Legislature(2003 - 2004)

04/27/2004 08:11 AM CRA

Audio Topic
* first hearing in first committee of referral
+ teleconferenced
= 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.                                                                           

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