Legislature(2003 - 2004)
04/30/2003 03:15 PM House FIN
* first hearing in first committee of referral
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
HOUSE JOINT RESOLUTION NO. 5 Proposing an amendment to the Constitution of the State of Alaska relating to initiative and referendum petitions. TIM BARRY, STAFF, REPRESENTATIVE BILL WILLIAMS, stated that HJR 5 was a resolution to put a constitutional amendment on the ballot in the fall 2004. The amendment would change the requirements for getting an initiative on the ballot. Currently, the constitution requires getting signatures from at least 10% of the number of people who voted in the most recent general election statewide. Those signatures must be from at least 27 of the 40 House districts or 2/3 of the House districts. Mr. Barry added that the fiscal note is for $1,500 dollars, which would be the costs to the Division of Elections for printing the additional page in the election pamphlet. He noted that Virginia Breeze from the Division of Elections was present to answer questions of the Committee. Mr. Barry advised that because the amendment proposes a constitutional amendment, it only becomes law if it is supported by 2/3 + 1 of both Legislative members and is approved by the majority of voters at the ballot box in 2004. He referenced the letters of support in the packets and statistical data on the signature petitions from recent years. The spreadsheets indicate that no hardship for initiative supporters in the last few years meeting the requirement for HJR 5. Representative Croft asked if there were any initiatives in that past few years that would not have qualified under this amendment. Mr. Barry replied that information would be difficult to access. The way that the process is done is that the Division of Elections counts signatures until they hit the needed number, 10% statewide and assuring that there is at least one signature from each of the districts. The signature gatherers always gather more than are needed. In most cases, when counted, the requirements of HJR 5 and HB 31 would have been met. Co-Chair Harris asked if the resolution would require that 10% of those that voted in the preceding general election, must reside in at least ¾ of the election districts. In those ¾ election districts, there must be a minimum of 7% in each. Mr. Barry agreed that was essentially correct and that it would be a number equal to 7% of the number of people who voted at the most recent election in that district. In order to sign the petition, the person would not have had to vote but would have to be registered. Co-Chair Harris suggested that the reason for the proposed legislation was to guarantee that more of the election districts in the State have at least some representation in a statewide petition. Mr. Barry noted that it is the sponsor's intention that democracy, through the initiative process, be exported to more parts of the State than is currently happening. Representative Joule questioned how many districts could be accessed on the current road system. Mr. Barry did not know. Representative Joule pointed out that it would be difficult to get this to rural Alaska, while still being possible to get to the needed ¾ along the road system. Mr. Barry explained that the way in which the system works, the sponsor of the petition makes signature packets. They could be sent through the mail, with signatures gathered and sent back. Mr. Barry stated that the Division of Elections has numbered booklets and that emailing was not possible at present time. DICK BISHOP, (TESTIFIED VIA TELECONFERENCE), ALASKA OUTDOOR COUNCIL, FAIRBANKS, stated that initiatives are not a bad tool when used to protect people's rights; however, most initiatives are used to restrict rights. He noted that the founding fathers of this country were wary of the impact of the initiative system on minority rights. Mr. Bishop commented that hunters, fishers and trappers are a minority in Alaska. Wildlife initiatives have promoted restriction of sound, lawful hunting, trapping and wildlife management. Mr. Bishop stated that HB 31 would help to defend against "the tyranny of the majority" by requiring broader representation of Alaskan minorities in order to put an initiative on the ballot Mr. Bishop stressed that HB 31 would not ban the initiative process. He noted that 26 states now do use this system. Initiatives on wildlife issues are widely condemned by professional fish and wildlife biologists in Alaska and across the nation because they've proven a poor substitute for the legal framework developed over the last 100 years for managing fish and game Mr. Bishop continued that with wildlife, it is easy to sell bad idea advertising. People mostly like wildlife and don't want to check out the facts, so they react to the emotional appeal of a ballot campaign. Alaska has an outstanding legal framework for fish