Legislature(2003 - 2004)

04/30/2004 08:05 AM House STA

Audio Topic
* first hearing in first committee of referral
+ teleconferenced
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
SB 227-MUNICIPAL  ELECTIONS                                                                                                   
Number 0335                                                                                                                     
CHAIR WEYHRAUCH announced that the  last order of business was CS                                                               
FOR SENATE  BILL NO. 227(STA)  am, "An Act relating  to municipal                                                               
runoff  elections  and  to municipal  initiative  and  referendum                                                               
[Before the committee was CSSB 227(STA)am.]                                                                                     
Number 0353                                                                                                                     
SENATOR GARY STEVENS, Alaska State  Legislature, as sponsor of SB
227, told the committee that  the bill basically has two separate                                                               
parts.  He said  he would first speak to the  last half, which is                                                               
Sections 4, 5, and 6.   He explained that he introduced the bill,                                                               
at the  request of  local governments, in  order to  avoid costly                                                               
initiative elections and referendums.                                                                                           
SENATOR   GARY   STEVENS   noted    that   current   law   forces                                                               
municipalities  to hold  initiatives  and  referendums within  75                                                               
days.   Normally, municipalities  hold their annual  elections in                                                               
October; often, having  a special election would  be costly, time                                                               
consuming, and a  real burden on municipalities.   He offered the                                                               
example of the Fairbanks Northstar  Borough's having 46 petitions                                                               
filed in  a four-month period.   He reported that the  result was                                                               
only one  special election,  but it could  have been  much worse.                                                               
He explained,  "Each special election  costs them  about $35,000;                                                               
plus they  need additional volunteers; plus  there's the workload                                                               
on municipal employees."                                                                                                        
SENATOR GARY STEVENS continued as follows:                                                                                      
     The goal of this bill is to ... result in cost-savings                                                                     
     to the municipalities, if they chose to wait until the                                                                     
     next regular election.  The  key thing is, you realize,                                                                    
     this gives them the option;  it doesn't force them.  If                                                                    
     there's an  issue that  can wait,  they can  wait until                                                                    
     the next election.                                                                                                         
SENATOR GARY STEVENS directed attention  to the first part of the                                                               
bill, Sections 1, 2, and  3, deal specifically with Anchorage and                                                               
the requirement that the mayor have  over 50 percent of the vote.                                                               
He concluded,  "So those  two were amended  on the  Senate floor,                                                               
and that's why you have this bill in front of you."                                                                             
Number 0513                                                                                                                     
REPRESENTATIVE HOLM stated  that [the content in]  Sections 4, 5,                                                               
and 6 is  essentially what was going  to be put forth  as a House                                                               
bill.  He expressed appreciation for [SB 227].                                                                                  
Number 0621                                                                                                                     
REPRESENTATIVE SEATON  stated his support  of Sections 4,  5, and                                                               
Number 0683                                                                                                                     
REPRESENTATIVE  LYNN asked  if this  is  the same  bill that  has                                                               
resulted  in many  e-mails  being sent  to  his office  regarding                                                               
local control.                                                                                                                  
SENATOR  GARY STEVENS  replied  that he  suspects  it's the  same                                                               
bill.  He clarified, "The  portion I introduced was [Sections] 4,                                                               
5, and  6; the portion introduced  on the floor of  the Senate by                                                               
Senator Ben  Stevens amended it  in Sections  1, 2, and  3, which                                                               
essentially has to do with the Anchorage ... mayoral election."                                                                 
REPRESENTATIVE LYNN  said the "very  hot" e-mails had to  do with                                                               
the state  telling a city what  to do after the  city had already                                                               
taken a  vote on  "how to  do it."   He stated  concern regarding                                                               
"less  than  50 percent  for  mayor";  however,  he said  it's  a                                                               
municipal concern, rather than a state concern.                                                                                 
Number 0749                                                                                                                     
CHAIR  WEYHRAUCH remarked  that there  seems to  be a  vague line                                                               
between local versus state [issues].                                                                                            
SENATOR GARY STEVENS  stated that the principle  of local control                                                               
is a  valid one, and  Sections 4, 5,  and 6 would  allow enormous                                                               
local control.                                                                                                                  
REPRESENTATIVE  LYNN  asked,  "What  about  the  40  percent  for                                                               
SENATOR GARY  STEVENS reiterated that  was an amendment  that was                                                               
made on  the Senate  floor; he voted  for it and  it passed.   He                                                               
noted that both distinct issues of the bill fit under the title.                                                                
REPRESENTATIVE  LYNN asked  for guidance  regarding [the  mayoral                                                               
SENATOR GARY  STEVENS explained that  the motion on  the [Senate]                                                               
floor was to  require the mayor of Anchorage to  have ... over 50                                                               
percent of the votes.                                                                                                           
REPRESENTATIVE  LYNN said  he agrees  with that  philosophically,                                                               
but  he's not  sure he  agrees that  the state  ought to  mandate                                                               
