Legislature(2003 - 2004)

03/01/2004 08:03 AM Senate JUD

Audio Topic
* first hearing in first committee of referral
+ teleconferenced
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
             HB 31-INITIATIVE/REFERENDUM PETITIONS                                                                          
        HJR 5-CONST AM: INITIATIVE/REFERENDUM PETITIONS                                                                     
MR. TIM BARRY,  aide to Representative Bill  Williams, sponsor of                                                               
HB 31  and HJR  5, explained  to members that  the two  pieces of                                                               
legislation would  put a constitutional  amendment on  the ballot                                                               
in the  fall of 2004.  The constitutional amendment  would change                                                               
the requirements  to put  an initiative  on Alaska's  ballot. The                                                               
Constitution  currently  requires  a  petitioner  to  submit  the                                                               
signatures  of at  least 10  percent of  the voters  at the  most                                                               
recent  general election  and those  signatures must  be from  at                                                               
least 27 of the 40 House  districts. Only one signature from each                                                               
of the  27 districts  is required.  In HB  31 and  HJR 5,  the 10                                                               
percent  requirement would  remain  the same  but  the number  of                                                               
districts would increase  to 30 and the signatures  would have to                                                               
total  at least  7  percent  of the  voters  at  the most  recent                                                               
general election in each of those districts.                                                                                    
MR.  BARRY said  the legislation  carries out  the intent  of the                                                               
framers  of Alaska's  Constitution  who  included the  geographic                                                               
distribution requirement to insure that  no one part of the state                                                               
could get an initiative on  the ballot without support from other                                                               
parts of the state. HB 31  and HJR 5 will adjust the Constitution                                                               
to reflect  demographic changes that  have occurred in  the state                                                               
since statehood.  In 1956, three  areas of the state  had roughly                                                               
equivalent  populations:  Southeast,  Anchorage,  and  Fairbanks.                                                               
Since   then,   Anchorage   has    become   the   dominant   area                                                               
demographically. In addition, changes in  technology make it much                                                               
easier to send  petitions around the state to  gather support for                                                               
an issue.                                                                                                                       
MR.  BARRY  told  members  that the  National  Council  of  State                                                               
Legislatures (NCSL)  compiled a report  two years ago  that urged                                                               
states  to  adopt  the geographic  distribution  requirement  for                                                               
initiative  petition signatures.  He said  the legislation  would                                                               
not create  an undue hardship  for initiative  sponsors. Members'                                                               
packets also  include data  from the  Division of  Elections that                                                               
shows that initiative supporters  could have met the requirements                                                               
of the new legislation without much  effort. He said among the 10                                                               
initiatives that  have been  on the  ballot since  1998, sponsors                                                               
would have had to gather  an average of 935 additional signatures                                                               
to   comply.  On   average,   sponsors   gathered  40,000   total                                                               
signatures.  Most  initiatives  get  on the  ballot  without  any                                                               
substantial support from any areas  of the state. The Division of                                                               
Elections  submitted a  fiscal note  with a  cost of  $1,500. The                                                               
Alaska  Outdoor  Council,  the  Alaska  Miners  Association,  the                                                               
Alaska League  of Women  Voters and the  Alaska State  Chamber of                                                               
Commerce support HB 31 and HJR 5.                                                                                               
CHAIR SEEKINS  asked Mr.  Barry to  provide specific  examples of                                                               
some of the last initiatives.                                                                                                   
MR. BARRY referred to a chart  in members' packets and pointed to                                                               
the  billboard  initiative  in  1998 and  the  districts  with  7                                                               
percent of the signatures.                                                                                                      
CHAIR  SEEKINS noted  a large  group of  districts in  the middle                                                               
always seems  to have at  least 7  percent, but the  districts on                                                               
either end do not.                                                                                                              
MR.  BARRY said  the bulk  of  signatures are  being gathered  on                                                               
every initiative in districts 10 through 29.                                                                                    
CHAIR  SEEKINS  asked  if  the  rural  districts  are  not  being                                                               
MR. BARRY  said that  is exactly  correct. He noted  it is  a lot                                                               
simpler to get an initiative  on the ballot today without leaving                                                               
the Anchorage - Mat-Su Valley area.                                                                                             
CHAIR SEEKINS said  each district has the same  number of voters,                                                               
