Legislature(2003 - 2004)

04/29/2003 01:33 PM TRA

Audio Topic
* first hearing in first committee of referral
+ teleconferenced
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
HB 230-POLITICAL SIGNS ON PRIVATE PROPERTY                                                                                    
                                                                                                                                
Number 0054                                                                                                                     
                                                                                                                                
CO-CHAIR HOLM  announced that the  first order of  business would                                                               
be HOUSE  BILL NO. 230,  "An Act  relating to political  signs on                                                               
private property."                                                                                                              
                                                                                                                                
Number 0095                                                                                                                     
                                                                                                                                
TODD  LARKIN,  Staff to  Representative  Jim  Holm, Alaska  State                                                               
Legislature, presented  HB 230 on behalf  of Representative Holm,                                                               
sponsor,  and  answered questions  from  the  members.   He  read                                                               
Article I, Section  2, Source of Government, of  the Alaska State                                                               
Constitution, which says:                                                                                                       
                                                                                                                                
     All  political power  is inherit  in the  people.   All                                                                    
     government originates with the  people, is founded upon                                                                    
     their will only, and is  instituted solely for the good                                                                    
     of the people as a whole.                                                                                                  
                                                                                                                                
MR. LARKIN told the committee  that those are the sentiments that                                                               
both the  sponsor and he  believe in and  that are echoed  in the                                                               
sponsor's   statement.     This  bill   originated  out   of  the                                                               
frustration  that free  speech  tended to  be  infringed upon  in                                                               
Alaska.   He said the  United States of  America is based  on the                                                               
same premise  that he just quoted.   He said that  means that "we                                                               
the people" have the right to  advocate or choose who governs us.                                                               
What  HB 230  seeks  to  do is  allow  persons  on their  private                                                               
property  to post  a political  sign  on an  issue or  candidate,                                                               
express their free speech, and  advocate for or against those who                                                               
govern  them.   He  told  the members  that  action is  currently                                                               
against state law  if a sign is within 660  feet of certain state                                                               
roads or any  federally funded roads and that  could be stretched                                                               
out to mean  within legible view, which  actually means whichever                                                               
is the greater distance.  The  state law was enacted in an effort                                                               
to come  into compliance with  the Highway Beautification  Act of                                                               
1965.   He told the committee  that in checking with  the federal                                                               
government  he found  that the  State of  Alaska has  gone beyond                                                               
compliance.   Mr. Larkin  pointed to  the stacks  of case  law in                                                               
favor of  this bill.   He asserted  that if the  legislature does                                                               
not  pass this  bill,  it is  clear  the state  is  in danger  of                                                               
litigation and will surely be defeated in a court of law.                                                                       
                                                                                                                                
Number 0315                                                                                                                     
                                                                                                                                
REPRESENTATIVE  KOOKESH  commented  that Mr.  Larkin's  statement                                                               
that  the state  would "surely  be  defeated" is  not really  the                                                               
case.  He said he hopes that  is not the position of the sponsor,                                                               
because the courts in this land  look at both sides of the issue.                                                               
He warned Mr. Larkin about making that kind of statement.                                                                       
                                                                                                                                
MR. LARKIN corrected  his statement to say he  believes the state                                                               
would surely  be defeated.   He pointed to  the last part  of the                                                               
sponsor statement where it, first,  advocates for a change in law                                                               
to save individual  citizens the time and  expense of challenging                                                               
the  current restriction  on free  speech.   He  said the  second                                                               
reason to pass this  bill would be to save the  state the cost of                                                               
defense and  the likely  legal fees  that would  be awarded  to a                                                               
victorious citizen.   Mr. Larkin  told the committee  he believes                                                               
it is unfair  to infringe upon citizens' rights  and then require                                                               
that citizens  go to court  at their  own expense to  demand free                                                               
speech when  that infringement  should not  have occurred  in the                                                               
first place.   He summarized  his reply  by saying that  he could                                                               
not with absolute  certainty say the state would fail  in a court                                                               
of  law, but  the United  States  Supreme Court  and other  state                                                               
supreme  courts have  said that  this  law would  not be  upheld.                                                               
Only one  state came  down on  the side  of the  state, due  to a                                                               
technicality.                                                                                                                   
                                                                                                                                
CO-CHAIR  MASEK asked  if this  bill has  any correlation  to the                                                               
legislation  on   billboards.    She   asked  if  that   law  was                                                               
challenged.                                                                                                                     
                                                                                                                                
MR.  LARKIN  said  that  he  is not  clear  about  the  billboard                                                               
legislation.   He found no  reference to that bill.   Legislative                                                               
Legal  and  Research Services  did  countrywide  research to  see                                                               
court decisions  based on this  kind of  law.  He  suggested that                                                               
Alaska  billboard case  must not  have  had enough  similarities,                                                               
because it was not mentioned by the agencies.                                                                                   
                                                                                                                                
CO-CHAIR  MASEK responded  that there  was an  initiative on  the                                                               
ballot with  respect to billboard  signs and the result  was that                                                               
the  people   voted  to  prohibit  billboard   signs  on  Alaskan                                                               
roadways.  She  asked if this bill might be  along the same lines                                                               
and  expressed  concern that  the  public  may  think it  is  not                                                               
appropriate.                                                                                                                    
                                                                                                                                
MR. LARKIN said  he is vaguely familiar with  the initiative, but                                                               
he  believes the  billboards were  commercial signs.   This  bill                                                               
takes pains  to stay  away from  commercial signs  or billboards.                                                               
He   said  that   there   is  a   size   restriction,  which   is                                                               
constitutional.   Speech  cannot be  regulated, but  size can  be                                                               
stipulated.   This  bill only  addresses free  speech and  is not                                                               
intended to address  the billboard issue.  The  largest sign that                                                               
can be put up is 32 square feet.                                                                                                
                                                                                                                                
REPRESENTATIVE OGG told the committee  his concern is that during                                                               
an  election, people  will  want to  exercise  their free  speech                                                               
about a candidate  or issue.  A lot of  people are concerned that                                                               
some people  put the signs up  very early, prior to  an election,                                                               
and fail to take  them down after the election.   It just ends up                                                               
being clutter or trash.  He  asked Mr. Larkin if the time element                                                               
had been looked into with respect to free speech.                                                                               
                                                                                                                                