Number 0928                                                                                                                     
CHAIR  WEYHRAUCH  stated that  the  committee  would now  address                                                               
Sections 1, 2, and 3.                                                                                                           
Number 0935                                                                                                                     
REPRESENTATIVE GRUENBERG directed attention  to an e-mail that he                                                               
received from  David Ramseur [included in  the committee packet],                                                               
expressing  concern  regarding  the   amendment  by  Senator  Ben                                                               
Stevens and the  [Voting Rights Act of 1965].   He asked if there                                                               
was a  legal opinion contrary to  what Mr. Ramseur stated,  or if                                                               
he may assume  that "there are going to be  serious problems with                                                               
DALE  STRAUBE,  Staff  to  Senator   Ben  Stevens,  Alaska  State                                                               
Legislature,  answering  questions  on   behalf  of  Senator  Ben                                                               
Stevens,  told Representative  Gruenberg that  this is  the first                                                               
time he has heard of the issue.                                                                                                 
REPRESENTATIVE GRUENBERG said the  real question is "whether it's                                                               
fair to  minority voters."   He  said he  thinks that's  an issue                                                               
that's as important as anything else.                                                                                           
Number 1050                                                                                                                     
REPRESENTATIVE  SEATON,  in  response   to  a  request  by  Chair                                                               
Weyhrauch, moved to adopt CSSB 227(STA)am, as a work draft.                                                                     
REPRESENTATIVE HOLM objected.                                                                                                   
MR. STRAUBE  said he doesn't  see anything in  the aforementioned                                                               
e-mail that  gives any factual background  or case law.   He said                                                               
he  doesn't understand  how requiring  "50 plus  1" violates  the                                                               
Voting Rights Act [of 1965].                                                                                                    
REPRESENTATIVE GRUENBERG  responded that  it was never  said that                                                               
the law  is logical.  He  explained that what the  federal Voting                                                               
Rights Act [of  1965] requires is "pre-clearance"  by the justice                                                               
department,  "with an  eye to  determining  whether ...  whatever                                                               
change  it is  may significantly  affect the  voting rights  of a                                                               
minority population."   He said  Mr. Ramseur is making  the point                                                               
that  raising  the   requirement  from  45  to   50  percent  may                                                               
negatively effect minority voters.                                                                                              
MR. STRAUBE  noted that prior  to the  change to 45  percent, the                                                               
requirement  was  50  percent.     Furthermore,  he  offered  his                                                               
understanding  that  the  charter   amendment  that  dropped  the                                                               
requirement to  45 percent  had not been  cleared by  the justice                                                               
department prior to being enacted and "it was after the fact."                                                                  
REPRESENTATIVE GRUENBERG stated that it's  not a question of what                                                               
it  was  before, but  of  what  the change  is.    He offered  an                                                               
Number 1244                                                                                                                     
REPRESENTATIVE GRUENBERG moved to  adopt an amendment, which read                                                               
as follows [original punctuation provided]:                                                                                     
     Page 1, line 12 to Page 2, Line 6: delete all material                                                                     
     Renumber sections accordingly                                                                                              
REPRESENTATIVE GRUENBERG  said he wanted  to make changes  to the                                                               
amendment,  to delete  "12" and  insert "4",  and to  delete "all                                                               
materials" and insert "Sections 1-3".                                                                                           
CHAIR  WEYHRAUCH clarified  that  the amendment  would be  called                                                               
Amendment 1 and  would include the changes.  Amendment  1 read as                                                               
     Page 1, line 4 to Page 2, Line 6: delete Sections 1-3                                                                      
     Renumber sections accordingly                                                                                              
Number 1288                                                                                                                     
CHAIR WEYHRAUCH asked if there was any objection to Amendment 1.                                                                
REPRESENTATIVE HOLM objected.                                                                                                   
REPRESENTATIVE  GRUENBERG   offered  three  reasons   to  support                                                               
Amendment 1:   One, there's  a significant problem with  the U.S.                                                               
Voting  Rights  Act and  the  federal  district court  says  such                                                               
changes require  pre-clearance with the justice  department; two,                                                               
as Representative Lynn  said, the amendment [to SB  227] was done                                                               
at the  state level, but it  is a matter of  local elections; and                                                               
three, "this  was passed by  a significant majority  of Anchorage                                                               
voters and this  legislature should give deference to  that."  He                                                               
added, "If we  can do this to Anchorage,  then every municipality                                                               
in the state is at risk."                                                                                                       
REPRESENTATIVE HOLM maintained his objection.                                                                                   
Number 1359                                                                                                                     
SENATOR GARY STEVENS  responded that the State of  Alaska laws do                                                               
control  elections   throughout  the   state.    He   noted  that                                                               
traditional  American voting  has  always been  50 percent,  plus                                                               
one;  that appears  in  Robert's  Rules of  Order.    He said  he                                                               
doesn't see how  requiring over half of the public  to vote for a                                                               
candidate disenfranchises  any element of  the public.   He spoke                                                               
