Alaska Digest

Posted: Sunday, January 11, 2004

Legislative reception to start earlier

JUNEAU - Sponsors of Juneau's reception for legislators on Tuesday have moved the starting time from 5:30 to 5 p.m.

The event will run until 7 p.m. at Centennial Hall. The public is welcome.

The starting time was changed because Gov. Frank Murkowski is scheduled to address the Legislature at the Capitol at 7 p.m.

Native issues forum set for Wednesday

JUNEAU - Tlingit-Haida Central Council's first Native issues forum of the new legislative session is scheduled for 11:30 a.m. Wednesday at ANB Hall in Juneau.

Guest speakers are Ed Thomas, president of Tlingit-Haida Central Council, and Edgar Blatchford, commissioner of the state Department of Community and Economic Development.

Legislature backed over UA lands bill

ANCHORAGE - The Legislature can grant the University of Alaska a 250,000-acre land endowment, the state Supreme Court ruled Friday.

Justices reversed a Superior Court decision that disallowed the grant - approved in a law nearly four years ago - ruling that the land was not an "appropriation." However, the court declined to make a ruling on whether the law granting the land was a "dedicated fund" and sent that issue back to the Superior Court.

Under the Alaska Constitution, with some exceptions, "the proceeds of any state tax or license shall not be dedicated to any special purpose."

The decision mostly resolves a bitter fight in 2000 between a Republican-controlled Legislature and former Gov. Tony Knowles, a Democrat.

Sponsor Robin Taylor, then a Republican senator from Wrangell, said development of the land would give the university a stable source of income.

The university at the time had 112,000 acres in its land endowment, the second smallest in the nation among land-grant universities.

Knowles said it was an inefficient and unsuccessful way to secure reliable funding for the university. Knowles said the bill would complicate state management, contribute to significant land use conflicts and lead to years of litigation. He vetoed Taylor's bill, but lawmakers overrode the veto.

Knowles immediately released an attorney general's opinion that said the bill was an appropriation, which requires a three-fourths vote by the Legislature to override.

The state Alaska Legislative Council, controlled by a Republican majority, sued.

UA spokesman Bob Miller said the university is not looking for immediate riches from the decision. He said the land conveyance process could take as long as 10 years.

"At best it will be 20 to 25 years before modest financial impacts will be generated," Miller said.

Senator-initiative signatures turned in

JUNEAU - Sponsors of an initiative to require special elections when a vacancy occurs in a U.S. Senate seat said they turned in petitions with more than 50,000 signatures Friday.

State Division of Elections officials said a preliminary count showed sponsors met the minimum requirement of collecting 23,286 signatures. The division stopped counting after reaching 24,000 names.

Elections staff have 60 days to review the petitions to make sure those signing are registered Alaska voters and that there are names from at least two-thirds of the state House districts.

The initiative was sponsored by a group called Trust the People, which was set up by three Democrats in the House - Reps. Eric Croft and Harry Crawford of Anchorage and David Guttenberg of Fairbanks.

If approved by voters, the initiative would allow unexpired U.S. Senate terms of 2 1/2 years or less to be filled by special election, rather than by gubernatorial appointment. Unexpired terms of more than 2 1/2 years already are filled by election.

Sponsors filed the initiative application after Republican Gov. Frank Murkowski appointed his daughter, Lisa, to the U.S. Senate seat he vacated last year.

Karen Compton, initiative coordinator for Trust the People, said the group gathered more than the required number of signatures because typically some names are thrown out as illegible, duplicates or belonging to people not registered to vote.

The same group also sponsored an initiative application to reverse changes in campaign finance laws made by the Legislature last year, but Compton said they've only collected about 18,000 names on that one.

The group will continue to circulate that petition, hoping to get the measure on the 2006 ballot, she said.

Groups hoping to change state law through ballot initiatives this year must turn in petitions to the Division of Elections by the start of the legislative session Monday.

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