and game management. HB 31 & HJR 5would improve the working climate of the system. STEVE CON, (TESTIFIED VIA TELECONFERENCE), ALASKA PUBLIC INTEREST RESEARCH GROUP AND CONSUMER ADVOCACY ORGANIZATION (AKPIRG), ANCHORAGE, testified in opposition to the legislation. He noted that in the past 30 years, his organization has used the initiative tool. The use has not involved fish, wildlife or environmental matters but rather the alliance to set in place campaign finance reform law. He pointed out that the Legislature had passed the campaign finance reform law. The Constitutional Convention saw the initiative process as a critical tool to express the will of the people and to curb the power of special interests on the legislative process. Mr. Con stressed that the initiative tool has worked. He stated that the legislation should be opposed. If passed it will make it difficult for individuals except for high-paid special interest groups to place initiatives on the ballot. KAREN BRETZ, (TESTIFIED VIA TELECONFERENCE), ATTORNEY, ALASKANS FOR EFFICIENT GOVERNMENT, ANCHORAGE, testified in opposition to the legislation. She noted that she has been involved in the initiative process as a proponent of ballot initiatives, a collector of initiative signatures, and counsel to litigants involved in the initiative process. Ms. Bretz urged that members not pass HJR 5. She pointed out that the right to petition the government is guaranteed in the State constitution and tangentially in the federal constitution. The net result of HJR 5 will be the curbing of rights. HJR 5 will effect outside interests and local people. The outside interests will always have the funds to get their issues on the ballot regardless of the roadblocks placed before them. In contrast, Alaskans would be dissuaded from participating in direct democracy if it is unreasonably difficult. Ms. Bretz stressed that the bill will disproportionately affect Alaskans. The requirement that initiative sponsors collect signatures equal in number to 10% of the voters who voted in the prior general election presents a challenge for Alaskans and ensures that the proposed initiative would have minimal support. HJR 5 does not disturb the 10% signature requirement and will additionally require: · Sponsors to collect signatures from three quarters of the house districts; and · That seven percent of the voters in each of those districts sign the petition. Ms. Bretz claimed that HJR 5 would disenfranchise people living in rural Alaska from participating in the initiative process. She added that it is important to reflect upon the individual freedoms and prosperity that our form of government allows us. The Legislature should encourage more Alaskans to participate in the initiative process. Although the initiative process has never been instituted on the federal level, the United States Supreme Court commented on it in the case of United Mine Workers of America vs. Illinois State Bar Association, 389 U.S. 427 (1967). Restraining the rights of the people from petitioning the government through the initiative process is not Alaskan, nor is patriotic. Ms. Bretz urged members of the Committee to vote "do not pass" on HJR 5. LINDA RONAN, (TESTIFIED VIA TELECONFERENCE), CHAIR OF THE BOARD, ALASKA HEMP, ANCHORAGE, spoke in opposition to the legislation. She recommended current technology retaining inclusion by utilizing the Internet. She pointed out that in her circle, there is not one person interested in this bill. She stated that the legislation would remove the people's choice of what is placed on the ballot. That would not be right. She urged members to vote against HJR 5. KEN JACOBUS, (TESTIFIED VIA TELECONFERENCE), ATTORNEY, LEGAL COUNCIL FOR REPUBLICAN PARTY, ANCHORAGE, testified his opposition to HJR 5, echoing previous comments. He stated that HJR 5 would have to consist of 31 petitions. There will need to be a petition for each district plus the same petition statewide. It would be essential to get the cushion of signatures in each district. The net result will be that only well financed petitions will be able to do this. The ordinary person that wants to petition will not be able to do so. He claimed that none of the petitions on the list since 1998 would have gotten on the ballot if this particular bill were in place. Mr. Jacobus commented that this legislation will not solve Dick Bishop's problem. The resolution will result in only petitions for wildlife and natural resource. Those people use petitions as fundraisers. The legislation will get rid of petitions brought forth by the ordinary people. Mr. Jacobus claimed that if the idea gets on the ballot, there would be "mud" slug at people that support the "power grab"; it will not pass. He suggested leaving it alone and let the people have the power that they have been given originally under the constitution. When an initiative gets on the