A ballot initiative aimed at protecting salmon habitat has cleared a significant hurdle on its track to making a November state election ballot, according to a Tuesday report from the Division of Elections.
The controversial “Stand for Salmon” initiative, as it’s known, would create a more stringent permitting process for development projects on salmon habitat in Alaska. Opponents, many of them in resource extraction industries, say it’s bad for business. Supporters say they’re streamlining a 60-year-old law in an attempt to protect Alaska salmon.
Both sides of the issue are now one step closer to clashing on a Nov. 6 general election ballot: the initiative has satisfied its major signature requirements in an ongoing review from the Division of Elections.
DoE is currently reviewing each of Stand for Salmon’s 43,706 signatures. To pass the review, Stand for Salmon needs only 32,127 signatures or 10 percent of those who voted in the previous general election. As of Tuesday, 38,694 signatures were verified.
“I would say that we’re excited but not surprised that we were able to collect the required number of signatures,” Stand for Salmon Director Ryan Schryver said in a Tuesday phone interview.
Alaska law also requires a certain percentage of signatures come from 30 of the state’s 40 House districts. That requirement has also been met, per DoE’s report.
The review process has a 60-day deadline for completion. Signatures for Stand for Salmon were submitted on Jan. 16, Schryver said, so the review should be finished mid-March.
Once finalized and approved, more hurdles stand in the way before Alaskans will get to vote on it. It’ll next find its way to the desk of Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott, who will have to approve the initiative before it’s printed on the ballot.
Mallott previously declined to certify the initiative when it was initially applied for on Sept. 12, 2017, citing concern that it is unconstitutional because it effectively spends state resources without going through the Legislature. It’s one of the few legal reasons Mallott can cite when declining to certify a ballot initiative.
He cited a September 2017 Department of Law review which found the initiative unconstitutionally appropriates state resources without going through the legislative process. Money or resources — in this case, habitat — can’t be spent without approval by the Legislature, according to the Alaska Constitution.
Stand for Salmon tweaked the initiative’s language and reapplied. The law department again found the same problems. But Stand for Salmon appealed that ruling in the state superior court, which found the initiative doesn’t violate the constitution.
Mallott and the Division of Elections filed an appeal in October of last year to that ruling. That appeal is still being decided upon in court.
“We’re confident that the initiative language is line with the Alaska Constitution and that the supreme court will allow Alaska to weigh in,” Schryver said of the ongoing litigation.
• Contact reporter Kevin Gullufsen at 523-2228 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at @KevinGullufsen.