University lands bill veto gets overridden

Legislators rescind failed effort; sick lawmaker tilts balance

Posted: Sunday, April 23, 2000

It took calling a sick Rep. Ramona Barnes from her bed to the House floor Friday to override Gov. Tony Knowles' veto of a university lands bill.

``I feel terrible,'' said the Anchorage Republican. ``When I woke up this morning, I couldn't talk.'' Bronchitis was the cause of her discomfort, she said. But once called in for the veto-breaking vote, she decided to make a day of it.

Barnes was called in after a first effort to override Knowles' veto of Senate Bill 7 failed by one vote - 39-20. Sen. Rick Halford, a Chugiak Republican, called for legislators to rescind their vote, and the joint session was halted. More than two hours later, Barnes appeared, the vote was taken again and the Legislature went back to work on bills.

This time, the override vote was 41-19, with Rep. Beverly Masek, a Willow Republican, switching from her initial ``no'' vote.

Environmentalists said the way they look at it, the veto was not overturned.

``We are actually quite pleased with the outcome of the vote,'' said Sue Schrader of Alaska Conservation Voters.

Her organization maintains the bill is actually an appropriation bill because it gives the university state resources as a mean to raise revenues. Overrides to appropriation bills require a three-quarters vote, and the override was four votes short of that.

Overrides of most bills require a two-thirds majority of both houses.

``We'll investigate the possibility of a lawsuit,'' said Tom Waldo, an attorney with EarthJustice Legal Defense Fund.

He said the Alaska Supreme Court has twice held that voter initiatives proposing to give away state lands are appropriations.

Wrangell Republican Sen. Robin Taylor, the bill's sponsor, said the environmental groups are wrong. The Supreme Court cases, he said, dealt with proposals to give state land to individuals, while SB 7 is a transfer of land from one government entity to another.

The bill allows the University of Alaska to select 250,000 acres of land to use to raise money.

``It's a conveyance between two departments,'' said Taylor. ``The title doesn't change. It's still the state of Alaska.

``This is all baloney coming out of the environmental organizations desperately trying to find some way they can put a stop to it. It doesn't have any basis in fact or law.''

Rep. John Davies, a Fairbanks Democrat, voted for the bill when it first passed the House, but voted against overriding the veto. He drew an angry response from Taylor for his change of heart.

``My concern is I think if you get the bill on an override, you have the administration not very enthusiastic about it,'' Davies said. Environmental groups would also drag their feet, making the program hard to implement.

Davies said a few weeks ago he was close to having an agreement specifying exactly which tracts of land would be transferred to the university, an approach he said would have eliminated a lot of the opposition to the bill.

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