for  leaving this  language in  the  bill.   He said,  "It is,  I                                                               
think, perfectly  within our  right to  establish those  rules as                                                               
state legislature."                                                                                                             
Number 1439                                                                                                                     
MR. STRAUBE said that Anchorage,  as the largest community in the                                                               
state,  has the  financial means  to hold  runoff elections.   He                                                               
said one  of the arguments  to drop the  number to 45  percent to                                                               
avoid a runoff  had to do with the cost  of running the election.                                                               
He noted,  "Well, most recently,  the Anchorage assembly  and the                                                               
mayor proposed to put on a  ballot question that raised a tax, so                                                               
it's obviously well  within the means of  the Anchorage community                                                               
to afford to pay for the democratic process."                                                                                   
MR.  STRAUBE noted  that the  aforementioned  e-mail has  today's                                                               
date marked  on it and  was not sent to  the sponsor or  to other                                                               
members of  the committee.   He said he  doesn't want to  hold up                                                               
the bill,  but he thinks "you  would want to get  a legal comment                                                               
from the Department  of Law, or at least something  else a little                                                               
more specific,  in writing,  other than just  an e-mail  from Mr.                                                               
REPRESENTATIVE GRUENBERG noted  that there is no  policy that the                                                               
governor  of the  state be  elected by  a majority.   He  said it                                                               
looks like the  operation of Section 3 of the  bill would allow a                                                               
community with  less than 100,000  residents to "opt out  of this                                                               
by ordinance."  He indicated  that this constitutes serious equal                                                               
protection arguments here.   He question why  the municipality of                                                               
Anchorage should be "disallowed from opting out."                                                                               
SENATOR GARY  STEVENS stated his  concern that if the  bill fails                                                               
it  would mean  more  cost  to communities.    He encouraged  the                                                               
committee to pass the bill as it is.                                                                                            
Number 1635                                                                                                                     
REPRESENTATIVE  SEATON stated  that  he thinks  it's poor  public                                                               
policy  for  the legislature  to  be  overriding votes  of  local                                                               
communities.   He noted that  half of the representatives  in the                                                               
House are  representing the  communities that  "this specifically                                                               
deals with," but he is not  one of them; therefore, he is willing                                                               
to "let them decide on the floor of the House."                                                                                 
Number 1660                                                                                                                     
A roll call  vote was taken.  Representatives  Gruenberg voted in                                                               
favor  of  Amendment  1.     Representatives  Holm,  Seaton,  and                                                               
Weyhrauch voted against  it.  Therefore, Amendment 1  failed by a                                                               
vote of 1-3.                                                                                                                    
Number 1685                                                                                                                     
REPRESENTATIVE SEATON moved  to adopt Amendment 2,  which read as                                                               
follows [original punctuation provided]:                                                                                        
     Page 1, line 8,                                                                                                            
     After the words "no candidate receives..."                                                                                 
     Delete the word "over"                                                                                                   
     Page 1, line 14                                                                                                            
     Delete "over"                                                                                                            
     Insert "more than"                                                                                                       
     Page 2, line 3,                                                                                                            
     Delete the word "over"                                                                                                   
     Insert the words "more than"                                                                                             
CHAIR WEYHRAUCH objected.                                                                                                       
REPRESENTATIVE  SEATON  explained that  the  term  "over" is  not                                                               
defined in statute.                                                                                                             
SENATOR GARY STEVENS said he has no objection to Amendment 2.                                                                   
MR. STRAUBE stated that he has no objection to Amendment 2.                                                                     
Number 1730                                                                                                                     
CHAIR WEYHRAUCH removed  his objection to Amendment 2.   He asked                                                               
if there was any further  objection.  There being none, Amendment                                                               
2 was adopted.                                                                                                                  
Number 1758                                                                                                                     
REPRESENTATIVE HOLM moved to report  CSSB 227(STA)am, as amended,                                                               
out  of   committee  with  individual  recommendations   and  the                                                               
accompanying fiscal notes.                                                                                                      
Number 1770                                                                                                                     
REPRESENTATIVE GRUENBERG objected.                                                                                              
Number 1780                                                                                                                     
A roll call vote was  taken.  Representatives Seaton, Lynn, Holm,                                                               
and  Weyhrauch  voted in  favor  of  moving CSSB  227(STA)am,  as                                                               
amended,  out  of  committee.    Representative  Gruenberg  voted                                                               
against it.   Therefore,  HCS CSSB 227(STA)  was reported  out of                                                               
the House State Affairs Standing Committee by a vote of 4-1.                                                                    

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