Legislature(2003 - 2004)
04/27/2004 08:11 AM House CRA
* first hearing in first committee of referral
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
SB 227-MUNICIPAL ELECTIONS CHAIR MORGAN announced that the next order of business would be CS FOR SENATE BILL NO. 227(STA) am, "An Act relating to municipal runoff elections and to municipal initiative and referendum elections." Number 0721 SENATOR GARY STEVENS, Alaska State Legislature, sponsor of SB 227, explained that his original legislation is found in Sections 4-6 of CSSB 227(STA)am. The original legislation came about due to requests from several municipalities that wanted to find a way to avoid the cost of special initiative elections and referendums. This legislation would allow the municipality the option to decide not to have a special election if it was determined that the issue wasn't so imminent or important and could wait until the next regular election to be placed on the ballot. Current law forces municipalities to hold elections on referendums and initiatives within 75 days. The special elections can be costly and burdensome for the municipalities and generate low voter turnout. For example, in the Fairbanks North Star Borough 46 petitions were filed during a period of four months and although it resulted in one special election, it could've been an onerous situation. The cost for a special election in the Fairbanks North Star Borough is approximately $35,000 and requires more volunteers as well as additional workload on municipal employees. Therefore, Sections 4-6 would create an option for municipalities that streamlines the process and saves money. SENATOR GARY STEVENS pointed out that Sections 1-3, which was an amendment made on the Senate floor, are specific to Anchorage. Sections 1-3 allow communities with a population under 100,000 to choose by ordinance to elect a mayor with over 40 percent of the vote. However, the language on page 2, lines 2-4, would require that a mayoral candidate in Anchorage must receive over 50 percent of the votes, otherwise a runoff election will be held. Number 1036 REPRESENTATIVE ANDERSON asked if Senator Gary Stevens would like anything in CSSB 227(STA)am to be changed in the House. SENATOR GARY STEVENS noted that he did vote for the Senate floor amendment. REPRESENTATIVE ANDERSON noted that he has received quite a few e-mails in opposition to requiring a mayoral candidate to receive 50 percent of the votes because it's costly. SENATOR GARY STEVENS stated that the original legislation is quite sound and logical, and therefore he said he would hate to see the Senate floor amendment dealing with Anchorage's mayoral race stop the legislation's progress. Number 1166 REPRESENTATIVE KOOKESH recalled that there was an election to determine the [percentages] required for a mayoral election. SENATOR GARY STEVENS said he believes that is true. REPRESENTATIVE KOOKESH questioned why the legislature should pass legislation overturning what the people of Anchorage decided on via a vote. He noted his discomfort with such action. Number 1321 MONA LISA DREXLER, Clerk, Fairbanks North Star Borough, informed the committee that she is speaking on behalf of the Fairbanks North Star Borough Assembly as well as her office. Ms. Drexler announced that the Fairbanks North Star Borough supports SB 227. It's important to address the initiative and referendum petition process that was addressed in the original legislation. She then turned to what this legislation means to second class boroughs, second class cities, cities that don't have charters, and cities that aren't home ruled. Yesterday, the Kenai Borough municipal clerk approved three petition applications. Without this legislation, if those petitioners submit petitions by a certain date, the Kenai Borough will have a special election in September, which is just prior to the regular October election. Ms. Drexler related that in the last two weeks she has had three requests for petition applications, which could result in another special election in Fairbanks prior to the October election. Special elections are costly, she emphasized. In fact, she recalled that the last special election in Fairbanks cost $60,000, not including the clerk's staff time or other issues. However, the voter turnout was dismal. Ms. Drexler said, "We speak in favor of the bill as it was amended with the local option. That was the intent of those of us that asked for it to be there all along. We support local options." She urged the committee to forward [CSSB 227(STA)am]. SENATOR GARY STEVENS asked if any of the issues in Kenai and Fairbanks are of such importance that they need to be decided in September rather than October. The issues in Kenai could wait until October as those deal with some service area issues that are generally placed on the October ballot. With regard to the last two special elections Fairbanks had, both of them could've waited until October. Furthermore, the