MR. LARKIN responded  that this is beyond the basic  scope of the                                                               
bill.   However, that was  the second most investigated  point of                                                               
the bill  and although there  may be some very  minimal ambiguity                                                               
as to the type  of speech looked at, there were  no cases where a                                                               
time  limit was  upheld.   There have  been multiple  time limits                                                               
required in an  effort to urge people to clean  up the signs, but                                                               
every case was struck down where a time limit had been imposed.                                                                 
                                                                                                                                
REPRESENTATIVE OGG asked  Mr. Larkin if U.S.  Supreme Court cases                                                               
were researched.                                                                                                                
                                                                                                                                
MR. LARKIN replied that the most  of the cases reviewed were U.S.                                                               
District Court cases and various  state supreme court cases.  The                                                               
only  U.S. Supreme  Court case  is the  first one  in the  backup                                                               
information,  and has  to do  with  residential signs  expressing                                                               
political, religious,  or personal  views.   In the  Oregon case,                                                               
time limits were spoken to and found to be unconstitutional.                                                                    
                                                                                                                                
Number 0817                                                                                                                     
                                                                                                                                
CO-CHAIR HOLM  pointed to  the Antioch case  [City of  Antioch v.                                                             
Candidates' Outdoor  Graphic Service]  where the signs  could not                                                             
remain up past  7 days after an  election or could not  be put up                                                               
earlier than 60  days before an election.  In  this instance, the                                                               
court struck  down this law  as an affront  to free speech.   Co-                                                               
Chair Holm said  that one of the arguments was  that there had to                                                               
be  an  even  playing  field.   For  instance,  a  Representative                                                               
already  holding office  has no  infringement in  getting his/her                                                               
name out  in front  of the  public; however,  someone who  has no                                                               
money and wants  to put signs out  to be viewed by  the public is                                                               
prohibited  from doing  so.    Therein lies  the  lack of  parity                                                               
between the two candidates running for  office.  He said case law                                                               
is  very interesting  with respect  to an  individual's right  to                                                               
promote his/her  ideas.  One  issue that was determined  was that                                                               
it would be illegal  for someone to put a sign  in the front yard                                                               
saying that  he/she hates  the war in  Iraq under  current Alaska                                                               
law if that  sign could be seen from a  federally funded highway,                                                               
because it falls under the federal Highway Beautification Act.                                                                  
                                                                                                                                
REPRESENTATIVE OGG  asked if  this would  be illegal  under state                                                               
law.                                                                                                                            
                                                                                                                                
CO-CHAIR HOLM  responded that  it would  be illegal  under Alaska                                                               
law.  He  reiterated that it would be against  federal law if the                                                               
sign  could be  seen from  a federally  funded highway  under the                                                               
Highway  Beautification  Act.    This is  why  the  Alaska  State                                                               
Department  of  Transportation  &   Public  Facilities  told  the                                                               
legislature  that  if the  law  is  changed, it  will  negatively                                                               
impact  the state's  ability to  get federal  highway funds.   He                                                               
told  the committee  that  he  wrote to  the  U.S. Department  of                                                               
Transportation   concerning   this  legislation,   however,   and                                                               
obtained  a letter  from them  saying  that this  bill would  not                                                               
negatively impact federal funds.                                                                                                
                                                                                                                                
MR. LARKIN commented  that the letter is in  the members' packets                                                               
for  review.    He  said   the  letter  confirms  that  the  U.S.                                                               
Department  of Transportation  does  not intend  to withhold  any                                                               
funding from  the state if the  bill, as it stands,  becomes law.                                                               
Mr.  Larkin   told  the  committee   they  even   suggested  some                                                               
amendments, one of which will be presented today.                                                                               
                                                                                                                                
Number 0958                                                                                                                     
                                                                                                                                
REPRESENTATIVE OGG commented that this  seems hopeful to him.  He                                                               
said this bill would be a  good thing because presently the state                                                               
has  a dichotomy.   Signs  could  be on  a borough  road or  city                                                               
street, but if it is on a  highway, it is not possible to display                                                               
a sign within 600 feet of it.                                                                                                   
                                                                                                                                
REPRESENTATIVE  FATE  stated that  the  law  is not  administered                                                               
evenly  or fairly  across  the state  of Alaska.    In one  area,                                                               
political signs  will be  up that are  obviously illegal,  and in                                                               
another area, signs  have been removed to comply  with state law.                                                               
He agreed that this bill is a good approach to the problem.                                                                     
                                                                                                                                
REPRESENTATIVE OGG said Representative  Fate is absolutely right.                                                               
The enforcement of the law depends on who complains about signs.                                                                
                                                                                                                                
CO-CHAIR HOLM  pointed to the  Collier case [Collier v.  The City                                                             
of Tacoma] that deals with this  issue.  He told the members that                                                             
Michael Collier was a person  who ran for [Congress from] Tacoma,                                                               
Washington, and fought this law and finally won.                                                                                
                                                                                                                                
MR. LARKIN  told the  members that Amendment  1 was  suggested by                                                               
the U.S. Department of Transportation as a safety issue.                                                                        
                                                                                                                                
Number 1109                                                                                                                     
                                                                                                                                
REPRESENTATIVE FATE  moved to  adopt Amendment  1, 23-LS0780\H.1,                                                               
Utermohle, 4/4/03, which read:                                                                                                  
                                                                                                                                
     Page 2, line 8, following "base":                                                                                        
          Insert ";"                                                                                                        
        (C)  the signs do not interfere with, obstruct,                                                                     
     confuse, or mislead traffic or pose a traffic hazard"                                                                  
                                                                                                                                
     Page 2, line 9:                                                                                                            
          Delete "(C)"                                                                                                      
          Insert "(D)"                                                                                                      
                                                                                                                                
Number 1126                                                                                                                     
                                                                                                                                
CO-CHAIR HOLM asked  if there was any objection.   There being no                                                               
objection, he announced that Amendment 1 was adopted.                                                                           
                                                                                                                                
REPRESENTATIVE  KOOKESH said  that while  he does  not object  to                                                               
Amendment 1, he wanted to enter  into the record the fact that if                                                               
there  is  a sign  that  presents  interference, obstruction,  or                                                               
confusion,  or misleads  traffic, that  the Alaska  Department of                                                               
Transportation & Public  Facilities has the ability to  go in and                                                               
take a sign down or ask to have the sign taken down.                                                                            
                                                                                                                                