roughly, so  a lot  of people  in the state  are not  being asked                                                               
their opinion in the first place.                                                                                               
MR. BARRY agreed  and added that he has heard  a lot of testimony                                                               
from  folks from  rural  areas who  do not  feel  they are  being                                                               
represented in this process at all.                                                                                             
SENATOR OGAN  said he  supports these  pieces of  legislation. He                                                               
said he found the advertising  for the billboard initiative to be                                                               
very  offensive  because  it  depicted  scenic  roads  in  Alaska                                                               
covered  with billboards  while the  real  issue had  to do  with                                                               
directional signs placed by the  Department of Transportation and                                                               
Public  Facilities  (DOTPF). He  said  his  district is  made  up                                                               
predominantly  of  strip  development   and  businesses  must  be                                                               
located along  the highway because  no signs are allowed  to lead                                                               
customers  elsewhere. However,  on private  property, a  business                                                               
owner can put up  as many ugly signs as he wants  to. He said the                                                               
people  voted for  strip mall  development that  looks ten  times                                                               
worse than  a directional  sign because  of poor  advertising. He                                                               
said  his  point is  that  ballot  issues  are often  decided  on                                                               
emotion and a sound byte that has nothing to do with the truth.                                                                 
SENATOR OGAN  then said  if the  voters pass  this constitutional                                                               
amendment, the  people who have  been disingenuous  about various                                                               
issues might  wake up  a little bit.  He said  obviously managing                                                               
wildlife is  the legislature's responsibility  and should  not be                                                               
done  at  the  ballot  box.  He asked  whether  the  sponsor  has                                                               
considered narrowing the bill to wildlife issues only.                                                                          
MR.  BARRY said  he is  not comfortable  answering that  question                                                               
right now.                                                                                                                      
SENATOR OGAN responded:                                                                                                         
     Because  while  people  may  wish  to  be  misled  with                                                                    
     emotional advertising  that has nothing to  do with the                                                                    
     truth, some issues, an issue  as important as wildlife,                                                                    
     as much as  people in rural Alaska  depend on wildlife,                                                                    
     I  think  that's  a higher  cause  [indisc.]  than  not                                                                    
     having mini-billboards, or whatever  you wanted to call                                                                    
     them. But it has a very  real effect on people in rural                                                                    
     Alaska,   for  example,   you   know,  these   wildlife                                                                    
     initiatives. We're  talking about bear baiting  now ...                                                                    
     I  went  up and  talked  to  those  guys and  I'm  sure                                                                    
     everybody  I talked  to  was  a professional  signature                                                                    
     gatherer because  they didn't  know anything  about the                                                                    
     issues. You know, I would  sit there and debate it with                                                                    
     them and  then after  about 10  minutes I'd  tell them,                                                                    
     you  know, I'm  the  chairman of  the Senate  Resources                                                                    
     Committee and sorry, you're wrong.  These people just -                                                                    
     they don't have  a dog in the fight  other than getting                                                                    
     a  buck a  signature  and I  find  that offensive.  I'd                                                                    
     champion  people  if people  were  willing  to get  out                                                                    
     there and  believe in it  themselves and put  the sweat                                                                    
     equity into it.  I think that's great.  Maybe we should                                                                    
     just make it  illegal to hire professional  - of course                                                                    
     that's another issue, I'm sure.                                                                                            
CHAIR SEEKINS took public testimony.                                                                                            
MR.  MYRL THOMPSON,  chairman of  the Ogan  So Gone  recall, told                                                               
members he represents  2,200 registered voters in  District H. He                                                               
said, "With all due respect,  gentlemen, you guys, you just don't                                                               
get  it. This  petition and  initiative bill  is a  travesty. You                                                               
guys, when is the last time  any of you ever collected a petition                                                               
signature  - even  one? And  I just  bet about  none of  you ever                                                               
MR.  THOMPSON  said  the  legislature   passed  a  law  regarding                                                               
billboards and that issue was  reversed by a ballot initiative by                                                               
82 to 18  percent.  He asked the committee  to quit passing bills                                                               
that are against the people of  Alaska and support Alaskans for a                                                               
