Empire editorial: Thumbs, some up, others down

Posted: Sunday, March 09, 2003

Thumbs up to Juneau-Douglas High School's student-scientists. Experiments presented at the Southeast Alaska Regional Science Fair in Juneau earned the top awards and trips for four students to Cleveland, Ohio, to compete in the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair.

Senior Carl Brodersen won first place for a pollution-detecting experiment with mussels; junior Nellie Olsen claimed second place for assessing whether lichens can be used to indicate air quality; and sophomores Carly Garrison and Lindsay Perkins took third place for testing the relationship of free water streams and the distribution of mussels.

Thumbs up, too, to the corporations and local businesses who donated prizes and helped pay for the students' trip to Cleveland, to UAS for providing a tuition scholarship, and to more than 90 mentors and judges who helped stage the fair.

Five-member JDHS teams also won first and second place at the Alaska Region National Ocean Sciences Bowl in Seward. The top team won tuition waivers to UA Fairbanks while the runners-up get tuition waivers to attend UAS. The first-place team of Chris Frank, Natalie Hale, Holly Rhoden, Josh Finley and Colin Conerton will travel to La Jolla, Calif., for the National Ocean Sciences Bowl finals.

The JDHS teams had tied and competed against one another in a playoff to determine which group would claim the title and trip to California. Members of the runner-up team include Philip Morin, Stephan Ashe, Colleen Windom, Lou Taylor and Neil Steininger.

Thumbs down to a bill introduced in the state House that would change the definition of "lobbyist" so radically that 80 percent of the current crop of political persuaders would be exempt, i.e., they no longer would be considered to be lobbyists. Obviously, anyone who spends 40 hours a month lobbying lawmakers on behalf of causes and clients is, in fact, a lobbyist. The public needs to know who the lobbyists are and who they represent. That's part of open government, full disclosure and accountability. This would change under the House bill that provides up to 40 hours a month of lobbyist-legislator contact before the lobbyist has to register with the Alaska Public Offices Commission. The only thing worse would be a plan in the Senate that would give lobbyists 80 hours with lawmakers before any registration or disclosure was required.

Thumbs up to bills in the Alaska House and Senate to increase the financial liability of parents whose children commit costly acts of vandalism. Right now, a vandalism spree that generates a six-figure damage total puts parents of the young crooks on the hook for no more than $10,000. That's not enough. Lawmakers will have to decide whether to increase the ceiling on parental liability or to remove it altogether.

Thumbs up to the effort led by Rep. Bill Williams of Saxman to require ballot initiative petitions to have more proportional representation from across the state. That may sound undemocratic on the surface. After all, a citizen is a citizen no matter where he or she resides, right? Yes, but, when a state's population is concentrated as much as is Alaska's, the residents of that population center more easily are able to impose their will on everyone else across the state. Williams wants sponsors of ballot initiatives to collect signatures from three-quarters of the state's 40 House district and he wants the signatures collected from each district to equal 7 percent of the number of votes cast in the most recent election in that district. Passage would mean Juneau has a better chance of retaining the capital. Nuff said.

House Speaker Pete Kott's left and right thumbs may be locked in mortal combat over the future of the state's permanent fund dividend. Kott says creating the dividend program was one of the worst mistakes Alaska ever made. He says it is considered a "sacred cow" and an "entitlement" by many Alaskans. Kott says that's a mistake - the dividends are not an entitlement. Something must be done, says Speaker Kott. Eliminate the dividend program? Gosh, no, it's too important to the state's economy, he concedes. Ending it would be an embarrassment to the current Legislature and to the state. We wouldn't want the Legislature to embarrass itself. Levity aside, the board of the permanent fund advanced a solid proposal two years ago to inflation-proof and level the fund payout. It still deserves the strongest consideration of our lawmakers.

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