Legislature(2015 - 2016)CAPITOL 106
02/05/2015 08:00 AM House STATE AFFAIRS
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HB 13-ELECTION PAMPHLETS AND ABSENTEE BALLOTS 8:47:35 AM CHAIR LYNN announced that the final order of business was HOUSE BILL NO. 13, "An Act requiring notice of the postage required to mail an absentee ballot on the envelope provided by the division of elections for returning an absentee ballot; and repealing the authority to include certain material from a political party in the election pamphlet." 8:47:54 AM REPRESENTATIVE KELLER moved to adopt the proposed committee (CS) substitute Version 29-LS0091\E, Bullard, 2/3/15, as a work draft. 8:48:10 AM REPRESENTATIVE GRUENBERG objected for the purpose of discussion. 8:48:20 AM REPRESENTATIVE LES GARA, Alaska State Legislature, as joint prime sponsor, presented HB 13. He acknowledged Chair Lynn as the other joint prime sponsor. He said the state election pamphlet allows each political party up to two pages in the election pamphlet, at a cost of $600 per page, which he said is a nominal fee that covers the cost of printing and publishing those pages. Typically, those pages have been used to state the party's position; however, in the 2014 election, an attack advertisement ("ad") was placed for the first time. He said he thinks that depending upon who the chairs of political parties are in the future, Alaska can expect to see that course of conduct on a regular basis. He said this is a non-partisan issue. Representative Gara said there are plenty of attack ads on television and radio during the election season, but he does not think they should be funded by the state in the election pamphlet, which he characterized as "more of an information guide." 8:50:11 AM REPRESENTATIVE GARA said Version E would delete language in law that allows parties to buy two pages in the election pamphlet. He said, in that the fee goes to the publication and distribution of the pamphlets, the Division of Elections would not lose money. He said neither he nor Chair Lynn want to make this issue partisan. 8:52:00 AM REPRESENTATIVE GARA referred to language [of Section 1 of the original bill version], which would have required the division to print how much postage is necessary to mail a ballot back to the Division of Elections on the return envelope. He explained that the cost is often more than just one stamp, and the United States Post Office (USPS) normally delivers those ballots, but then the division must pay for the underpaid postage. However, he said that part of the bill has been dropped in Version E, because the joint prime sponsors feel that the issue could be addressed within the division. 8:53:59 AM REPRESENTATIVE LYNN said he thinks the proposed legislation is good. He stated his assumption that probably 95 percent of all candidates purchase two pages in the election pamphlet on which to publish their biographies and political platform. He called this good advertising, because he opined that people pay more attention to the election pamphlet than they do to junk mail. He offered his understanding that a candidate can "say almost anything." 8:55:24 AM REPRESENTATIVE KELLER said the bill makes him uncomfortable. He said Representative Gara implied that the state subsidized the ads from political parties, but he said that the ad states clearly which party has paid for it. He asked whether Representative Gara was saying that the disclaimers are a lie or implying that the value of the ad was "a whole lot more" than $600. REPRESENTATIVE GARA clarified what he had meant to say was that the cost of the election pamphlet on the whole is more than the fees charged to publish it; therefore, the state loses a little money. He said Chair Lynn is correct that the voters rely on the election pamphlet as an informational pamphlet and the question is whether attack ads should be included. 8:57:10 AM CHAIR LYNN interjected that he does not see the proposed legislation as prohibiting attack ads, but as prohibiting an ad by a political party, whether it is an attack or not. He said an ad may be seen as an attack in the eyes of the beholder, but not by someone else. REPRESENTATIVE GARA said that is correct. He said the proposed legislation is not intended to define what an attack is, but will take out the section that allows parties to pay for those two pages, now that it has been seen how they can be used [negatively], perhaps by all parties. 8:58:00 AM REPRESENTATIVE KELLER opined that debate and interaction between the parties are beneficial. He asked whether there are other publications in the state that sell ads because there may be further implications. He stated that he does not see the real advantage of avoiding conflict and interaction. 8:59:15 AM REPRESENTATIVE GARA said this would not be a slippery slope because "this is the only publication where we want this rule to apply." He offered his understanding that there is no other state-funded publication that is as relied upon as the election pamphlet, and said he thinks the public has a distaste for negative ads. REPRESENTATIVE KELLER suggested that some senior centers subsidized by the state may have fliers or newspapers that are published. 9:00:00 AM REPRESENTATIVE STUTES cited the bill title, which read: "An Act repealing the authority to include certain material from a political party in the election pamphlet." She asked whether the intent of HB 13 was to exempt all ads from political parties, or just certain ads. REPRESENTATIVE GARA answered that current law allows political parties to purchase up to two pages in the election pamphlet. He noted that the law is contained in the statutes listed [on page 1, line 4, of Version E]. Those three statutes would be removed under HB 13; therefore, political parties would be barred from taking out ad space. He added that candidates would still be allowed to advertise. He said candidates are not allowed to attack their opponents when they issue a personal statement; that is a guideline from the division. 