Legislature(2003 - 2004)

03/04/2003 08:00 AM House STA

Audio Topic
* first hearing in first committee of referral
+ teleconferenced
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
HB 31-INITIATIVE/REFERENDUM PETITIONS                                                                                         
HJR 5-CONST AM: INITIATIVE/REFERENDUM PETITIONS                                                                               
Number 0240                                                                                                                     
CHAIR WEYHRAUCH announced  that the next order  of business would                                                               
be  HOUSE  BILL  NO.  31,  "An Act  relating  to  initiative  and                                                               
referendum  petitions;  and  providing for  an  effective  date."                                                               
[Also  before the  committee was  HOUSE JOINT  RESOLUTION NO.  5,                                                               
Proposing  an  amendment to  the  Constitution  of the  State  of                                                               
Alaska relating to initiative and referendum petitions.]                                                                        
Number 0302                                                                                                                     
TIM BARRY,  Staff to Representative  Bill Williams,  Alaska State                                                               
Legislature,  presented  HB 31  and  the  accompanying HJR  5  on                                                               
behalf of Representative Williams, sponsor.  He told members:                                                                   
     The right of  the people to use  the initiative process                                                                    
     is  an  important  part of  Alaska's  democracy.    The                                                                    
     framers of  our constitution crafted an  article in the                                                                    
     state's   constitution   allowing   citizens   to   get                                                                    
     initiatives on the ballot, a  right that does not exist                                                                    
     in 26 other ... states.   However, the framers tempered                                                                    
     that right by requiring  a substantial number of voters                                                                    
     from  a wide  area  of  the state  to  sign a  petition                                                                    
     before any initiative gets on the ballot.                                                                                  
     The signatures  must total at  least 10 percent  of the                                                                    
     people who  voted in the most  recent general election,                                                                    
     and there  has to be  at least one signature  from two-                                                                    
     thirds  of  House  districts, or  27  districts.    The                                                                    
     framers of the  constitution specifically included this                                                                    
     geographical  distribution  requirement   in  order  to                                                                    
     prevent any one  area of the state  from dominating the                                                                    
     The  legislation  before  you  changes  the  signature-                                                                    
     gathering requirements  to more accurately  account for                                                                    
     changes  in communication  and population  distribution                                                                    
     in Alaska  since the constitution was  written in 1956.                                                                    
     HB  31/HJR 5  would  require petition  sponsors to  get                                                                    
     signatures equaling  at least  7 percent of  the number                                                                    
     of voters  in the  most recent  general election  in at                                                                    
     least three-quarters  of House  districts, that  is, 30                                                                    
     rather  than 27  districts.   This change  supports the                                                                    
     letter and spirit of the  constitution, and brings more                                                                    
     Alaskans  from  more  parts  of   the  state  into  the                                                                    
     initiative process.   The proposal exports  and expands                                                                    
     Of the 24  ... states that have  an initiative process,                                                                    
     13   have   some   sort  of   geographic   distribution                                                                    
     requirement  for  signatures.   It  is  important  that                                                                    
     Alaska's initiative  process be fair and  represent the                                                                    
     entire state, to  avoid the kind of  undue influence by                                                                    
     interest  groups and  local areas  that the  framers of                                                                    
     the constitution  sought to avoid.   This bill  and the                                                                    
     accompanying resolution, if  passed by the legislature,                                                                    
     will  not change  Alaskan law.   The  decision will  be                                                                    
     made  by  the   people  of  Alaska  in  a   vote  on  a                                                                    
     constitutional amendment in November 2004.                                                                                 
Number 0547                                                                                                                     
REPRESENTATIVE HOLM asked what problems  exist that call for this                                                               
MR. BARRY  said he is  new to Representative Williams'  staff and                                                               
doesn't  know  any specific  motivation.    He noted  that  other                                                               
states  such  as  California  and   Oregon  have  had  a  lot  of                                                               
initiatives  that received  a press  coverage, and  surmised that                                                               
this could be one concern.                                                                                                      
CHAIR  WEYHRAUCH informed  Representative Holm  that the  sponsor                                                               
had advised  him that  information from  the National  Council of                                                               
State  Legislatures  and  information  regarding  initiatives  in                                                               
Alaska would be made available to  the committee.  In response to                                                               
a  question   by  Representative  Berkowitz,  he   said  his  own                                                               
intention  wasn't to  move  [HB  31 and  HJR  5]  at the  present                                                               
Number 0754                                                                                                                     
REPRESENTATIVE BERKOWITZ  agreed with the  need to be  shown that                                                               
there exists a substantial problem  before the committee advances                                                               
a  constitutional amendment.   He  mentioned  information in  the                                                               
committee packet regarding  what 7 percent would do.   He said it                                                               
seems  fairly insubstantial  in  [comparison  with] obstacles  it                                                               
would  have  raised  for  the   initiatives  listed  there.    He                                                               
requested  more information  regarding  whether 7  percent and  a                                                               
three-quarters [vote] are "magic" numbers.                                                                                      
MR.  BARRY  responded  that  the   framers  of  the  constitution                                                               
discussed  numbers such  as  two-thirds or  three  quarters.   He                                                               
highlighted the  current requirement that [a  petition] must have                                                               
at least 10  percent of voters statewide, but said  the number is                                                               
arbitrary.    He said,  "The  framers  did  put in  a  geographic                                                               
distributional requirement; they specifically  wanted there to be                                                               
representation   from  around   the  state."     He   noted  that                                                               
communications and population patterns  in the state have changed                                                               
considerably since 1956.  He  said he thinks the sponsor's intent                                                               
is to try to get true input around the state on initiatives.                                                                    
Number 0920                                                                                                                     
REPRESENTATIVE BERKOWITZ opined that  the constitution should not                                                               
be messed  with unless there  is an  indication it is  broken and                                                               
there is no recourse other than a constitutional amendment.                                                                     
REPRESENTATIVE  SEATON  requested  that the  sponsor  supply  his                                                               
reason for  the 7 percent  and for changing  the constitutionally                                                               
mandated two-thirds [vote] to three-quarters.                                                                                   
MR.  BARRY replied  that  Article XI  in  the state  constitution                                                               
requires signatures from at least  two-thirds of districts, which                                                               
he said  is arbitrary.   He  said the sponsor  would like  to see                                                               
more involvement from people in more parts of the state.                                                                        
REPRESENTATIVE  BERKOWITZ asked,  "That being  the case,  why not                                                               
have a lower percentile requirement  from all the districts?"  He                                                               
added, "You could conceivably do  three-quarters of the districts                                                               
and  leave huge  swaths of  this state  untouched."   He gave  an                                                               
example of how  just four districts cover  approximately half the                                                               
MR.  BARRY  responded  that various  states  use  many  different                                                               
formulas.  He  said he thinks the sponsor would  be interested in                                                               
any formula  offered by  the legislature  that would  achieve his                                                               
Number 1155                                                                                                                     
CHAIR WEYHRAUCH  noted that one  purpose in hearing  the proposed                                                               
legislation again at a later date  is to get people with specific                                                               
knowledge of the constitution to testify.                                                                                       
REPRESENTATIVE BERKOWITZ said he  would withhold further comments                                                               
until he'd heard other testifiers.                                                                                              
Number 1237                                                                                                                     
The committee took an at-ease from 8:15 a.m. to 8:18 a.m.                                                                       
CHAIR   WEYHRAUCH,   noting   the   arrival   of   the   sponsor,                                                               
Representative  Bill Williams,  asked  him if  he  would like  to                                                               
speak  to the  legislation.   [Representative Williams  declined.                                                               
HB 31 and HJR 5 were held over.]                                                                                                

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