ballot, the people have the right to vote it up or down. JED WHITTAKER, (TESTIFIED VIA TELECONFERENCE), ANCHORAGE, understood that there is a fear in Alaska that Anchorage is becoming a City-State. He noted that HJR 5 was not a good solution, as it would do away with the 14th Amendment of the United States Constitution. Mr. Whittaker disagreed that the fiscal note would amount to only $1,500 dollars, because there will be many lawsuits that follow. He pointed out that Co-Chair Williams did not have a co-sponsor on the resolution. JIM SYKES, (TESTIFIED VIA TELECONFERENCE), GREEN PARTY OF ALASKA, MAT-SU, echoed sentiments voiced by previous speakers. He stated that the Committee should not pass HJR 5 and that citizens should be encouraged to participate in government. HJR 5 places a roadblock to the intended process. He agreed that the "well funded outside special interest groups" will have the edge with passage of this legislation because they have the money to do whatever the requirements are. Mr. Sykes questioned the intent of the legislation. He suggested that more signatures from rural Alaska would not hold true. There are better methods: · Making outside contributions toward the initiative process illegal; and · Limiting contributions to $500 dollars; requiring monthly disclosure reports to Alaska Public Officers Commission (APOC) to find out who is funding the petition drives. Mr. Sykes agreed with the $1 dollar per signature charge, which he thought was reasonable. He spoke to the distribution reports, indicating that the citizens from every district have signed the initiatives. He urged that current law be left alone. STUART THOMSON, SELF, JUNEAU, spoke in opposition to the proposed legislation. He commented on the negative impact it will have on tourism. He observed the problem for democracy, is after awhile, selfish special interests always find a way to abuse or manipulate methodology. Mr. Thomson advised two things to minimize damage from the issue: · Each legislator has a moral, intellectual, philosophical, and common sense responsibility to study relevant Alaska constitutional convention minutes and major Alaska Supreme Court rulings on the initiative process; and · If after study of constitutional philosophy, the modification proposed is still worthy of consideration, then minimize the impact of the changes from legislative deliberation and public input. Mr. Thomson reminded members of the blessings that come from freedom. CHERYL JEBE, PRESIDENT, LEAGUE OF WOMEN VOTERS, JUNEAU, commented that the League of Women Voters of Alaska supports the "existing" initiative process and makes the following recommendations: · Initiatives should be voted on only at General Elections, not special or primary elections. · Support change that requires simplicity and clarity of the wording of initiative questions with a "yes" vote to indicate in favor of a measure and a "no" vote to indicate opposition to a measure. · Support disclosure on each initiative petition of the name(s) or group(s) that is paying the gatherer and how they are paid, such as by signature or by the hour. · Support the requirement for not less than 500 qualified voters as sponsors to the prospective petition with the Lieutenant Governor's office. · Support the requirement for a number of valid signatures not less than ten (10%) percent of the total number of the votes cast in the preceding general elections. · Support a formula for at least 50 signatures in each of two-thirds of the legislative districts in order to reflect statewide interest in a measure. · Support the requirement of an attorney general advisory opinion as to the constitutionality of each proposed initiative after it has qualified for the ballot, such opinion to be published in the State Election Pamphlet. · Support the existing limit on time for collecting signatures to one year. · Support the requirement for a cost analysis to be on each initiative petition. · Support the requirement that signature gatherers be qualified voters of Alaska. ALVIN ANDERS, SECRETARY, ALASKA LIBERTARIAN PARTY, testified in opposition to HJR 5. He pointed out that the proposed changes to the initiative process attempt to fix something that is not broken. Mr. Anders submitted that the legislation is not necessary and that HJR 5 is not the best way to achieve Representative William's goals. There is no evidence given that the idea contained within an initiative does not enjoy broad statewide support. Included in the initiative package are reports showing the distribution of signatures from the last ten initiatives. In each case, significant numbers of signatures were gathered from every district throughout the State. The fact that an initiative makes it on the ballot in and of its self indicates broad support. The fact that many citizens from every legislative district signed these petitions proves not only that the