CO-CHAIR   HOLM   said  he   is   in   complete  agreement   with                                                               
Representative Kookesh's clarifying comments.                                                                                   
                                                                                                                                
Number 1153                                                                                                                     
                                                                                                                                
SETH  LITTLE testified  in opposition  to HB  230.   He told  the                                                               
committee  that  the   bill  would  allow  the   roadways  to  be                                                               
cluttered.   The  public is  exposed  to and  receives more  than                                                               
enough information about political  candidates, and does not need                                                               
political signs  cluttering roadways.   He said there  is nothing                                                               
in  the bill  that  defines  what a  political  sign  is, what  a                                                               
permanent base is, or whether there  is a timeline when the signs                                                               
can be put up and taken down.                                                                                                   
                                                                                                                                
MR. LITTLE  said another issue  is that  there is nothing  in the                                                               
bill  that prohibits  stacking  of signs  to  create a  billboard                                                               
effect.    Mr.  Little  pointed  out  that  the  bill  says  that                                                               
individual  signs   cannot  exceed  32  square   feet,  but  many                                                               
individual  signs  stacked  next  to each  other  could  possibly                                                               
create a billboard effect.  He  told the committee he believes HB                                                               
230 would  open the  door for the  billboard industry,  and would                                                               
set the precedent  to begin exempting other  signs and billboards                                                               
that were  prohibited by a law  that was passed by  initiative in                                                               
1998.   During that election, 72  percent of the voters  voted to                                                               
ban billboards.   He said  he believes political  billboards have                                                               
no  place  along  the  roadways.   They  are  a  distraction  and                                                               
interfere  with  traffic control  signals  and  safe bicycle  and                                                               
pedestrian  circulation.   There is  also an  aesthetic value  in                                                               
prohibiting  billboards  and  signs   from  cluttering  the  road                                                               
systems, especially in Alaska where  the tourism industry depends                                                               
on beautiful Alaskan scenery.                                                                                                   
                                                                                                                                
Number 1277                                                                                                                     
                                                                                                                                
MR. LITTLE  said that many  signs along  the roadways can  pose a                                                               
potential hazard.   Signs are particularly  dangerous when placed                                                               
in vision  areas at intersections.   Improperly placed  signs can                                                               
obstruct  a  motorist's  view,  distract  a  driver's  attention,                                                               
compound damages and  injuries in the event of  a crash, endanger                                                               
the  safety of  individuals  who are  erecting  signs along  busy                                                               
highways, and  present obstacles  to pedestrians  and bicyclists.                                                               
Mr. Little urged the committee members to oppose HB 230.                                                                        
                                                                                                                                
CO-CHAIR MASEK asked Mr. Little to  speak to the issues he raised                                                               
about there  not being  a definition of  political signs  and the                                                               
lack of a time limit in posting the signs.                                                                                      
                                                                                                                                
MR.  LITTLE  replied  that during  campaign  season  everyone  is                                                               
familiar  with signs  that have  the candidates'  names on  them;                                                               
however,  he questioned  whether a  sign advertising  a spaghetti                                                               
dinner  held by  the chamber  of commerce  for a  candidate is  a                                                               
political sign.   He said he  believes it is important  to define                                                               
what a political sign is.                                                                                                       
                                                                                                                                
MR.  LITTLE said  in  response  to the  second  part of  Co-Chair                                                               
Masek's  question  about  the  time  limit that  a  sign  can  be                                                               
displayed; he said  the bill only refers to signs  not being on a                                                               
permanent  base  as a  criterion.    He  told the  committee  his                                                               
question  would  be whether  the  permanent  base refers  to  the                                                               
structure, or  is within a  timeline as  far as when  these signs                                                               
need to be removed.                                                                                                             
                                                                                                                                
CO-CHAIR MASEK asked if he would  still oppose the bill if it was                                                               
amended  to  define time  limits  for  the display  of  political                                                               
signs.                                                                                                                          
                                                                                                                                
MR.  LITTLE  replied that  he  would  still  object to  the  bill                                                               
because  he sees  this  legislation as  the  beginning of  larger                                                               
exemptions for other interests to  tout free speech and access to                                                               
their rights of free speech.   Some commercial interest will then                                                               
lobby for its rights to  free speech, which will allow billboards                                                               
onto Alaska's roadways.                                                                                                         
                                                                                                                                
CO-CHAIR MASEK asked  Mr. Little if he believes this  bill is too                                                               
vague.    She   asked  if  he  believes  there   should  be  more                                                               
definitions and timelines in the bill.                                                                                          
                                                                                                                                
MR.  LITTLE said  he would  not support  this bill  even for  one                                                               
sector,  political signs,  because it  would change  the law  for                                                               
free speech.   He  said there  is nothing that  could be  done to                                                               
make HB 230 acceptable.                                                                                                         
                                                                                                                                
Number 1488                                                                                                                     
                                                                                                                                
ED  EARNHART  testified  in  support   of  HB  230  and  answered                                                               
questions  from  the  members.    He told  the  committee  he  is                                                               
representing  the public  interest,  which  means good  elections                                                               
that are  competed for fairly by  decent candidates.  He  said he                                                               
has participated in  elections for the last 25  years; some years                                                               
he was involved with as many as  four elections.  For the last 17                                                               
years he  has been  involved with  the placement  of signs.   Mr.                                                               
Earnhart shared  his view  of the problems  in Anchorage  and the                                                               
unfairness  that exists  because  of the  difference between  the                                                               
[laws  and regulations  that govern]  municipal  streets and  the                                                               
state  highways  that are  classified  under  that 660-foot  rule                                                               
[federal Highway Beautification  Act].  He asked  if he correctly                                                               
understood  earlier   testimony  that  the  U.S.   Department  of                                                               
Transportation  recognizes  that  the   situation  in  Alaska  is                                                               
different and has allowed some exemptions.                                                                                      
                                                                                                                                
MR.  EARNHART restated  his question  by  asking if  the [ban  on                                                               
political  signs  being  within] 660-feet  [of  federally  funded                                                               
highways] still applies to Alaska.                                                                                              
                                                                                                                                
