Legislature(2003 - 2004)

03/25/2003 08:04 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                                                                              
CHAIR WEYHRAUCH announced that the  final order of business would                                                               
be  HOUSE  BILL  NO.  31,  "An Act  relating  to  initiative  and                                                               
referendum  petitions;  and  providing for  an  effective  date,"                                                               
along with HOUSE  JOINT RESOLUTION NO. 5,  Proposing an amendment                                                               
to  the  Constitution   of  the  State  of   Alaska  relating  to                                                               
initiative and referendum petitions.                                                                                            
Number 2880                                                                                                                     
STEVE  BORELL,  Executive   Director, Alaska  Miners Association,                                                               
testified in  support of  HB 31,  which he  said makes  minor but                                                               
important  changes.   In recent  years,  groups opposing  mining,                                                               
harvesting  timber,  trapping,  hunting,  and  other  traditional                                                               
activities have  used initiative  petitions in several  states to                                                               
place these items on ballots.   He said these groups are in large                                                               
part funded  by private, nonprofit corporations.   The [question]                                                               
appears to  be one of  funding an issue  that on the  surface has                                                               
emotional  appeal to  the public,  and the  funding to  fight the                                                               
issue  is obtained  through the  foundations.   Often the  issues                                                               
being attacked have small,  unorganized constituencies that can't                                                               
secure sufficient funding to inform  the public of the other side                                                               
of the story,  he asserted, and therefore  the initiative passes.                                                               
He maintained  that increasing the  number of districts  in which                                                               
signatures must be obtained, as  proposed under HB 31, would make                                                               
it slightly  more difficult  for these  interest groups  to bring                                                               
issues  to the  ballot  while not  eliminating that  opportunity;                                                               
this is  especially important  in Alaska  where remote  and rural                                                               
areas  often  have  a  very limited  voice  in  the  legislature.                                                               
Mr. Borell concluded by urging the passage of HB 31.                                                                            
TAPE 03-29, SIDE B                                                                                                            
Number 2997                                                                                                                     
REPRESENTATIVE BILL  WILLIAMS, Alaska State  Legislature, sponsor                                                               
of HB 31  and HJR 5, said  times have changed with  the advent of                                                               
computers and  faxes; however, in  remote areas such as  those on                                                               
Prince  of Wales  Island,  which does  have  faxes and  Internet,                                                               
those  people weren't  able to  sign any  of the  petitions going                                                               
around the state.                                                                                                               
REPRESENTATIVE SEATON  asked if HB  31 allows a method  for those                                                               
in remote  areas to  submit signatures for  petitions via  fax or                                                               
another manner beyond having to sign a book.                                                                                    
REPRESENTATIVE   WILLIAMS   explained   that   the   constitution                                                               
specifies that signatures have to  be obtained from 10 percent of                                                               
those who voted  in the last election and one  from [each of the]                                                               
27  districts; it  doesn't specify  how  the signature  is to  be                                                               
obtained.  He  said now there is daily mail  and faxes that could                                                               
be  used   to  provide  signatures  for   these  initiatives  and                                                               
referendums.    He  characterized [this  proposal]  as  exporting                                                               
democracy from the urban areas to the rural areas.                                                                              
Number 2869                                                                                                                     
REPRESENTATIVE SEATON  offered his understanding  that signatures                                                               
that were mailed  in or faxed in  would be invalid.   He asked if                                                               
there is a way to [obtain signatures] through the mail.                                                                         
REPRESENTATIVE WILLIAMS deferred to the Department of Elections.                                                                
CHAIR WEYHRAUCH  related his understanding  that HB 31 and  HJR 5                                                               
are to  be reviewed together.   He noted that the  next committee                                                               
of referral is the House Judiciary Standing Committee.                                                                          
REPRESENTATIVE WILLIAMS  said he  was going  to request  that the                                                               
House   Judiciary    Standing   Committee   review    whether   a                                                               
constitutional amendment  is necessary.   Representative Williams                                                               
mentioned that  he has  a letter  from the  Department of  Law on                                                               
this  matter  saying that  the  department  doesn't know  whether                                                               
[signatures obtained via  mail or fax are  invalid] because there                                                               
hasn't been case yet.                                                                                                           
REPRESENTATIVE GRUENBERG  requested a copy of  the aforementioned                                                               
legal opinion.   He said he  is very sensitive to  the balance of                                                               
power in  government and that  this process is an  essential part                                                               
of the balance  of power.  He related that  he didn't want Alaska                                                               
to become a  state in which there are lots  of initiatives, which                                                               
is a  confusing process for  voters, but noted his  reluctance to                                                               
pass constitutional amendments without a good reason.                                                                           
CHAIR  WEYHRAUCH pointed  out that  the  committee packet  should                                                               
include the entire constitutional history on this matter.                                                                       
Number 2660                                                                                                                     
VIRGINIA  BREEZE,  Elections  Projects Coordinator,  Division  of                                                               
Elections,   Office   of   the  Lieutenant   Governor,   answered                                                               
Representative Seaton's  earlier question by clarifying  that all                                                               
signatures on  petition books have  to happen [in person]  at the                                                               
location of the petition book; nothing can be mailed.                                                                           
Number 2631                                                                                                                     
REPRESENTATIVE  HOLM moved  to  report HB  31 and  HJR  5 out  of                                                               
committee  with individual  recommendations and  the accompanying                                                               
fiscal notes.   There being  no objection, HB  31 and HJR  5 were                                                               
reported from the House State Affairs Standing Committee.                                                                       

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