Legislature(2009 - 2010)

04/06/2009 02:31 PM JUD


Download Mp3. <- Right click and save file as

* first hearing in first committee of referral
+ teleconferenced
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
HB 36 - INITIATIVES: CONTRIBUTIONS/PROCEDURES                                                                                 
                                                                                                                                
2:32:11 PM                                                                                                                    
                                                                                                                                
CHAIR RAMRAS announced that the  first order of business would be                                                               
SPONSOR SUBSTITUTE  FOR HOUSE  BILL NO. 36,  "An Act  relating to                                                               
ballot   initiative   proposal   applications   and   to   ballot                                                               
initiatives."                                                                                                                   
                                                                                                                                
2:32:34 PM                                                                                                                    
                                                                                                                                
JASON  BRUNE, Executive  Director,  Resource Development  Council                                                               
for  Alaska,  Inc.  (RDC),  after mentioning  that  he  would  be                                                               
testifying  in   support  of  SSHB  36,   provided  members  with                                                               
information about  the RDC.  He  then said that although  the RDC                                                               
may question the  appropriateness and the role  of the initiative                                                               
process  as  a  means  of  governing,  the  RDC  appreciates  the                                                               
democratic rights  of Alaskans  to change  state law  through the                                                               
initiative process.   Over the last few years,  however, a number                                                               
of proposed initiatives  have been brought forward  that have not                                                               
had the best interests of the  state or its citizens in mind, and                                                               
their sponsors  have used tactics during  the signature-gathering                                                               
phase that  mislead the  public and  misconstrued the  issues and                                                               
impacts at play,  he opined.  The RDC believes  that openness and                                                               
transparency must  be at  the forefront  of good  government, and                                                               
SSHB 36  will require  both public  and legislative  hearings for                                                               
initiatives; this  is a  good idea,  particularly given  that the                                                               
unintended consequences of laws  the legislature attempts to pass                                                               
are  usually   vetted  during   the  numerous   hearings,  public                                                               
testimony, and  floor debates  that are  part of  the legislative                                                               
process.                                                                                                                        
                                                                                                                                
MR. BRUNE noted  that legislators, the people who  are elected to                                                               
pass  state laws,  are required  to disclose  how they  raise and                                                               
spend money.   Why shouldn't  those who are attempting  to change                                                               
state law through the initiative  process also be subject to that                                                               
same standard?  Why shouldn't  they, too, be required to disclose                                                               
the source of their funding  during the signature-gathering phase                                                               
of  the initiative  process?   "This"  openness and  transparency                                                               
will  bring  to light  the  agendas  of initiative  sponsors,  he                                                               
remarked,  adding  that  the  RDC  would  very  much  oppose  any                                                               
amendment  that   would  preclude  "foreign"   contributions  for                                                               
initiatives,  because a  number  of foreign  companies invest  in                                                               
Alaska  and  employ   Alaskans  and  so  should   be  allowed  to                                                               
participate  in the  initiative process.   He  suggested that  in                                                               
addition to  requiring signature gatherers to  carry the entirety                                                               
of a  proposed initiative  with them, SSHB  36 should  be amended                                                               
such that signature gatherers would  also be required to tell the                                                               
truth.                                                                                                                          
                                                                                                                                
MR. BRUNE opined,  "We must bring openness  and transparency back                                                               
to  this  process,"  and  noted   that  SSHB  36  would  preclude                                                               
signature gatherers from collecting  signatures for more than one                                                               
initiative at a  time, adding that he's  seen signature gatherers                                                               
blur the  lines between different  initiatives for  which they're                                                               
collecting   signatures,  opining   that  such   behavior  is   a                                                               
disservice  to  the public;  SSHB  36  would prevent  intentional                                                               
muddying  of the  waters.    In conclusion,  he  said  he is  not                                                               
confident  that  signature   gatherers  will  police  themselves,                                                               
opined  that standards  must  be instituted  to  ensure a  candid                                                               
initiative process, characterized SSHB 36  as an important bill -                                                               
both for  the state  and for  the RDC's members  - and  urged the                                                               
committee to support SSHB 36.                                                                                                   
                                                                                                                                
CHAIR  RAMRAS, in  response  to comments  about  the 2006  ballot                                                               
initiative  regarding  cruise   ship  taxation,  regulation,  and                                                               
disclosure,  offered his  belief  that when  that initiative  was                                                               
approved  for placement  on the  ballot, the  lieutenant governor                                                               
failed  in  his duty  to  restrict  the  initiative to  a  single                                                               
subject, and  that that's  what lead  to any  confusion regarding                                                               
what that initiative was about.                                                                                                 
                                                                                                                                