issues have broad support but also that the initiative process is working. Mr. Anders continued, no evidence has been presented that any initiative has passed that did not have broad support. In fact most initiatives that pass statewide generally pass in every district. The one exception was the referendum dealing with wildlife management. That ballot issue won in 30 of 40 districts and of the ten districts where it lost, mostly was in Anchorage and Fairbanks. Mr. Anders pointed out that some people are supporting making the initiative process more onerous to keep initiatives off the ballot dealing with wildlife management issues. He stressed that if one group has the money to mount expensive initiative drives, it would be the "lovers of little animals". Since 1976, only one group has been able to gather the necessary signatures to put a referendum on the ballot and that group was the people who oppose the trapping of wolves. If they can raise the money to gather signatures equivalent to 10% of the vote in 90 days, then they will still be able to afford to put signatures on the ballot even if the distribution requirement is raised. He suggested that the Republicans who support the bill would find themselves being portrayed as folks who are attacking the initiative process and even if the proposed changes pass, wildlife management issues will still make the ballot. He suggested that there is a better way to accomplish the goals of making the initiative process more inclusive and preventing the tyranny of the densely populace areas over the sparsely populated areas. · The first goal, making the initiative process more accessible to all Alaskans could be accomplished easily by making initiatives one page and posting them as Adobe Acrobat files on the Division of Elections website. Currently the State pays for the cost of printing 500 petition booklets at no charge for every initiative that the Attorney General approves for circulation. That money could be put to much better use. · Preventing the "supposed tyranny" of the densely populated areas over the sparsely populated areas, that could be addressed using a solution practiced in Switzerland. There cantons can vote to repeal laws either statewide or within a particular canton. That option has not yet been tried in Alaska. Mr. Anders addressed additional points that make the changes proposed in HJR 5 ill advised. He referenced the report st entitled "Initiative and Referendum in the 21 Century" by the National Conference of State Legislators. (Copy on File). In that report there are 34 recommendations to improve the initiative process. Almost every one of these proposals is already in force in Alaska. The two that are not are as follows: · Recommendation 2.2: "The Legislature should provide for public hearings on the initiative proposals". · Recommendation 4.3: "The States should require the drafting of a fiscal impact statement for each initiative proposal". Those proposals are not addressed in HJR 5. Moreover, the report criticizes initiative abuses in most notably California and Oregon but the solutions that are proposed are almost all in place in Alaska. One criticism that was leveled in the report is abuse of the initiative process by too many initiatives appearing on the ballot, which has not been a problem in Alaska. Since statehood, only 34 initiatives have appeared on Alaska ballots, which is 34 in 42 years and 21 elections. TAPE HFC 03 - 71, Side B Mr. Anders stated that the drafters of our constitution debated the question of how many signatures needed to be required and what distribution to require. An amendment was proposed to require "from each of two-thirds of the election districts of the State with signatures equaling not less than 3% of the number of voters casting ballots for Governor in each district in the preceding general election at which a governor was elected". That amendment failed 31 to 17. He asked if the founding fathers and mothers of Alaska thought 35 from 2/3 of the districts was too onerous a requirement, why then is the Legislature considering a requirement more than twice the amount. Mr. Anders urged that the members of the Legislature honor the drafters of the Alaska Constitution and vote against HJR 5. Mr. Anders submitted ideas for improving the initiative process: · Remove the restriction of paying only $1 per signature. · Extend the time period to allow for the gathering of signatures. · Return the thirty-day grace period for initiatives that fail to gather the necessary signatures within the allotted time. · Allow initiative sponsors to submit signatures to election officials for certification as they are gathered. · Make petitions one page and post on the Division of Elections website. · Make proponents pay for the cost of their own printing. Representative Croft MOVED to ADOPT Amendment #1, #23- LS0202\A.1, Kurtz, 4/29/03. (Copy on