Legislature(2003 - 2004)
04/30/2004 08:05 AM House STA
* first hearing in first committee of referral
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
= 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 elections." [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 6. 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 mayor?" 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 issue]. 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 that. 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 that." 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 example. 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 follows: 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. Ramseur." 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.