Searching for words to condemn hate

Capitol Notebook

Posted: Sunday, April 22, 2001

There's no love-in on the hate crimes conference committee.

Despite the seemingly straightforward task of condemning the recent paint ball attacks on Natives in Anchorage, the committee made little if any progress Friday on settling differences between the House and Senate on a proposed resolution.

Actually, it's pretty remarkable that a resolution even has to go to conference.

Resolutions, which have no force of law, typically express basic sentiments on broad issues. The fact that the Senate made changes to the House-passed resolution that representatives couldn't live with is testament to some kind of philosophical divide between the bodies, even though both are controlled by Republicans.

During the initial meeting of three representatives and three senators charged with finding a compromise, the semantic hair-splitting inspired Rep. Ethan Berkowitz, an Anchorage Democrat, to make comparisons with the Clintonian parsing of "is."

The main stumbling block is the Senate's addition of the word "unlawful" in describing the "discrimination" that the resolution would condemn.

Sen. Jerry Ward, an Anchorage Republican, said he supported that addition because there are "legal and appropriate forms of discrimination." For example, as an Alaska Native and a Vietnam veteran, Ward noted he is entitled to 160 acres of state land, which Gov. Tony Knowles, a non-Native vet, is not.

Sen. Bettye Davis, an Anchorage Democrat who is the chamber's first African-American woman, said that's "apples and oranges."

By referring only to "unlawful discrimination," the resolution would imply that the Legislature doesn't condemn bigotry that isn't a crime, Davis said. "Why would you allow children to have that concept?"

Ward said that if his grandchildren use racial epithets on a school playground, "It's not right. They will get spanked. But it's not against the law."

Berkowitz said Ward and Sen. Pete Kelly, a Fairbanks Republican, were straining to find definitions of discrimination that, in context, "don't make sense." In this case, discrimination means "prejudice," or an "irrational hatred," said Berkowitz, who consulted a dictionary during the one-hour exchange.

House Majority Leader Jeannette James, a North Pole Republican who presided over the meeting, said that she had hoped for a consensus among the group, to offset previous rancor in the Legislature. Otherwise, there should be a "free" conference committee appointed that wouldn't be forced to choose between the existing House and Senate versions, she said. James' solution would be to say "racial discrimination," but she said that option isn't now available because the exact phrase isn't in either version.

"Personally, I am embarrassed. ..." James said. "I think we're drawing attention to this issue. ... I want to do something that makes us stop looking like boobs."

Ward then moved to adjourn the meeting.

The House Resources Committee Friday passed Juneau Rep. Beth Kerttula's newly strengthened cruise ship bill, the second panel to do so in 24 hours.

The discussion was fairly brief, given that the bill would make Alaska the first state to enact a marine discharge standard for cruise ship graywater.

The committee tweaked it to make it clear that the Department of Environmental Conservation could enact regulations to implement the pollution-reporting requirements in the bill, although it's still unclear if DEC could charge the industry a fee.

Cruise executives didn't testify. Representatives of the industry met privately Friday with Knowles, who told them that his more comprehensive bill, requiring a state permit for cruise ships and charging a $1 per passenger fee, is still "must-have" legislation this year, said Knowles spokesman Bob King.

Quote marks:

"Does that mean when you propose those, you become a target?" - Rep. John Davies, Fairbanks Democrat, commenting on "targeted taxes"

"Let me tell you, this is not a cakewalk out there. ... I've had a little bit of a personal wake-up call." - Rep. Lisa Murkowski, Anchorage Republican, on her bill for an alcohol tax increase

Bill McAllister can be reached at

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