Legislature(2003 - 2004)
02/18/2004 01:34 PM CRA
* first hearing in first committee of referral
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
SB 227-MUNI INITIATIVE AND REFERENDUM ELECTIONS CHAIR BERT STEDMAN announced SB 227 to be up for consideration and asked Senator Gary Stevens to introduce his bill. SENATOR GARY STEVENS paraphrased the sponsor statement: SB 227 was introduced specifically to help local governments avoid costly special initiative elections and referendums brought forward by voters. In many cases, these measures are not so pressing in nature that they could not wait for the regular municipal election. Special elections are costly and generally result in a lower voter turnout than the regular election. Recently, the Fairbanks North Star Borough had over 46 petitions filed in a period of 4 months. Although these petitions resulted in only one special election - at a cost of $35,000 -, there was a potential for many more special elections at great cost to the municipality. This bill could result in cost savings to municipalities that could choose to wait until the next regular election, typically in October, to consider an issue. This legislation would give the municipal governing body the option of calling a special election if the council or assembly wished to have the initiative and referendum considered in a more timely manner. The Alaska Municipal League, the Fairbanks North Star Borough, the Kenai Peninsula Borough, and the Alaska Association of Municipal Clerks support this bill. SENATOR KIM ELTON said he read the bill and didn't see the provision that gave municipalities the option to hold a special election and wondered whether that is in another provision of law that isn't covered in the bill. SENATOR GARY STEVENS said that is correct, they already have the option to hold a special election and this allows them to postpone the election if they believe that is prudent. SENATOR GEORGIANNA LINCOLN reviewed the letters in support of the issue and asked whether Anchorage had responded. SENATOR GARY STEVENS said they didn't solicit a comment from Anchorage and didn't receive one. SENATOR LINCOLN asked if they solicited a response from Fairbanks. SENATOR GARY STEVENS conceded they had not. The request came from the clerk's association and they received the letters of support without solicitation. CHAIR STEDMAN opened the hearing to public participation. LINDA MURPHY, clerk of the Kenai Peninsula Borough, testified via teleconference and advised that she has administered local elections for more than 20 years. To address Senator Lincoln's question, she explained that in Title 29 this provision isn't a home rule limitation so Anchorage wouldn't be affected because it is a home rule municipality. With increasing competition for decreasing funds, many municipalities are facing grave financial difficulties and can't afford unbudgeted special elections, she said. The most important point is that special elections attract very few voters, which increases the likelihood that the election results won't reflect the true will of the community. She encouraged members to pass the bill. SENATOR GARY STEVENS asked her to respond to Senator Elton's question about municipalities' ability to call special elections if they choose to do so. MS. MURPHY explained that Alaska Statutes provide that the governing body may call special elections any time as long as they properly notice the election. She saw nothing in SB 227 that would affect that ability. CHAIR STEDMAN noted there was no further testimony. He asked for a motion. SENATOR THOMAS WAGONER motioned to pass SB 227 from committee with individual recommendations and attached zero fiscal note. There being no objection, it was so ordered.