CO-CHAIR HOLM responded that he is  not sure what Mr. Earnhart is                                                               
asking.   He commented  that the  660-foot requirement  refers to                                                               
signs  that can  be seen  from  a federally  funded or  supported                                                               
highway.                                                                                                                        
                                                                                                                                
MR.  EARNHART commented  that in  Anchorage  there are  a lot  of                                                               
streets and bicycle paths that  are federally supported.  He said                                                               
he believes the  federal law was intended  for interstate highway                                                               
systems,  and   he  understands   the  interpretation   that  was                                                               
mentioned earlier in  testimony is that Alaska would  not be held                                                               
to that standard  if signs are on private property.   He asked if                                                               
he understands this correctly.                                                                                                  
                                                                                                                                
Number 1606                                                                                                                     
                                                                                                                                
CO-CHAIR HOLM replied that is exactly correct.                                                                                  
                                                                                                                                
MR. EARNHART  said that this  bill is intended to  help eliminate                                                               
the obstruction  to use signs  along the roadways  for campaigns.                                                               
He commended Co-Chair Holm for working to correct the problem.                                                                  
                                                                                                                                
MR. EARNHART told the committee  he is concerned with enforcement                                                               
for the  sake of public safety.   He said he  believes that issue                                                               
is covered  by municipalities and boroughs.   He asked if  it was                                                               
necessary to have that kind of detail in the bill.                                                                              
                                                                                                                                
CO-CHAIR HOLM responded that he is not sure.                                                                                    
                                                                                                                                
MR. EARNHART said  that in Anchorage the  municipality takes care                                                               
of the  enforcement of  safety with respect  to the  placement of                                                               
signs.  He said he believes  that is true of the state's handling                                                               
of state  highways as well.   He pointed out that  enforcement is                                                               
likely  to be  erratic  because  there are  not  enough funds  or                                                               
people to  do the enforcement.   He said he hopes  this bill will                                                               
simplify  the law  and  reduce  the need  for  enforcement.   Mr.                                                               
Earnhart shared  that nothing was  enforced for the last  30 days                                                               
before the election  in Anchorage in the last several  years.  He                                                               
said the administrative time it  took for giving notice to remove                                                               
signs meant  that nothing happened for  the 30 days prior  to the                                                               
election.   He  said last  year "Governor  Murkowski" signs  were                                                               
everywhere  and he  does  not fault  them for  it  because it  is                                                               
warfare before  an election.  Mr.  Earnhart said the only  way to                                                               
control  warfare is  if there  are simple  rules that  are easily                                                               
enforced.                                                                                                                       
                                                                                                                                
CO-CHAIR HOLM thanked Mr. Earnhart  for his testimony and assured                                                               
him  that  the  committee  would ask  the  Alaska  Department  of                                                               
Transportation and  Public Facilities  (DOT&PF) how  it maintains                                                               
control of political signs.                                                                                                     
                                                                                                                                
MR. EARNHART responded that he  is less interested in DOT&PF then                                                               
he is in the  city of Anchorage.  He said that  while the city is                                                               
supposed to be nonpartisan, it is, in fact, partisan.                                                                           
                                                                                                                                
MR. LARKIN commented  that in their discussions  with DOT&PF, the                                                               
department has  indicated that  any definition  that is  added to                                                               
this  bill,  no  matter  how  small or  broad,  will  reduce  the                                                               
enforcement load that it has right now.                                                                                         
                                                                                                                                
Number 1760                                                                                                                     
                                                                                                                                
BOBBIE JO  SKIBO testified in  opposition to HB 230  and answered                                                               
questions  from the  members.   She told  the committee  that she                                                               
agrees  with  Seth  Little's  points  concerning  definitions  of                                                               
political signs  and the  timeline issue.   Currently,  there are                                                               
still political  signs up  in Anchorage  from the  last election.                                                               
She said a  "George Wuerch" political sign is still  up at Peters                                                               
Creek.  This is a problem that  is seen along the roadsides.  She                                                               
shared  her belief  that it  is important  to pick  up the  signs                                                               
because it is a major distraction.   The Alaskan public spoke out                                                               
against billboards, Ms. Skibo told  the members.  She agreed with                                                               
Seth Little's comment  that stacking 32 signs next  to each other                                                               
equals  a billboard.    She  said that  she  believes the  public                                                               
receives enough political  information through television, radio,                                                               
newspapers, street corner  handouts, and mailings.   She said she                                                               
thinks this  covers all  the bases  and she  does not  want signs                                                               
cluttering  roadways and  views of  scenery.   Tourism  is a  big                                                               
factor and people  come to Alaska for the view,  not the politics                                                               
of Alaska.   Ms.  Skibo said  she would like  to see  the "George                                                               
Wuerch" sign taken out of Peters  Creek, and in fact, would never                                                               
want to see a sign there again.                                                                                                 
                                                                                                                                
MS. SKIBO addressed  the free-speech issue by  saying that people                                                               
with small  children have political  signs that advocate  for the                                                               
legalization  of  marijuana.     She  said  there   should  be  a                                                               
definition of what  a political sign is before  moving forward on                                                               
this issue.   She spoke  to Co-Chair Masek's question  of whether                                                               
she would support  this bill with definitions  of political signs                                                               
and timelines included;  she said she is not sure  that she could                                                               
support it.                                                                                                                     
                                                                                                                                
CO-CHAIR MASEK asked  Ms. Skibo what kind of  timeline she thinks                                                               
should be incorporated in the bill.                                                                                             
                                                                                                                                
MS. SKIBO  responded that a  reasonable time to remove  the signs                                                               
would be a week at most.   She reiterated her comment that she is                                                               
still seeing signs from the last election.                                                                                      
                                                                                                                                
CO-CHAIR MASEK  asked Ms.  Skibo what  definition of  a political                                                               
sign she would be comfortable with.                                                                                             
                                                                                                                                
MS. SKIBO said  she believes just a sign displaying  the name and                                                               
the position the candidate is running for.                                                                                      
                                                                                                                                