SENATOR  THERRIAULT  asked  Mr.   Thompson  if  he  fundamentally                                                               
disagrees  with requiring  signatures from  a broader  geographic                                                               
area in the state.                                                                                                              
MR.   THOMPSON  said   he   fundamentally   disagrees  with   the                                                               
legislature  changing something  that isn't  broken. He  said the                                                               
spirit of  the [initiative  process] was to  allow the  people to                                                               
get the  job done when the  legislature does not. He  pointed out                                                               
this legislation does not change the  fact that 10 percent of the                                                               
voters  in the  most recent  election  must sign.  A person  must                                                               
accompany  a petition  booklet to  a  village so  the 10  percent                                                               
requirement is most  important - those signatures do  not have to                                                               
come  from  every  single  village.  This  legislation  makes  it                                                               
tougher on the people that do  the job that legislators should be                                                               
SENATOR THERRIAULT countered that it  sounds like Mr. Thompson is                                                               
arguing against  the current language in  the Constitution, which                                                               
requires that votes be obtained from a larger geographic area.                                                                  
MR. THOMPSON  replied, "No sir,  I'm not arguing against  that. I                                                               
think  the bill  is fine  the  way it  is. It's  worked fine  for                                                               
Alaskans. It just  puts the measure on the ballot  and the voters                                                               
of Alaska  are the people that  make the decision and  that's the                                                               
way it should be in a democracy."                                                                                               
MR.  ROGER GAY,  a resident  of Big  Lake, said  he opposes  this                                                               
legislation.   He   believes   legislators   should   leave   the                                                               
Constitution  alone  - its  job  is  to  support and  defend  the                                                               
Constitution,   not    to   change    it.   This    proposal   is                                                               
unconstitutional  and  unconstitutional  thoughts should  not  be                                                               
"rolling around"  in legislators'  minds. If  the people  want to                                                               
change  the Constitution,  they can  get petition  signatures and                                                               
change it  from the outside.  He said he  has seen more  bills in                                                               
this  legislature  that propose  to  change  the Constitution  in                                                               
order   to   put   forward  pet   ideas,   which   are   patently                                                               
unconstitutional.  He stated,  "When  it comes  to integrity  and                                                               
disingenuousness,  you   guys  are   pros,  especially   you  Mr.                                                               
CHAIR  SEEKINS interrupted  Mr.  Gay  and said  as  chair of  the                                                               
committee he  could not allow Mr.  Gay to cast any  aspersions on                                                               
any member of  the legislature or any other  individual. He asked                                                               
Mr.  Gay to  keep his  comments  on the  merits of  the bill  but                                                               
cautioned that  if he gets  personal, he  will not be  allowed to                                                               
testify before the committee.                                                                                                   
MR.  GAY said  the constitutional  provisions as  they stand  now                                                               
work just fine. They allow the  people to be heard without having                                                               
to go before people who will not  hear them. He said it is unjust                                                               
and improper for legislators to put  roadblocks in the way of the                                                               
people's  ability   to  move  initiatives  along.   He  said  the                                                               
legislature should  not add one  cent of  cost to the  expense of                                                               
getting an  initiative on  the ballot.  He said  this legislation                                                               
will have a chilling effect on the initiative process.                                                                          
SENATOR  THERRIAULT asked  Mr.  Gay if  he  understands that  the                                                               
legislature  is  the only  body  that  can put  a  constitutional                                                               
question on  the ballot  according to  the Constitution.  He said                                                               
the charge Mr. Gay has  leveled against legislators is completely                                                               
MR. GAY  said his point  is that  the Constitution works  well as                                                               
written and  he believes that  when the legislature, in  order to                                                               
pass  a specific  piece  of legislation,  finds  it necessary  to                                                               
change   the   Constitution,    the   legislature   is   thinking                                                               
unconstitutional  thoughts.   He  said  the   legislature  should                                                               
concentrate  on supporting  the  Constitution  as written  rather                                                               
than on ideas that are unconstitutional.                                                                                        
SENATOR THERRIAULT  said in  that case, the  state would  have no                                                               
permanent fund and the idea of  a permanent fund couldn't even be                                                               
entertained.  He  repeated  that  he does  not  believe  Mr.  Gay                                                               
understands the mechanism in the  Constitution that calls for the                                                               
