, the voters must know the total costs as determined by a commission, and approve a bond issue for all bondable costs of the move.''

The sponsors argued the wording made it appear the group was trying to hide the costs of the move.

The court agreed a person could interpret the phrase -- ''as determined by a commission'' -- to imply that the costs had already been determined and were being kept secret.

The justices suggested rewriting the language to read ''the voters must be informed of the total costs as would be determined by a commission, and approve a bond issue for all bondable costs of the move.''

Jacobus said he was unsure whether the sponsors would support the language suggested by the judges. Co-sponsor Mark Chryson referred calls to Jacobus and another group member who could not be reached for comment.

The two justices who dissented in the ruling disagreed the state's summary casts the measure in a negative light and argued the court was interfering where it should not.

''The subtlety of the court's changes suggests that the court is not being as deferential as it should be,'' they wrote.

Lt. Gov Fran Ulmer said in a statement that the ballot language change is relatively minor and could be easily done within the required 100-word limit imposed by law.

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