Number 2026                                                                                                                     
                                                                                                                                
ANDRE CAMARA  testified in  opposition to  HB 230.   He  told the                                                               
committee  that he  believes that  political  billboard signs  on                                                               
roadways will  cause visual distractions to  motorists and create                                                               
unsafe  road  conditions.    Mr. Camara  said  that  the  tourism                                                               
industry  depends on  Alaska's beautiful  scenery  because it  is                                                               
unique, and  he said  he feels  it is important  to keep  it that                                                               
way.   There is  nothing in  HB 230 to  prohibit the  stacking of                                                               
many signs  to create  a larger billboard  effect.   He expressed                                                               
his  opinion that  the  public  is exposed  to  more than  enough                                                               
information on political  candidates.  He said he sees  HB 230 as                                                               
just a  foot in the door  for the billboard industry  and it will                                                               
only  be a  matter of  time before  this billion-dollar  industry                                                               
starts littering Alaska's landscape with billboards.                                                                            
                                                                                                                                
MR. CAMARA told the committee  that in 1997 the state legislature                                                               
ignored  overwhelming   public  opposition  in  passing   SB  56,                                                               
sponsored by  Senator Lyda Green.   This  bill made it  legal for                                                               
landowners to rent out advertising  space along the highways.  In                                                               
1998, 72 percent  of the people decided through  an initiative to                                                               
permanently ban  billboards in Alaska.   This initiative repealed                                                               
SB  56 and  returned  Alaska's sign  laws to  the  way they  have                                                               
always been and the way he hopes they remain.                                                                                   
                                                                                                                                
Number 2107                                                                                                                     
                                                                                                                                
CLARE STOCKERT  testified in opposition  HB 230.  She  asked what                                                               
the language is in Amendment 1, which the committee had adopted.                                                                
                                                                                                                                
CO-CHAIR HOLM read Amendment 1 to Ms. Stockert.                                                                                 
                                                                                                                                
MS. STOCKERT  went on to say  she is testifying in  opposition to                                                               
HB 230  because in 1998, 72  percent of the Alaskan  people voted                                                               
to ban  billboards.   She said  she is  concerned when  she hears                                                               
that  the legislature  is  trying  to overturn  the  vote of  the                                                               
people.   She said there are  already many signs on  the roadways                                                               
to ensure safety,  and to add political signs to  this is a whole                                                               
new ball game.   She told the committee that  driving through the                                                               
Lower 48 during  election season is ugly because  there are signs                                                               
everywhere.   Alaskans do not want  to be like the  Lower 48; nor                                                               
do Alaskans  want the Lower  48 to tell them  what to do,  so she                                                               
asked why  there would be  a desire  to have billboards  all over                                                               
the place.                                                                                                                      
                                                                                                                                
MS. STOCKERT  asked what the  definition of a political  sign is.                                                               
For  example,  what if  during  the  next  election there  is  an                                                               
initiative to  have a head  tax?  Can  Princess Cruises put  up a                                                               
big  sign saying  "Vote No  on a  Head Tax"?   Or  could Governor                                                               
Murkowski  put up  a sign  saying "Buy  your Frank  Murkowski for                                                               
Governor T-shirts  here"?  She said  she would like to  have more                                                               
clarity on what "political signs" means.                                                                                        
                                                                                                                                
MS. STOCKERT mentioned  the issue of a timeline  and the question                                                               
a of permanent  base.  She pointed to a  possible sign that would                                                               
say  "Tony Knowles  for  U.S.  Senate" and  asked  if the  public                                                               
should have  to look  at that for  the next year  and half.   How                                                               
long can  the signs stay up  after the election?   She questioned                                                               
when the  timeline would extend  after the election,  whether the                                                               
municipalities have any discretion on  what is allowable in their                                                               
communities, whether stacking  of signs is allowed,  and who will                                                               
enforce the law.                                                                                                                
                                                                                                                                
Number 2266                                                                                                                     
                                                                                                                                
MARTHA LEVENSALER  testified in opposition  to HB 230.   She said                                                               
that a lot  of the factual concerns she has  about this bill have                                                               
already  been voiced  by previous  speakers.   She expressed  her                                                               
opposition to this  bill and told the committee  she believes the                                                               
language in  the bill is so  loose that stacking could  occur and                                                               
Alaska would have billboards that  are ugly and distracting.  Ms.                                                               
Levensaler pointed  out that 72  percent of Alaskans do  not want                                                               
billboards.                                                                                                                     
                                                                                                                                
Number 2315                                                                                                                     
                                                                                                                                
ALLEN COMBS testified  on HB 230.  He told  the committee that he                                                               
has been involved  in at least two  mayoral candidates' campaigns                                                               
and he put up  signs for them.  He said he would  like to see the                                                               
playing  field  leveled  for  individuals  who  are  running  for                                                               
political  offices.   The borough  and the  state have  different                                                               
rules.   Often the  borough does  not know what  it is  doing and                                                               
calls  back a  week  later [with  a  different interpretation  of                                                               
regulation].   For  instance, he  said,  in the  last election  a                                                               
candidate he was working for  was blackmailed by someone who said                                                               
he had a bunch of signs that were  illegal and if he did not take                                                               
them down, this  person was going to publicize it.   So the signs                                                               
were taken  down because the  campaign did not want  any negative                                                               
publicity.                                                                                                                      
                                                                                                                                
MR.  COMBS told  the  committee  he would  like  to see  language                                                               
included in the  bill that says a political sign  is for a person                                                               
running for office.   He believes that would  clearly define what                                                               
that is.   He suggested that signs  be up no sooner  than 60 days                                                               
before the election,  and taken down no later than  10 days after                                                               
the election.  Put a $100-per-day  fine for each sign that is not                                                               
picked up after 10 days, he  suggested.  This puts teeth into the                                                               
law.   He  said the  signs should  meet the  setback requirement,                                                               
there should be only one sign  in 32 square feet, and they should                                                               
be no  closer [together] than one-half  mile.  Mr. Combs  said he                                                               
believes that would alleviate some of the problems.                                                                             
                                                                                                                                
TAPE 03-19, SIDE B                                                                                                            
                                                                                                                                
MR. COMBS  told the committee  that he believes  [laws pertaining                                                               
to]  federal campaign  signs are  not enforced.   Officials  turn                                                               
their heads the other way; however,  when it is a local election,                                                               
then enforcement is  carried out.  He asked the  members to level                                                               
the field on this issue.                                                                                                        
                                                                                                                                
Number 2367                                                                                                                     
                                                                                                                                
CO-CHAIR  MASEK said  she is  in favor  of less  state government                                                               
intervention  and more  local control.   She  asked Mr.  Combs to                                                               
clarify  his position  on local  control of  these issues  by the                                                               
municipalities.                                                                                                                 
                                                                                                                                