legislature to  consider those very  things Mr. Gay  considers to                                                               
be  unconstitutional. The  legislature is  only empowered  to ask                                                               
the voters if they want to change the Constitution.                                                                             
MR. GAY said he is not  so much opposed to the legislature adding                                                               
provisions  to  the  Constitution  but he  gets  upset  when  the                                                               
legislature reverses constitutional provisions.                                                                                 
SENATOR THERRIAULT  said the current  wording in  the legislation                                                               
requires  two-thirds [of  districts];  this  legislation adds  to                                                               
that by requiring three-quarters [of districts].                                                                                
CHAIR  SEEKINS maintained  that the  legislature does  not change                                                               
the  Constitution;  it only  poses  the  question to  voters.  In                                                               
addition, he noted  our government is a  democratic republic, not                                                               
a  democracy.  He  said  the Constitution  itself  lays  out  the                                                               
process to amend the Constitution.                                                                                              
MS.  CHERYL JEBE,  President of  the  League of  Women Voters  of                                                               
Alaska, gave the following testimony.                                                                                           
     The League of Women  Voters is a non-partisan political                                                                    
     organization  that encourages  the informed  and active                                                                    
     participation of citizens  in government and influences                                                                    
     public  policy  through  education  and  advocacy.  Any                                                                    
     person  of voting  age, male  or female,  may become  a                                                                    
     In  2001,  the  state  League  completed  a  study  and                                                                    
     adopted a  position to support the  existing initiative                                                                    
     process with  several recommendations  for improvement.                                                                    
     The one on  point here supports a formula  for at least                                                                    
     50 signatures in each of  two-thirds of the legislative                                                                    
     districts in  order to reflect statewide  interest in a                                                                    
     While these bills have  differing numbers of signatures                                                                    
     in  each district  and the  number of  districts to  be                                                                    
     included, the  concept is consistent with  the League's                                                                    
     recommendation that initiatives  reflect more statewide                                                                    
     interest in  a measure. This is  currently lacking when                                                                    
     only  1 signature  in most  districts  is allowable.  I                                                                    
     have  no  further  comments  and  would  entertain  any                                                                    
SENATOR  THERRIAULT asked  Ms. Jebe  why the  League's membership                                                               
believes  more signatures  spread  out over  a larger  geographic                                                               
area is good for the process.                                                                                                   
MS. JEBE  replied that the League  feels the rural areas  are not                                                               
being represented when it comes  to having initiatives put on the                                                               
ballot.  Many  times   the  central  part  of   the  state  moves                                                               
legislation  forward  without  asking  for  opinions  from  rural                                                               
SENATOR THERRIAULT asked  Ms. Jebe her opinion  of the allegation                                                               
that the Legislature is acting improperly.                                                                                      
MS. JEBE  said she does  not believe that  is true. She  said the                                                               
committee's discussion on how the process works is accurate.                                                                    
SENATOR  OGAN noted  the Electoral  College prevents  states with                                                               
small populations from being  disenfranchised in the presidential                                                               
election  process.  He  believes  this  constitutional  amendment                                                               
parallels  that  system   by  keeping  the  popular   will  of  a                                                               
particular geographic  area from disenfranchising other  areas of                                                               
the state.                                                                                                                      
MS.  JEBE agreed  that  the  rural areas  of  the  state are  not                                                               
adequately considered in the initiative process.                                                                                
CHAIR SEEKINS said  the legislative process is  inclusive in that                                                               
every legislator's vote must be  considered so an urban community                                                               
can pose a question and dominate the rural areas.                                                                               
MS. JEBE agreed that is the League's concern.                                                                                   
SENATOR OGAN commented that individuals  with a certain political                                                               
agenda often write  initiatives yet the use of one  word, such as                                                               
"may" instead  of "shall," can have  huge consequences. Semantics                                                               
are often  dissected during the legislative  committee process to                                                               
