Legislature(2003 - 2004)

05/03/2004 09:06 AM Senate FIN

Audio Topic
* first hearing in first committee of referral
+ teleconferenced
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
     HOUSE JOINT RESOLUTION NO. 5                                                                                               
     Proposing an amendment to the Constitution of the State of                                                                 
      Alaska relating to initiative and referendum petitions.                                                                   
This  was the first  hearing  for this  bill in  the Senate  Finance                                                            
Co-Chair  Wilken  stated  this  bill,  sponsored  by Representative                                                             
Williams, "places before  the voters a constitutional amendment that                                                            
changes  the signature requirements  for  initiative and  referendum                                                            
TIM BARRY,  Staff to Representative  Bill  Williams, testified  that                                                            
currently,  to place an initiative  on the ballot, the Alaska  State                                                            
Constitution requires signatures  equal to ten-percent of voters who                                                            
voted in the  most recent statewide  general election from  at least                                                            
27 of  the 40 House  districts.   The amendment  in this  resolution                                                            
would  change  the requirement  for  placing  an initiative  on  the                                                            
ballot. This resolution  would require approval by a two-thirds plus                                                            
one  vote of  both bodies  of  the Alaska  State Legislature  and  a                                                            
majority of  the popular vote to bring  the proposed amendment  into                                                            
Mr.  Barry stated  that  this  legislation  is consistent  with  the                                                            
intent of the authors of  the Alaska State Constitution, referencing                                                            
a  document   titled,  "Additional   Information  for  the   Sponsor                                                            
Statement  for HB  31/HJR 5:  Initiative and  Referendum  Petitions"                                                            
[copy  on file].  He stated  that the  authors of  the Constitution                                                             
wanted to ensure  that initiatives  received "a measure of  support"                                                            
throughout  the  State  before  being placed  on  the  ballot.  This                                                            
legislation would fulfill  that goal by amending the Constitution to                                                            
reflect  the  current geographical   distribution  of the  State  of                                                            
Mr.  Barry  continued  by  referring  to a  report  written  by  the                                                            
National Conference  of State Legislatures  titled "Constitution  of                                                            
the  State  of  Alaska"[copy  on  file],   urging  states  to  adopt                                                            
geographical  distribution  requirements   for initiative   petition                                                            
signatures  such as that proposed  by this resolution.  He  referred                                                            
to  statistical  data  on  signature  petitions,   included  in  the                                                            
"Initiative  and Referendum  Petitions"  document.  He proceeded  to                                                            
testify as follows.                                                                                                             
     Of  the ten  initiatives  that have  been on  the ballot  since                                                            
     1998,  sponsors  would have  had to  gather an  average of  935                                                            
     additional  valid signatures to comply with this  law. On these                                                            
     ten  petitions sponsors  gathered  an average  of 40,148  total                                                            
     signatures  [when],  in  fact, the  proposed  legislation  only                                                            
     requires  signature gatherers to get signatures  from as few as                                                            
     2.4 percent, and at  the most, 6.4 percent of registered voters                                                            
     in each district.                                                                                                          
Senator  Bunde asked  if the proposed  resolution  would reduce  the                                                            
overall number  of signatures required  to put an initiative  on the                                                            
Mr. Barry replied  that this legislation would not  change the total                                                            
number  of signatures  required  statewide  for an  initiative,  but                                                            
rather would require  a greater number of signatures  in each of the                                                            
Senator  Bunde commented  that  although  the election  district  he                                                            
represents  is  one   with  a  high  population  concentration   and                                                            
increasing  growth, he supports  this legislation.  This  resolution                                                            
would increase  public confidence  in government by giving  Alaskans                                                            
assurance against  paid petition gatherers soliciting  signatures in                                                            
heavily populated areas of the State.                                                                                           
Co-Chair  Wilken  asked  for  a more  thorough  explanation  of  the                                                            
initiative  requirements.  He requested  that  Mr. Barry  go over  a                                                            
document titled "1997 Term Limits Pledge"[copy on file].                                                                        
Mr. Barry explained, using  the "1997 Term Limits Pledge" chart, the                                                            
current requirements  to place  an initiative  on the ballot  versus                                                            
the requirements of this resolution.                                                                                            
Senator  Olson  asked whether  this  legislation  has  received  any                                                            
testimony in opposition  or support from residents  of rural Alaska.                                                            
Mr. Barry replied that  a significant amount of testimony from rural                                                            
residents has  been received in support  of this bill. He  could not                                                            
recall any opposition voiced from rural residents.                                                                              
Senator Dyson spoke to  the "unfortunate gradual shift" of political                                                            
power to  urban areas.  He expressed  regret that  the State  Senate                                                            
districts were  divided into geographical areas. He  opposed the use                                                            
of   professional   petition   signature    gatherers   for   ballot                                                            
propositions.  He supported this bill,  particularly in relation  to                                                            
issues affecting  rural residents, as it would return  some power to                                                            
rural areas.                                                                                                                    
Senator Dyson  offered a  motion to report  the bill from  Committee                                                            
with individual recommendations and accompanying fiscal note.                                                                   
There was no  objection and HJR 5  MOVED from Committee with  fiscal                                                            
note #1 for $1,500 from the Office of the Governor.                                                                             

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