- Associated Press - Monday, July 21, 2014

Here is a sampling of editorial opinions from Alaska newspapers:

July 20, 2014

Fairbanks Daily News-Miner: Supreme Court decision expands tribal jurisdiction

Friday’s decision by the Alaska Supreme Court that tribal courts have jurisdiction in child custody cases when one of the parents does not belong to the tribe is a landmark in the hotly contested issue of tribal sovereignty. In the case, parents Edward Parks and Bessie Stearman sought to overturn the Minto Tribal Court’s ruling that their child should be placed in foster care. The tribal court had held that the children were better off out of Parks and Stearman’s custody because of a history of domestic violence in the home.

The state joined the case on the side of Parks and Stearman, arguing the state superior court and not tribal courts had jurisdiction since Parks was from Stevens Village and not Minto. But the state Supreme Court ruled that since both Stearman and her child were registered as members of the Minto tribe, that court did indeed have authority to rule in the case. The decision is a big win for those seeking more tribal autonomy in justice issues, and goes farther in granting authority to tribal courts than at any previous point in the state’s history.

The decision follows a scathing report last year from the federal Indian Law and Order Commission, which slammed the state justice system for being too centralized and unresponsive to rural communities. The commission wrote that the state’s “centralized administration falls short of local needs.”

“The status quo in Alaska tends to marginalize and frequently ignores the potential of tribally based justice systems, intertribal institutions, and organizations to provide more cost-effective and responsive alternatives to prevent crime and keep all Alaskans safer,” the commission wrote in their report. “If given an opportunity to work, Tribal approaches can be reasonably expected to make all Alaskans safer - and at less cost.

Because of the state Supreme Court’s decision Friday, we will now have an opportunity to see if the commission is correct in its assertions. Child custody is an issue close to the heart of all parents, and is a fundamental - and frequently contested - legal issue in all communities, Native and non-Native alike. According to the state Attorney General’s office, their interpretation of the decision is that state courts may yet have authority to intervene in child custody cases - but not until the families have exhausted the remedies of the tribal courts.

Still, that’s a big leap in responsibility, and tribal courts now have more stature. They are also surely aware that along with that new power comes a tremendous burden of responsibility - proving that they can do better than the state at improving outcomes in custody cases. Should that happen, the state may well consider granting more responsibility to handle their affairs - but if not, jurisdiction in custody cases as well as the other recommendations of the Indian Law and Order Commission would be in danger of being resigned to dusty shelves, as with so many other federal reports.


July 18, 2014

Fairbanks Daily News-Miner: State’s crackdown on synthetic drugs will help combat substance abuse

The “War on Drugs” has come in for a fair amount of derision in the years since President Nixon first brought up the phrase back in 1971. Opponents of a strong government law enforcement effort against drug abuse say the “war” has been a costly flop.

But government clearly has a role in reducing drug abuse, as demonstrated by the ever-evolving ways in which illegal drugs are concocted and marketed. As drug-makers evolve, so too must the law.

That is why the bill signed this week by Gov. Sean Parnell is a necessary additional weapon in the war that will, in all likelihood, never end.

The new law, introduced in the Legislature as Senate Bill 173 by Sen. Kevin Meyer, R-Anchorage, takes aim primarily at the packaging of synthetic drugs.

What are these synthetic drugs?

Synthetic marijuana, for example, is often called “spice” and is sold in retail stores as herbal incense or potpourri and often labeled as “Not for human consumption” - though, of course, the person buying the product fully intends to smoke it to get high. Spice is made from dried and shredded plant material to which mind-altering chemicals are added, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. It is sold under such labels as K2, fake weed, Yucatan Fire, Skunk and Moon Rocks, the agency says.

Spice is popular among young people, which is more reason for concern. “Of the illicit drugs most used by high-school seniors, they are second only to marijuana. They are more popular among boys than girls - in 2012, nearly twice as many male 12th graders reported past-year use of synthetic marijuana as females in the same age group,” the agency says. “Easy access and the misperception that spice products are ‘natural’ and therefore harmless have likely contributed to their popularity.”

There’s also synthetic cocaine, known as “bath salts.” This dangerous drug consists of the man-made chemicals methylenedioxypyrovalerone, mephedrone and methylone.

The synthetics are here in Alaska - and in Fairbanks, according to authorities.

The new law has a lengthy description of what constitutes an illicit synthetic drug. Among the tell-tale signs, according to the law: a label that is false or misleading; a label that suggests the user will achieve “euphoria, a hallucination, mood enhancement, relaxation, stimulation or another effect on the body”; a label that does not specify the identity of the substances contained in the product and does not list the name and place of business of the manufacturer, packer or distributor.

It’s unfortunate, of course, that the law is needed at all. But, based on reports of the effectiveness of similar laws elsewhere, we can expect a positive outcome in Alaska.

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