Legislature(2003 - 2004)
03/25/2003 08:04 AM House STA
* first hearing in first committee of referral
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
= 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.