Voters may decide whether to ease restrictions on changing constitution

Measure may go on the November ballot

Posted: Thursday, February 24, 2000

The state Senate wants to change the Alaska Constitution to make it easier to change the constitution.

Senators voted 14-5 Wednesday to place a constitutional amendment on the ballot next fall allowing constitutional revisions to be made by legislators, with approval of the voters. Sen. Rick Halford, a Chugiak Republican, gave notice of reconsideration, so the measure could be up for another vote in the Senate today.

Currently, the constitution says changes so significant as to be considered revisions must be made by a specially called constitutional convention.

The resolution approved Wednesday is in response to an Alaska Supreme Court decision two years ago that threw one proposed constitutional amendment off the ballot and changed another one.

Sen. Robin Taylor, a Wrangell Republican, said the decision represented ``the high-water mark of arrogance'' by the court.

It makes it difficult for the Legislature to deal with constitutional issues at all now, he said, including proposals to change the constitution to allow a rural preference for subsistence.

The amendment thrown off the ballot was a proposal by Sen. Dave Donley to reduce rights of prisoners in Alaska. Donley, an Anchorage Republican, is the primary sponsor of Senate Joint Resolution 27, which would allow the Legislature to propose constitutional revisions.

The court said the changes in prisoners' rights proposed were not just amendments, but revisions to the state constitution, so they required a constitutional convention to be convened. Donley said the court was encroaching on the power of the Legislature with its decision.

``They manipulated the language of one ballot proposition and they just simply denied the rights of Alaskans to vote on another,'' he said.

The court changed the wording of a ballot proposition defining marriage as between one man and one woman.

Five Democrats, who are in the minority in the Senate, voted against Donley's measure.

``SJR 27 represents a power grab by this majority against the Supreme Court and the people of Alaska,'' said Sen. Johnny Ellis, an Anchorage Democrat.

Revising the constitution now is a power reserved to a convention of delegates elected specifically for that task by the voters, he said. ``I think people see that power of the people as very precious.''

In a memo to Donley, the attorney general's office said the power to revise the constitution is reserved for a convention ``because the Legislature generally lacks ability to focus time to consider the constitution as an organic whole.''

After leaving the Senate, the resolution will have to be approved by a two-thirds majority of the House before it goes to voters.

However, the attorney general's office warned the change proposed would itself be subject to court challenge because it would be a revision to the constitution.

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