Gov. Sarah Palin on Monday signed into law a bill to re-establish a discharge program for small cruise ships. OK, so it's not a big issue for people in the Interior, but the reason she was signing the bill in the first place is something of note for people in this part of the state and elsewhere. The governor was called upon to sign the bill because, as her media advisory for the day's events put it, the discharge program "was inadvertently repealed by last year's cruise ship initiative."
And therein lies the problem with making laws, especially complex ones, by initiative.
Citizen initiatives are, by their nature, driven more by emotion and are less subject to the scrutiny that comes in the Legislature, where an idea on most occasions must pass through two committees in the House, two committees in the Senate and be subject to broad questioning on the floor of each chamber. The legislative process doesn't always catch every problem with an idea, and sometimes the legislative process can actually introduce a problem. But going through the Legislature should be the preferred route for making laws.
Gordon Harrison, in his "Alaska Constitution: A citizen's guide," explains why the founders of the Alaska Constitution went along with the idea of the initiative but only with limitations on its allowable use. The limits, Mr. Harrison writes, "reflect an underlying faith in the efficacy of legislative deliberation, fear on the part of some delegates that the initiative and referendum would be exploited by special interests for their own narrow purposes, and perhaps outright suspicion by others of the sudden passions and impulses of the voters."
The worries of convention delegates might be seen, by some, in current initiative efforts. Others, though, will see a clear need for the law or laws being proposed. Among the topics that could find their way on to the ballot next year: amending the certificate-of-need law so that it applies only to long-term nursing home beds and residential psychiatric treatment centers; public funding of campaigns for state office; exempting Alaska from daylight-savings time. A measure prohibiting the use of aircraft in the shooting of wolves and grizzly bears has already qualified for the August 2008 ballot.
It's likely that one and maybe more of those current ideas came from people infused with deep passion. And because of that, Alaskans should want their legislators to be ready to fix any flaws in laws enacted by the people through initiative.
That's why the governor found herself signing a corrective measure on Monday.