File). Co-Chair Williams OBJECTED. Representative Croft explained that the amendment addresses the issue regarding repealing an initiative. The amendment would insert new language "and the law enacted may not be repealed by the legislature within two years after the effective date of the law". He stated that it is a process, which the Constitutional Convention believed that the legislature would do and would continue to do. Mr. Barry responded that Co-Chair Williams, the sponsor, had been working on this issue for several legislative sessions. The amendment proposes a different issue from which HJR 5 is intended to address. The current system has a set of "checks and balances". Under current law, if the Legislature wanted to repeal a law, they could do it. In the event that there were technical problems with the law, like the one proposed in Amendment #1, it would keep the Legislature from fixing the "bad law" for two years. Representative Croft WITHDREW Amendment #1. There being NO OBJECTION, it was withdrawn. Representative Croft MOVED to ADOPT Amendment #2 which would change language on Page 1, Line 11, deleting the "7%" and inserting "3%". Co-Chair Williams OBJECTED. Representative Croft stated that the 7% might be onerous. He acknowledged that it made sense for it be over 1%. He agreed that there needs to be something that still allows initiatives to be done and significant participation from a lot of districts without making it too burdensome. Co-Chair Williams noted that the intent of the bill is to get "more democracy" out to the outline areas. The people of the State need to be more a part of the initiative process. He stated that three percent was just not enough. A roll call vote was taken on the motion. IN FAVOR: Stoltze, Croft OPPOSED: Chenalut, Foster, Hawker, Joule, Meyer, Williams Representative Whitaker, Representative Moses and Co-Chair Harris were not present for the vote. The MOTION FAILED (2-6). Representative Joule referenced Line 11, "7% of ¾ of the districts of those people that voted in the last election". He asked if the signature of someone that was a registered voter but did not vote in the last election, would qualify. Mr. Barry clarified that the person does not have to have voted in the last election. The 7% number is the number of signatures needed equal to the number of people that actually voted in that district in the last election. Representative Stoltze asked if the district numbers were determined by reapportionment. Mr. Barry replied that they were and the most recent numbers were taken from the 2000 election. Representative Foster MOVED to report HJR 5 out of Committee with individual recommendations and with the accompanying fiscal note. Representative Croft OBJECTED. Representative Croft reiterated that the process currently is not broken and at this time, there would be a significant impact to rural Alaska. He maintained that it is important to be careful when affecting the peoples right to initiative referendum and recall. These are the "checks" that the people have on the Legislature and people do not like the Legislature "messing around" with them. This legislation will lower the public's esteem even more. The requirements proposed in the bill of 10% and 7% will make it more difficult for Alaskans to pass or repeal laws. Doing that is their right. He reiterated that there is not an overwhelming problem with current system. Representative Stoltze indicated his concern with the bill. Co-Chair Harris inquired how many other states had this type process on their books. Mr. Barry advised that 26 states currently use some sort of initiative process. Co-Chair Harris asked what other states use it to reflect the will of the public. Mr. Barry replied that the framers of the U.S. Constitution considered the concept of the initiative process. Co-Chair Williams interjected that Washington State uses the initiative process. Co-Chair Harris noted that he did support the idea in the past and that he would support it at this time. He understands the need to make sure that there is some representation from all precincts around the State to better reflect the State's will. Representative Foster spoke to people attempting to determine what is good for Bush Alaska. He commented on how the legislation will affect that area. Initiatives have been "pushed down" by the majority of urban Alaskans for many years. He thought that the disagreement regarding the legislation is a "joke" and that the bill would be a "safety net" for his people. A roll call vote was taken on the motion to move the bill from Committee. IN FAVOR: Whitaker, Foster, Hawker, Joule, Meyer, Stoltze, Harris, Williams OPPOSED: Chenault, Croft Representative Moses was not present for the vote. The MOTION PASSED (8-2). HJR 5 was reported out of Committee with "individual" recommendations and with fiscal note #1 by the Office of the Governor.