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As a student of government, I have always found the structure of local government in Alaska to be very interesting. The concept of an “unorganized” borough is intriguing. I believe the use of the term “unorganized” was inappropriate and creates confusion about what the Unorganized Borough is.

The Alaska Constitution says, “(t)he entire State shall be divided into boroughs, organized or unorganized.”

Contrary to the bumper stickers that were so popular in our area prior to the borough formation vote some years back – and which still can be seen on a few vehicles – we are in a borough.

The Constitution doesn’t address what is unorganized about the Unorganized Borough. In fact, it is very organized.

Article X Section 6 of the Alaska Constitution states, “(t)he legislature shall provide for the performance of services it deems necessary or advisable in unorganized boroughs, allowing for maximum local participation and responsibility. It may exercise any power or function in an unorganized borough which the assembly may exercise in an organized borough.”

Not much different from what you would find in an organized borough.

We have an assembly, but they have just chosen not to meet and make decisions specific to the Unorganized Borough – until now. I believe most of us in the Unorganized Borough have been comfortable with our assembly not meeting on our behalf. We’re really not looking for more laws to govern our activities.

So what happened? Some of our fine Senators on the Senate Finance Committee, in their zealous attempt to undo the will of the people with regard to the public initiative to legalize marijuana, have done an end-run to accomplish their goal for as much of the state as possible, regardless of the will of the people.

Senate Bill 30 is “(a)n Act relating to controlled substances; relating to marijuana; relating to crimes and offenses related to marijuana and the use of marijuana; relating to open marijuana containers; relating to established villages and local options; relating to delinquent minors; making conforming amendments; and providing for an effective date,” which passed the Senate last week.

As best as I have been able to determine, this is the first attempt by our assembly to enact laws specifically for the Unorganized Borough.

Have we begun a slippery slope to create laws specific to our Unorganized Borough?

One of the issues raised with the borough vote – that was overwhelmingly defeated – was the question of maximum local participation.

Where is the local participation, as required by the Constitution, in having the legislature, as our assembly, enact a law that has minimal opportunity for local input? I expect most people in the Unorganized Borough have no idea the legislature is our assembly, much less that they have decided to exercise that authority.

Also, the Constitution uses the term unorganized borough in the plural sense, indicating there should be multiple unorganized boroughs. Without multiple unorganized boroughs, there is no local participation.

If you are concerned with our assembly (i.e., the Alaska Legislature) beginning to exercise specific actions over the Unorganized Borough, you have an opportunity to express your concern with this proposed action by our assembly by going to the local Legislative Information Office during public testimony on SB30 in the House Judiciary Committee. Public testimony is scheduled for committee meetings on April 8, 9, and 10. Judiciary Committee meetings start at 1 p.m. For more information, call the LIO at 895-4236.

Michael Paschall is editor and publisher of the Delta Wind and can be contacted at editor@deltawindonline.com