MR. BRUNE, in  response to questions, reiterated  his belief that                                                               
foreign companies  that invest in  Alaska have a  vested interest                                                               
in  the initiative  process, and  offered his  understanding that                                                               
currently foreign  companies and their employees  - regardless of                                                               
where they reside - can contribute to initiatives.                                                                              
                                                                                                                                
2:39:23 PM                                                                                                                    
                                                                                                                                
JEANINE  ST. JOHN,  President, Alaska  Support Industry  Alliance                                                               
("the Alliance"),  provided information  about the  Alliance, and                                                               
relayed that she  would be speaking in support SSHB  36, and that                                                               
the  Alliance supports  the constitutional  right of  Alaskans to                                                               
utilize the  initiative process  when they  believe they  are not                                                               
being effectively represented.   However, members of the Alliance                                                               
are quite concerned  about what she characterized  as the abusive                                                               
use of  the ballot  initiative process.   She offered  her belief                                                               
that SSHB  36 will strengthen  that process by ensuring  that the                                                               
public is clearly aware of what  she called "the true intent" and                                                               
funding sources  of any  initiative.   She said  it's unfortunate                                                               
that  the  initiative  process  has  become  a  way  for  special                                                               
interests  to manipulate  state law,  and expressed  appreciation                                                               
for the  joint prime sponsors'  intent to "amend the  process and                                                               
provide a truly open and transparent initiative process."                                                                       
                                                                                                                                
REPRESENTATIVE GRUENBERG asked what effect Section 2 would have.                                                                
                                                                                                                                
2:43:07 PM                                                                                                                    
                                                                                                                                
CHRISTINA  ELLINGSON, Assistant  Director, Alaska  Public Offices                                                               
Commission  (APOC), Department  of Administration  (DOA), offered                                                               
her  understanding  that  Section  2  just  requires  [initiative                                                               
sponsors] to register as a group  [with the APOC] prior to making                                                               
an  expenditure;   currently  initiative  sponsors   are  already                                                               
required to  register [with  the APOC].   In response  to another                                                               
question,  she offered  her belief  that Section  3 won't  affect                                                               
existing limitations  or who can contribute  to ballot initiative                                                               
groups,  and that  AS 15.13.065  addresses ballot  initiatives in                                                               
municipal elections.                                                                                                            
                                                                                                                                
MS. ELLINGSON,  in response to further  questions, indicated that                                                               
Section 5  simply mirrors language  currently in  AS 15.13.110(e)                                                               
and  speaks to  the  issue  of quarterly  reports,  and that  the                                                               
proposed  changes  to  the   definitions  of  "contribution"  and                                                               
"expenditure"  are  intended  to  ensure  that  reporting  occurs                                                               
earlier  in the  ballot initiative  process and  shouldn't affect                                                               
the nature of donations or spending.                                                                                            
                                                                                                                                
The committee took an at-ease from 2:47 p.m. to 2:48 p.m.                                                                       
                                                                                                                                
MS. ELLINGSON,  in response  to a  further question,  offered her                                                               
understanding that  Section 1 pertains  to when a person  makes a                                                               
contribution, whereas Sections 6  and 7, respectively, change the                                                               
definitions of "contribution" and "expenditure".                                                                                
                                                                                                                                
2:50:01 PM                                                                                                                    
                                                                                                                                
GLENN M. PRAX  indicated that he has some concerns  with SSHB 36,                                                               
and opined that the recent  changes to Alaska's ballot initiative                                                               
laws have made the process much  more difficult.  He relayed that                                                               
when he was actively involved  in the initiative process a number                                                               
of  years   ago,  "citizen-driven   groups"  [were   the  primary                                                               
participants],  but such  groups seem  to  be obsolete  now.   He                                                               
cautioned the  committee to be  careful that the bill  doesn't go                                                               
further  than  necessary  or make  the  initiative  process  only                                                               
accessible to "the targeted groups."   He surmised that requiring                                                               
initiative sponsors to hold public  hearings on initiatives would                                                               
result in a  perfunctory exercise that doesn't  provide the value                                                               
expected.   In conclusion, he  said he  does think that  there is                                                               
some  value  in  providing  more   transparency  with  regard  to                                                               
contributors,  but again  cautioned  against going  too far  with                                                               
SSHB 36  and implementing  things that won't  really work  out as                                                               
expected.                                                                                                                       
                                                                                                                                
CHAIR RAMRAS closed public testimony on SSHB 36.                                                                                
                                                                                                                                
[SSHB 36 was held over.]                                                                                                        
                                                                                                                                

Document Name Date/Time Subjects