look for unintended consequences. He  believes the framers of the                                                               
Constitution anticipated  that because they gave  the legislature                                                               
the  authority to  amend an  initiative or  repeal one  after two                                                               
years. So,  while they wanted the  people to be able  to make law                                                               
by initiative, they recognized that  those laws would not get the                                                               
same amount of  scrutiny. He said he doubts most  people read the                                                               
entire  initiative  they  sign and  understand  the  effect  that                                                               
certain words can have.                                                                                                         
MS. JEBE  said she  believes a  certain number  of people  sign a                                                               
petition so that a measure will  get on the ballot to allow other                                                               
people to have  a say on it.  She said she quit  doing that since                                                               
she became involved in the League's study.                                                                                      
CHAIR  SEEKINS  announced  that  with  no  further  participants,                                                               
public testimony  was closed. He  asked that members  consider HB
31 first.                                                                                                                       
SENATOR  THERRIAULT  said  the   two-thirds  requirement  in  the                                                               
Constitution shows that  the framers saw the  need for geographic                                                               
representation  in the  initiative process.  Mr. Barry  testified                                                               
that the  state's population  trends warrant  a change  to three-                                                               
quarters  to  guarantee  a  better   protection  of  the  current                                                               
TAPE 04-12, SIDE B                                                                                                            
SENATOR THERRIAULT  said he  does not feel  that passage  of this                                                               
legislation raises  the bar to  the extent that  initiatives will                                                               
be stopped.                                                                                                                     
SENATOR  OGAN asked  Chair  Seekins  if he  intends  to hold  the                                                               
legislation in committee today.                                                                                                 
CHAIR SEEKINS said unless he hears  a compelling reason to do so,                                                               
he is willing to take action on it today.                                                                                       
SENATOR  OGAN requested  that the  bill be  held in  committee so                                                               
that he  could discuss  with the sponsor  narrowing the  scope of                                                               
the legislation to wildlife management initiatives.                                                                             
CHAIR SEEKINS  agreed to  hold it as  the Judiciary  Committee is                                                               
the last committee of referral for HB 31.                                                                                       
SENATOR OGAN  noted that  the rural-urban  divide has  prompted a                                                               
lot of discussion and he  believes the current initiative process                                                               
exacerbates  that  issue in  regard  to  wildlife management.  He                                                               
believes this legislation  will go a long way to  send a positive                                                               
message to  rural Alaskans. He  pointed out the  legislature acts                                                               
as  the assembly  for the  unorganized  areas of  the state  and,                                                               
because of that, the legislature  should re-enfranchise the rural                                                               
areas with this new process.                                                                                                    
CHAIR  SEEKINS   commented  that   some  people  have   used  the                                                               
initiative process to advance  their political agendas, including                                                               
members  of  the  legislature,  who have  used  that  process  to                                                               
readdress  legislation passed  by  the entire  body. He  supports                                                               
this  legislation  because  he  believes  the  slight  additional                                                               
burden  of  including   the  rural  areas  in   this  process  is                                                               
reasonable.  He  said  he  prefers  not to  narrow  the  bill  to                                                               
wildlife management as other issues affect rural communities.                                                                   
SENATOR THERRIAULT  supported Senator Ogan's request  to hold the                                                               
bill in committee. He indicated  an egregious example is the East                                                               
Coast's attempt to  control wildlife management in  Alaska but he                                                               
doesn't necessarily  agree that splitting  the process is  a good                                                               
SENATOR  ELLIS said  he does  not plan  to support  anything that                                                               
leads to greater expense, more  difficulty, or limitations on the                                                               
public to  petition the government to  redress grievances through                                                               
the initiative process.  He asked the testifiers  from the Mat-Su                                                               
to recognize a variety of  opinions about this legislation in the                                                               
legislature  and not  to paint  all members  with the  same broad                                                               
CHAIR SEEKINS repeated that he will not allow testifiers to cast                                                                
personal aspersions on anyone during the Senate Judiciary                                                                       
Committee hearings. He then adjourned the meeting at 9:03 a.m.                                                                  

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