upcoming issues in Fairbanks could also wait until October. However, if the borough assembly felt that it was in the best interest of the public to place a matter before the public, the borough assembly can call a special election to make it happen. REPRESENTATIVE WOLF turned to the petitions in the Kenai Peninsula Borough and inquired as to whether those are being put forth by special interest groups or individuals. MS. DREXLER said that she didn't know the issues because she and the Kenai Peninsula Borough clerk were merely discussing timelines. Ms. Drexler related that the Kenai Peninsula Borough Clerk had wanted Ms. Drexler to emphasize the importance of timing. Under current state law, not having the option to wait until the October regular election is very costly. Number 1811 REPRESENTATIVE ANDERSON informed the committee that Anchorage had a 50 percent plus rule [for mayoral elections]. However, during the 2003 mayoral election there was also a charter amendment to reduce the 50 percent plus rule to 45 percent, which passed. Therefore, the 45 percent rule afforded Mark Begich the victory by a slight [margin]. He recalled there being a view that Mayor Begich didn't receive a true majority because he wasn't supported by over 50 percent of the electorate. He explained, "The contention came because folks said, 'Hey, if you add this 50 percent rule and there are special elections, it's going to be expensive and there's going to be a small turnout.'" However, in 2000 the runoff election for the mayor's race resulted in 6,000 more people voting. REPRESENTATIVE CISSNA commented that numerous legislators haven't received 50 percent of the vote. She, then, questioned why the legislature should be making decisions for municipalities. SENATOR GARY STEVENS pointed out that the state's laws govern municipal elections, which is what this legislation would amend. REPRESENTATIVE ANDERSON opined that this is about the idea of consensus and Anchorage's history illustrates that there can be increased voter turnout during a special election. REPRESENTATIVE KOOKESH echoed earlier concern with regard to the legislature overturning a local government's decision. Number 2140 CHAIR MORGAN added that [the legislature] has had no problem dictating what should occur in rural Alaska. He highlighted "boroughization" and forced accounting as examples. With regard to a legislator winning by less than 40 percent, Chair Morgan noted that he had to go through a primary before the regular election. Chair Morgan noted that he agreed with Representative Kookesh. REPRESENTATIVE ANDERSON said that he didn't believe this legislation would impair any future elections because there would be knowledge of it. Representative Anderson commented that this is good legislation. SENATOR GARY STEVENS deferred to Senator Ben Stevens regarding any questions concerning Sections 1-3. CHAIR MORGAN, upon determining there were no further questions and no one else who wished to testify, closed public testimony. Number 2345 REPRESENTATIVE CISSNA moved that the committee adopt Amendment 1, which read: Page 1, Line 12-Page 2, Line 6; delete all material Renumber sections accordingly. REPRESENTATIVE CISSNA explained that Amendment 1 would maintain local power. REPRESENTATIVES ANDERSON AND WOLF objected. REPRESENTATIVE CISSNA indicated that this is an unfunded mandates. Representative Cissna said that these type of decisions should be local decisions. Number 2617 REPRESENTATIVE ANDERSON maintained his objection to Amendment 1, and opined that the adoption of Amendment 1 would discourage voter turnout. He related his belief that Senator [Ben] Stevens [offered the amendment to CSSB 227(STA) on the Senate floor] in order to encourage voter turnout and embrace a majority consensus in an election. As policymakers, Representative Anderson opined that it's in the legislature's purview to work with municipalities, which the legislature funds in many ways. REPRESENTATIVE WOLF maintained his objection as well, and expressed the need to adhere to people's wishes in regard to electing someone with the majority of voters. REPRESENTATIVE KOOKESH interjected that Representative Wolf should vote for Amendment 1 because the people in Anchorage voted for a certain percentage. A roll call vote was taken. Representatives Cissna and Kookesh voted in favor of Amendment 1. Representatives Anderson, Samuels, Wolf, and Morgan voted against it. Therefore, Amendment 1 failed by a vote of 2-4. Number 2758 REPRESENTATIVE ANDERSON moved to report CSSB 227(STA)am out of committee with individual recommendations and the accompanying zero fiscal note. REPRESENTATIVE CISSNA objected. A roll call vote was taken. Representatives Wolf, Anderson, Samuels, and Morgan voted in favor of reporting CSSB 227(STA)am. Representatives Cissna and Kookesh voted against it. Therefore, CSSB 227(STA)am was reported out of the House Community and Regional Affairs Standing Committee by a vote of 4-2.