Legislature(2003 - 2004)

02/05/2004 08:05 AM House STA

Audio Topic
* first hearing in first committee of referral
+ teleconferenced
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
HB 322-MUNI INITIATIVE AND REFERENDUM ELECTIONS                                                                               
CHAIR WEYHRAUCH announced that the  final order of business would                                                               
be HOUSE BILL  NO. 322, "An Act requiring  a municipal initiative                                                               
or  municipal referendum  to be  submitted to  the voters  at the                                                               
next regular  election occurring  not sooner  than 60  days after                                                               
certification  of the  initiative  or referendum  petition."   He                                                               
stated that Version D was before the committee.                                                                                 
Number 1876                                                                                                                     
REPRESENTATIVE SEATON, co-sponsor of the  bill, moved to adopt HB
322, for discussion  purposes.  There being no  objection, it was                                                               
so ordered.                                                                                                                     
REPRESENTATIVE  SEATON explained  the  purpose of  HB  322 is  to                                                               
clarify and  streamline the  [initiative referendum]  process for                                                               
local  governments  so  that  they   don't  have  to  incur  huge                                                               
expenses.    The  bill  would   allow  them  to  hold  initiative                                                               
referendums and  elections on  the following  municipal election.                                                               
He  added that  expenses  can be  extraordinary  on Second  Class                                                               
cities and boroughs.                                                                                                            
REPRESENTATIVE  SEATON  explained  that  recently  the  Fairbanks                                                               
North Star Borough held a  special election to eliminate emission                                                               
that cost $52,000.  He said  the election could have been held at                                                               
the  next general  election without  the expense.   He  said that                                                               
first  class and  home  rule  cities and  boroughs  would not  be                                                               
affected  by this  bill.    He added  that  the  bill also  would                                                               
provide for an  extra 15 days for the city  clerks to prepare for                                                               
the election.                                                                                                                   
Number 1725                                                                                                                     
REPRESENTATIVE  HOLM, co-sponsor  of HB  322, said  the issue  is                                                               
much greater than  the cost [of $52,000] and that  there are many                                                               
more  factors which  [Fairbanks  North Star  Borough Clerk],  Ms.                                                               
Drexler, will speak to.                                                                                                         
Number 1680                                                                                                                     
LINDA MURPHY, Borough Clerk,  Kenai Peninsula Borough, encouraged                                                               
support  of  HB 322  as  written,  removing  the mandate  that  a                                                               
municipality  conduct  a  special  election  in  response  to  an                                                               
initiative   or   referendum   petition.      She   agreed   with                                                               
Representatives  Seaton  and  Holm  that  special  elections  are                                                               
expensive  for municipalities,  many  of  which are  experiencing                                                               
financial difficulties.  In addition,  she added that it is often                                                               
difficult  to  recruit  election workers  for  special  elections                                                               
during certain times  of the year.  Many workers  are retired and                                                               
spend time outside  of Alaska, making it  especially difficult to                                                               
find workers during  January and February.  She  also pointed out                                                               
that  special   elections  attract  fewer  voters   than  regular                                                               
elections, which  increases the  possibility that the  results do                                                               
not reflect the true will of the community.                                                                                     
Number 1575                                                                                                                     
REPRESENTATIVE GRUENBERG  said the bill  sounds non-controversial                                                               
and he is prepared to support it.                                                                                               
Number 1536                                                                                                                     
MONA L.  DREXLER, CMC, Borough  Municipal Clerk,  Fairbanks North                                                               
Star Borough,  spoke strongly in favor  of HB 322.   She spoke in                                                               
support of the right of  citizens to petition their government to                                                               
add,  change, amend,  or  repeal  any law.    With  HB 322,  this                                                               
[right] would still  occur, it just would not occur  in a special                                                               
election  at various  times of  the year,  she said.   She  spoke                                                               
about the  recent North  Star Borough  election where  the people                                                               
were not  able to get their  petition signatures in time  to make                                                               
the October  ballot.   They had  90 days  to get  the signatures,                                                               
which they did, and then they went  to ballot on January 27.  She                                                               
explained  that in  order to  conduct  that election  she had  to                                                               
dedicate one staff member full time  for 25 days to seek election                                                               
workers because  of the problem  of finding workers  at off-times                                                               
of the  year.  She  said she also  had to relocate  two precincts                                                               
and  notify all  of  the registered  voters  in those  precincts.                                                               
This caused a lot of confusion for the voters, she said.                                                                        
Number 1381                                                                                                                     
MS.  DREXLER reported  that,  traditionally,  voter turnouts  are                                                               
lower in special elections.   She emphasized how angry the voters                                                               
were about the  special election in January.  She  stated that HB
322 is  a simple fix  for second  class boroughs and  general law                                                               
municipalities.    Ms.  Drexler  concluded by  saying  that  [Jim                                                               
Whitaker], the mayor  of Fairbanks North Star  Borough (FNSB) and                                                               
Presiding Officer  Bartos have  sent a letter  in support  of the                                                               
bill  [included in  the committee  packet].   She noted  that the                                                               
FNSB and  the Alaska Association  of Municipal Clerks  would both                                                               
be  addressing resolutions  in  support  of HB  322  in the  near                                                               
Number 1265                                                                                                                     
CHAIR  WEYHRAUCH  asked  whether   this  bill  would  thwart  the                                                               
initiative  process by  delaying  the opportunity  for voters  to                                                               
vote on  an issue.   He  wondered if, by  the election  date, the                                                               
public would forget the issue.                                                                                                  
MS. DREXLER replied that October  elections [focus on] candidates                                                               
and other  ballot issues,  and there is  more information  all in                                                               
one place  pertaining to  the issue.   She said it  is up  to the                                                               
people who  initiate the petition  to continue to get  their word                                                               
out.  She reiterated how few  people actually vote in the special                                                               
REPRESENTATIVE GRUENBERG  said he is comfortable  with this bill.                                                               
He opined that  the initiative process must be  balanced with the                                                               
cost of government.                                                                                                             
Number 1078                                                                                                                     
REPRESENTATIVE  SEATON noted  that  the  Alaska Municipal  League                                                               
supports HB 322, as seen by the letter in the committee packet.                                                                 
Number 1064                                                                                                                     
REPRESENTATIVE HOLM moved to report  HB 322 out of committee with                                                               
individual  recommendations and  the  accompanying fiscal  notes.                                                               
There  being no  objection, HB  322 was  reported from  the House                                                               
State Affairs Standing Committee.                                                                                               

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