9:01:24 AM REPRESENTATIVE GARA, in response to Representative Keller, said no one else can buy an ad in the pamphlet. In response to Chair Lynn, he said a candidate cannot buy an ad; he/she only can buy space for a position statement. He offered further details regarding the restrictions on the candidates' position statements. CHAIR LYNN asked for confirmation that what he puts in the election campaign to further his own campaign is not considered to be an ad. REPRESENTATIVE GARA answered that that is a statement regulated by the Division of Elections; it includes a statement of so many words, a photo, a biography, and a web site. Further, the division allows a "pro" and a "con" on the propositions. There are no graphics or "ugly pictures of the other side" allowed. 9:04:00 AM PAMELA GOODE stated that she agrees with the joint-prime sponsor regarding the ads in the back [of the election pamphlet]. She said she noticed that those ads were restricted to political parties; political groups could not utilize them. She posited that is a way the state is subsidizing political parties and not groups. Further, she said when candidates participate in the pamphlet they are clearly notified that they cannot attack opponents; there are guidelines by which they must abide. 9:05:27 AM REPRESENTATIVE GRUENBERG directed attention to AS 15.58.060, which sets forth the charges, and he observed that the statute was last amended 18 years ago. He said the amount it costs a state representative to have his/her name published in the pamphlet is only $100, and he would like to know what the inflation has been in that time, and he suggested that a small increase in the amount charged may be in order. 9:07:00 AM REPRESENTATIVE GARA said the candidate filing fee is $100, a political party is charged $600 per page, and there are some other non-legislative candidates that pay $300. He said he does not know the inflation rate, but reiterated that the fees collected do not entirely cover the cost of producing the election pamphlet. 9:08:09 AM REPRESENTATIVE GRUENBERG mentioned that most races are won in the primary because most districts are one-party districts. He said, unfortunately, candidate pages are not allowed in the primary election pamphlet so the public cannot learn about the candidate, only about the ballot propositions. CHAIR LYNN asked whether Representative Gruenberg was considering an amendment to the bill because the subject was off-topic. REPRESENTATIVE GRUENBERG said he was considering one. REPRESENTATIVE GARA replied that although he understands the idea, adding candidate information to primary election pamphlets would cost even more money. He said he does not think this is the right year to introduce that idea given the budget deficit. CHAIR LYNN indicated he did not want to bring that topic into discussion. 9:10:12 AM REPRESENTATIVE KELLER asked Representative Gara whether he knew how much savings there would be with four less pages to print. REPRESENTATIVE GARA offered his understanding that the $600 per page cost roughly equals the cost of the printing and publication of those pages; therefore, "it's a wash." 9:11:09 AM GAIL FENUMIAI, Director, Division of Elections, Office of the Lieutenant Governor, in response to Chair Lynn, stated that the division would implement the statutes at the will of the committee. She said she was pleased that Section 1 was removed from the original bill version, resulting in Version E, because it would have been problematic for the division. She relayed that the division does provide a notice in the packet to the voters identifying how much postage is required to return the voter ballot back to the division. In response to Chair Lynn, she confirmed that the division wants all ballots to be counted, and stated that the USPS does not return a ballot for insufficient postage and the division bears the cost, but that happens infrequently. In response to another question, she said the cost to the division to cover insufficient postage is nominal. 9:13:02 AM REPRESENTATIVE GRUENBERG asked Ms. Fenumiai what the rate of inflation would have been since 1996. MS. FENUMIAI answered she does not know. To a follow-up question, she said she did not have the cost of monies that were received from the 2014 pamphlet, but could look up that information. Nevertheless, she said, the total cost of the General Election pamphlet for 2014 was $256,090, which included printing, postage, staff travel, and a temporary worker to assist with the publication of the pamphlet. REPRESENTATIVE GRUENBERG said last year the legislature passed a law that put this biographical information in the primary on line, and asked whether that law had been implemented. MS. FENUMIAI answered yes. She said the division provides any candidate information on the division's web site at least two weeks before the primary election. 9:14:47 AM CHAIR LYNN asked whether the information put on line by the division includes the political party advertisements. MS. FENUMIAI answered that the entire pamphlet is available on line. 9:15:01 AM REPRESENTATIVE GRUENBERG questioned whether there may be a significant number of people who do not have access to the Internet and, thus, only have access to the printed document. MS. FENUMIAI said she did not know. In response to a follow-up question, she said she did not know whether that information is attainable. REPRESENTATIVE GRUENBERG, in response to Chair Lynn, said he thinks his questions are germane to the subject matter. 9:16:05 AM CHAIR LYNN, after ascertaining that no one further wished to testify, closed public testimony on HB 13. 9:16:51 AM REPRESENTATIVE KELLER requested that the committee hold HB 13 in order to have the consideration of several members he observed were missing. 9:17:13 AM REPRESENTATIVE GRUENBERG removed his objection to the motion to adopt Version E. [There being no further objection, Version E was before the committee.] 9:17:39 AM CHAIR LYNN announced that HB 13 was held over.