ANCHORAGE (KTUU) - The State filed an appeal to the Alaska Supreme Court Friday, over a proposed ballot initiative on salmon habitats. In September, Lieutenant Governor Byron Mallott, under recommendation from the Department of Law, declined to certify the ballot initiative saying it would breach Alaska’s constitution.
According to the Department of Law, the ballot initiative “made an unconstitutional appropriation of a state asset—anadromous fish and wildlife habitat—by initiative.” Article XI, section 7 of the Alaska constitution prohibits making or repealing of appropriations by ballot initiative, said the Department of Law.
In the “State’s Opposition to Motion for Summary Judgement,” filed in the Anchorage Supreme Court, the State argued that “the measure precludes the use of even a single waterway for a major development project. Because waters and fish are state assets, only the legislature has authority to choose between conservation and development.”
In May, the nonprofit Stand for Salmon filed an application for ballot initiative 17FSH2 to Mallott's office, arguing for a change to how anadromous salmon habitats are protected.
"The initiative proposes simple updates to Alaska's 61-year-old fish habitat permitting law by establishing clear guidelines that would bring certainty and stability to the permitting process, protecting wild salmon habitat and promoting responsible resource development in a growing and changing Alaska," said a press release, which was sent when the application was filed.
The press release also cites changes to the protection status of the Bristol Bay watershed that opened up the possibility of a Pebble Mine project.
After Mallott’s officer refused to certify the application, Stand for Salmon sued to overturn the decision and obtain petition booklets for circulation throughout the state, said the Department of Law.
Earlier this month, Anchorage Superior Court Judge Mark Rinder granted summary judgement to Stand for Salmon, finding that 17FSH2 was constitutional. Judge Rinder ordered Mallott’s office to print the booklets “and make them available to initiative sponsors no later than October 17, 2017.”
The Department of Law confirms that petition booklets have been printed and delivered to initiative sponsors.
The Alaska Attorney General Jahna Lindemuth said, in response to the superior court’s decision, that “the question of whether a proposed ballot initiative makes an appropriation is an important constitutional question that should be answered by The Alaska Supreme Court."
“We take no position on whether 17FSH2 is good policy," said Lindemuth. "This is about the superior court’s legal conclusion and our duty to defend the Alaska Constitution, and we believe the superior court got it wrong."
The Department of Law said the State “will request expedited consideration by the Alaska Supreme Court in order to provide clarity before ballots have to be printed for next year’s elections.”