MR. COMBS  said that  applying and  paying for  a permit  is time                                                               
consuming.  Quite  often, the person issuing the  permit does not                                                               
know what  he/she is  doing.   Sometimes a  call will  come three                                                               
days later  saying the  person made  a mistake.   It is  a losing                                                               
proposition,  so he  suggested putting  the police  on the  other                                                               
end.   If a  sign is  put in the  wrong place,  there is  a phone                                                               
call, and a limited time to move  or correct it.  He said the way                                                               
it  is currently  done  is not  effective.   Mr.  Combs told  the                                                               
committee his  experience is limited  to Anchorage, where  he has                                                               
lived since 1950.                                                                                                               
                                                                                                                                
CO-CHAIR MASEK asked if working  with the borough assembly or the                                                               
mayor would be  a better solution, rather than  getting the state                                                               
involved by making it a statewide regulation.                                                                                   
                                                                                                                                
MR. COMBS said that he  believes the federal government makes the                                                               
rules because of  federal funding for roads.   The state complies                                                               
with the  rules and then  the boroughs  finally get the  rules in                                                               
the end.  He said he does  not really have an answer for Co-Chair                                                               
Masek.                                                                                                                          
                                                                                                                                
Number 2261                                                                                                                     
                                                                                                                                
COLLEEN NORMAN  testified in  opposition to  HB 230  and answered                                                               
questions from the  members.  She told the committee  she is here                                                               
to  speak  against  HB  230 because  she  believes  allowing  the                                                               
posting of political  signs along state roads will  lead to major                                                               
problems.   First,  it just  adds to  the campaign  money battle.                                                               
She  pointed  out  that  there   is  a  bill  going  through  the                                                               
legislature   that  would   increase  the   amount  of   campaign                                                               
donations, which  will mean  there will  be more  political signs                                                               
out.   Second, she believes  that the  signs are a  safety issue.                                                               
People get  distracted by  the signs.   She explained  that where                                                               
she lives  on North  Douglas Highway  it is  a very  active road.                                                               
There are  a lot  of people that  run or bike  on that  road, and                                                               
there are  school children out there  in the mornings.   There is                                                               
no  sidewalk.   If  someone  is driving  down  that  road and  is                                                               
distracted by a political sign, it  could cause a lot of problems                                                               
and could be very dangerous.                                                                                                    
                                                                                                                                
MS.  NORMAN told  the members  another  concern she  has is  when                                                               
political signs  are displayed near intersections.   In Anchorage                                                               
a woman was hit  by a car because the driver  was distracted by a                                                               
sign.   Another issue that concerns  her is the idea  of clutter.                                                               
She said when sitting outside she  does not want to have 30 signs                                                               
posted on  the lawn next  to her house.   Ms. Norman  agreed with                                                               
Seth Little and others that a  lot of signs put together have the                                                               
same effect  as a billboard.   She said  there really is  not any                                                               
clarity in the  definition of political signs.   Ms. Norman asked                                                               
the members to take more time  to look through this bill and make                                                               
changes  that would  make  it  less vague.    She summarized  her                                                               
comments by saying she opposes HB 230 as written.                                                                               
                                                                                                                                
CO-CHAIR HOLM asked  Ms. Norman if she has ever  seen in her life                                                               
more than one  four-by-eight political sign put  together to make                                                               
a billboard.                                                                                                                    
                                                                                                                                
MS. NORMAN  responded that she has  not, but does not  want it to                                                               
happen.                                                                                                                         
                                                                                                                                
CO-CHAIR HOLM  said he  has heard the  same remark  all afternoon                                                               
and  he  is  perplexed.   He  asked  if  all  of the  people  who                                                               
testified  were together  or had  seen political  signs displayed                                                               
this way.                                                                                                                       
                                                                                                                                
MS.  NORMAN responded  that she  does not  live where  that is  a                                                               
problem, but  she does not  want to  see huge billboard  signs on                                                               
each side  of her or across  the road.  She  said she appreciates                                                               
freedom of speech, but does not support this bill.                                                                              
                                                                                                                                
CO-CHAIR HOLM  said he appreciate Ms.  Norman's sensibilities but                                                               
offered that  she lives in a  country that allows her  to express                                                               
her views, because people have  the freedom to express themselves                                                               
through their political  speech.  Co-Chair Holm  stated that from                                                               
that freedom comes the bill.                                                                                                    
                                                                                                                                
Number 2092                                                                                                                     
                                                                                                                                
MICHAEL DOWNING,  Chief Engineer, Department of  Transportation &                                                               
Public  Facilities, testified  on HB  230 and  answered questions                                                               
from  the  members.    Mr.  Downing offered  a  few  comments  of                                                               
clarification.    He  pointed  out   that  these  signs  are  not                                                               
advertising on the highway right-of-way  and that is important to                                                               
keep in mind.  This is  advertising on private property and is an                                                               
important  distinction  to  the Department  of  Transportation  &                                                               
Public Facilities.                                                                                                              
                                                                                                                                
MR.   DOWNING  said   that  sign   enforcement   in  general   is                                                               
particularly  difficult; however,  that is  not the  case when  a                                                               
sign  is in  the  right-of-way.   In  that  case, the  department                                                               
simply removes the  sign from the right-of-way  because there are                                                               
no  requirements  for  notice.   Sign  enforcement  becomes  more                                                               
difficult when  it is on  private property  or it is  a political                                                               
sign.  The department distinguishes  between political speech and                                                               
commercial speech  because it is  believed that  political speech                                                               
is  more important.   Enforcement  practice  today, according  to                                                               
statute, is a  30-day notice by certified letter  to the property                                                               
owner where  the sign is  displayed.  The  letter is not  sent to                                                               
the candidate.  The department might  send a courtesy copy to the                                                               
candidate;  however,   the  violator   is  the   property  owner.                                                               
Candidates have figured that out.   He told the committee what he                                                               
has observed  is that the  candidates will take advantage  of the                                                               
30-day notice  because if it is  30 days before the  election, by                                                               
the time  the enforcement  action occurs,  the election  is over.                                                               
He said most candidates seem to be savvy about that.                                                                            
                                                                                                                                
MR.  DOWNING told  the committee  that state  regulation and  law                                                               
allows for  on-premises advertising.  State  regulations say that                                                               
for purposes  of campaign headquarters, political  advertising at                                                               
the  headquarters  itself  is   on-premises  advertising.    Some                                                               
campaigns  and political  parties have  taken advantage  of that.                                                               
There was a  case in Juneau where a party  leased a property next                                                               
to  a  highway and  designated  that  as the  community  campaign                                                               
headquarters and  then there  was a  huge proliferation  of signs                                                               
for every  candidate in that party.   That was legal  and clever.                                                               
He said  he was surprised that  it happened, but it  is perfectly                                                               
legitimate to  do it.  Another  thing that he has  seen is barges                                                               
in Gastineau Channel [with political  signs].  The department has                                                               
no  enforcement authority  over that.    It is  visible from  the                                                               
highway system,  but it  is legal.   That is  an example  of what                                                               
goes on.                                                                                                                        
                                                                                                                                
MR.  DOWNING shared  his and  his staff's  observations that  the                                                               
candidates who violate the ban  on outdoor advertising tend to do                                                               
better  in the  elections.   He pointed  out that  this is  not a                                                               
particularly balanced situation with  respect to sign enforcement                                                               
on private property.  As a  general rule, the department does not                                                               
go onto private property to remove  a sign without a court order.                                                               
He said  [the need to get  court orders] is not  in regulation or                                                               
statute;  it  is   just  the  department's  practice.     If  the                                                               
department does not  have a court order, it is  more difficult to                                                               
get support  from the local  law enforcement agencies to  go onto                                                               
someone's private property.  There  were certainly times when the                                                               
department felt it was necessary to have that support, he noted.                                                                
                                                                                                                                
Number 1902                                                                                                                     
                                                                                                                                
MR. DOWNING  told the  committee that the  citizens of  the state                                                               
are very passionate  about the initiative that got  passed.  With                                                               
the  current ban  on outdoor  advertising, local  governments are                                                               
authorized   to  pass   stricter  laws   [ordinances]  than   the                                                               
department.    They cannot  make  it  less restrictive  in  their                                                               
communities on state  highways, but communities can  make it more                                                               
restrictive.     Another  observation  is  that   when  there  is                                                               
confusion about  billboards, it may  be "sourced" in  the statute                                                               
itself  because the  statute defines  billboards pretty  broadly.                                                               
It  is  not the  giant  billboard  seen  on Lower  48  interstate                                                               
highways.   Almost any sign,  device, or distraction  is included                                                               
in the Title 19 definition of what a billboard is.                                                                              
                                                                                                                                
MR. DOWNING offered  four suggestions to the committee.   He told                                                               
the  members  the  first  suggestion  was  already  addressed  in                                                               
Amendment  1 and  the department  supports that  amendment.   The                                                               
second relates  to the  definition of what  a political  sign is.                                                               
He suggested  that political signs  be limited to  candidates and                                                               
issues in front  of the voters in the district  where the sign is                                                               
located.   Mr. Downing said  he believes that language  would put                                                               
some  narrow parameters  on the  definition.   Third, he  said he                                                               
believes there  should be  time limits on  the display  of signs.                                                               
Some individuals have suggested 60  days prior to election and 10                                                               
days  following election.   The  department's right-of-way  staff                                                               
prefers 30 days prior to election  and 5 days after the election.                                                               
Fourth, Mr. Downing asked the  committee to address the authority                                                               
of the department for enforcement  of illegal signs, particularly                                                               
with the  issue of safety.   He asked  that the authority  of the                                                               
department for removal remain in statute.                                                                                       
                                                                                                                                
CO-CHAIR  MASEK said  that in  the Matanuska-Susitna  Borough the                                                               
Department  of Transportation  &  Public  Facilities removes  the                                                               
signs and puts them in a  holding area where a candidate must pay                                                               
a fee to retrieve their signs.  She asked what the fee is.                                                                      
                                                                                                                                
MR.  DOWNING responded  that  the fee  is $50,  which  is set  in                                                               
regulation.                                                                                                                     
                                                                                                                                
CO-CHAIR MASEK asked what happens  when candidates do not pick up                                                               
their signs.                                                                                                                    
                                                                                                                                
MR.  DOWNING responded  that the  Department of  Transportation &                                                               
Public Facilities  will dispose  of the signs  after a  period of                                                               
time.   There is  no set  period of time  when that  will happen;                                                               
however,  the disposal  occurs when  they  believe the  candidate                                                               
will not be collecting them.                                                                                                    
                                                                                                                                
CO-CHAIR  MASEK asked  how many  feet  from the  centerline of  a                                                               
highway a sign must be placed that is on private property.                                                                      
                                                                                                                                
Number 1739                                                                                                                     
                                                                                                                                
MR. DOWNING replied that if  the sign is on-premises advertising,                                                               
it can be  on the building.   If the sign is not  related to that                                                               
business and therefore  is not on-premises, it is  subject to the                                                               
requirements of the federal Highway  Beautification Act where the                                                               
requirement  is 660  feet from  the nearest  edge of  the highway                                                               
right-of-way.   He pointed out  that the right-of-way  varies, so                                                               
the  additional  distance  to the  centerline  would  also  vary.                                                               
There is  an additional  provision in the  federal law  that says                                                               
"or  as intended  to  be read  from the  highway".   Mr.  Downing                                                               
explained that  the idea here is  that those signs should  not be                                                               
placed with the intention of being read from the highway.                                                                       
                                                                                                                                
CO-CHAIR  MASEK  asked, if  a  private  person who  owns  highway                                                               
frontage property gives a candidate  permission to put a sign up,                                                               
whether this can be done legally.                                                                                               
                                                                                                                                
MR.  DOWNING  responded  that  if  he  understands  the  question                                                               
correctly, the  answer would be no.   He asked Co-Chair  Masek to                                                               
clarify her question.                                                                                                           
                                                                                                                                
CO-CHAIR MASEK gave an example of  a candidate who is running for                                                               
mayor and  Jane Doe owns  private property with  highway frontage                                                               
and  gave the  candidate  permission  to place  his  sign on  her                                                               
property.   The sign would be  placed the required 660  feet from                                                               
the highway.   She asked whether  it would be legal  to place the                                                               
sign there.                                                                                                                     
                                                                                                                                
MR.  DOWNING responded  that this  example is  one that  would be                                                               
subject  to  the  additional  language  in  the  federal  Highway                                                               
Beautification Act where it says "or  as intended to be read from                                                               
the  highway", which  means  that  it is  also  banned under  the                                                               
federal law.  He commented  that the Department of Transportation                                                               
& Public Facilities rarely sees that kind of violation.                                                                         
                                                                                                                                
Number 1632                                                                                                                     
                                                                                                                                
REPRESENTATIVE FATE commented that it  is very difficult to see a                                                               
4-foot by 8-foot  sign from 660 feet away.   He asked Mr. Downing                                                               
about other signs including  commercial advertising and memorials                                                               
along  highways,  which was  a  big  issue.   The  Department  of                                                               
Transportation & Public Facilities  seems to enforce placement of                                                               
signs  unevenly, he  suggested.   For  example,  it appears  that                                                               
signs  at intersections  that describes  a garage  sale somewhere                                                               
are not enforced, but yet a  political sign will be.  Relative to                                                               
the political sign, some department  staff have used intimidation                                                               
as an  enforcement tool by walking  into a place and  telling the                                                               
owners, "This sign  is illegal!  Get  it off of here!"   They did                                                               
not notify  the owners of the  property that they had  30 days to                                                               
remove  the sign  by registered  letter saying  it is  an illegal                                                               
sign.   The owners  of the  store were  so intimidated  that they                                                               
took  a $150  [sign] plus  the cost  of the  stand and  labor and                                                               
dumped it  into the  back of the  pickup bed and  took it  to the                                                               
dump.                                                                                                                           
                                                                                                                                
REPRESENTATIVE FATE said  that there needs to be a  change in the                                                               
enforcement  of laws  to make  it more  even across  Alaska.   He                                                               
pointed out  that he is  not just talking about  political signs,                                                               
but all signs.  Looking the other  way in some areas of the state                                                               
is  not fair,  and  he urged  the committee  to  make changes  to                                                               
mitigate this problem.                                                                                                          
                                                                                                                                
MR. DOWNING  responded that the  public likes to use  the highway                                                               
right-of-way for all  kinds of things that are  not allowed under                                                               
state law.   The volume of  that is very high.   The right-of-way                                                               
staff that enforces that law is  pretty limited and has a limited                                                               
budget.   They will go  through an area and  try to clean  it up,                                                               
but there is a differential  in the regulations, policies, and so                                                               
forth.   Mr. Downing said the  guidance out of his  office to the                                                               
right-of-way chiefs  is consistent.   One of  the things  that he                                                               
emphasizes continually is  that wherever the bar  is set anywhere                                                               
in  the state,  that is  the bar  for everyone.   The  department                                                               
cannot sustain  saying it is okay  to do something in  Kenai, but                                                               
not in Fairbanks.  There has  been an active dialog to ensure the                                                               
ban is enforced  uniformly.  These are human beings,  and they do                                                               
get different  ideas at times.   In one case, there  was an agent                                                               
that  was  reluctant  to  enforce the  ban,  but  the  department                                                               
finally  persuaded him  to do  it, and  his approach  was to  put                                                               
posters over the signs, declaring  them illegal.  Of course, that                                                               
was  retracted  as  soon  as  it was  discovered.    Mr.  Downing                                                               
apologized for  any of his staff  who might have behaved  the way                                                               
Representative  Fate described.   He  said he  has no  excuse for                                                               
that kind of behavior.                                                                                                          
                                                                                                                                
REPRESENTATIVE  FATE  asked  Mr.  Downing if  the  Department  of                                                               
Transportation &  Public Facilities is immune  to litigation that                                                               
might ensue  as a result  of uneven enforcement  of the law.   He                                                               
clarified his  question by  saying he is  not just  talking about                                                               
political signs.   Representative  Fate said he  understands that                                                               
realtor signs are exempt from this law.                                                                                         
                                                                                                                                
Number 1377                                                                                                                     
                                                                                                                                
MR. DOWNING  replied that he  does not  know.  He  commented that                                                               
there is a lot of litigation.                                                                                                   
                                                                                                                                
REPRESENTATIVE  OGG  replied  that  the First  Amendment  to  the                                                               
Constitution expresses what America, as  a society, is about.  He                                                               
said  with respect  to this  Act [federal  Highway Beautification                                                               
Act], it  is difficult to  define or limit what  political speech                                                               
is and it is a foolhardy road  to go down because everyone in the                                                               
country would have a different  idea of what political speech is.                                                               
The courts  have said  that obscenity,  inciting people  to riot,                                                               
and  things  of  that  nature  are  violations  of  free  speech.                                                               
However,  he  said he  sees  a  problem with  limiting  political                                                               
speech  by candidates  and  on issues  before  voters by  denying                                                               
people  on their  own  property [free  speech].   It  is not  the                                                               
candidate who  is advertising;  this is the  person who  owns the                                                               
property  that is  advertising and  who  is saying,  "I own  this                                                               
property and  I support that  person or this  idea."  So  this is                                                               
not talking  about a candidate, but  a property owner and  his or                                                               
her  right   to  express  a  viewpoint,   using  his/her  private                                                               
property.    To limit  that  to  a  candidate  or issue  in  that                                                               
district  creates  problems.     Representative  Ogg  asked  what                                                               
happens  when there  is a  statewide  election: would  it not  be                                                               
permissible  because  [the election]  is  not  in that  district?                                                               
What happens when  an individual wants to put a  sign up about an                                                               
issue  that is  before the  state legislature,  and not  an issue                                                               
before the voters?                                                                                                              
                                                                                                                                
REPRESENTATIVE  OGG  addressed  the   issue  of  time  limits  on                                                               
displaying  political  signs.   He  said  that many  states  have                                                               
discussed this and  it makes a lot  of sense to do  that, but the                                                               
courts in this country have ruled  that this creates a problem in                                                               
that it  infringes on free  speech.  He  said he wonders  why, in                                                               
the face  of court  rulings, the  Department of  Transportation &                                                               
Public Facilities would suggest a time limit.                                                                                   
                                                                                                                                
CO-CHAIR HOLM announced  that HB 230 would be held  until a later                                                               
date.                                                                                                                           
                                                                                                                                

Document Name Date/Time Subjects