Legislature(2003 - 2004)

02/24/2004 03:37 PM STA

Audio Topic
* first hearing in first committee of referral
+ teleconferenced
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
        SB 227-MUNI INITIATIVE AND REFERENDUM ELECTIONS                                                                     
                                                                                                                              
                                                                                                                                
CHAIR GARY STEVENS announced SB 227 to be up for consideration                                                                  
and that he was the sponsor. He paraphrased the following                                                                       
sponsor statement:                                                                                                              
                                                                                                                                
     Senator  Bill  227 is  "An  Act  relating to  municipal                                                                    
     initiative and referendum elections."                                                                                      
                                                                                                                                
     The bill  was introduced to help  local governments who                                                                    
     are facing  cost increases and  having to  avoid costly                                                                    
     special  initiative  elections   and  referendums  that                                                                    
     voters bring forward.                                                                                                      
                                                                                                                                
     In many cases the issues  are not so pressing that they                                                                    
     cannot  wait   for  the  regular   municipal  election.                                                                    
     Special  elections are  costly and  often have  a lower                                                                    
     voter turnout than regular elections.                                                                                      
                                                                                                                                
     Under current  law, municipalities  are forced  to hold                                                                    
     initiative  elections and  referendums  within 75  days                                                                    
     and because elections are normally  held in October, it                                                                    
     is   often  quite   costly   and   burdensome  to   the                                                                    
     municipalities.                                                                                                            
                                                                                                                                
     Recently, the Fairbanks North Star  Borough had over 46                                                                    
     petitions  filed in  four months.  There  was only  one                                                                    
     special election,  but it  cost $35,000  plus volunteer                                                                    
     help  and the  workload on  municipal employees.  Still                                                                    
     there  was  the potential  to  have  many more  special                                                                    
     elections at enormous cost to the municipality.                                                                            
                                                                                                                                
     This bill  would result in cost  savings to communities                                                                    
     that choose to wait until  the next general election to                                                                    
     consider the issue then saving  both time and money for                                                                    
     the municipalities.                                                                                                        
                                                                                                                                
     This  legislation would  give  the  governing body  the                                                                    
     option of calling a special  election if the council or                                                                    
     assembly wanted  to have  the initiative  or referendum                                                                    
     considered in  a more timely  basis. Examples  might be                                                                    
     for bonding  issues, special  initiatives that  are not                                                                    
     particularly time-sensitive. In  those cases, any local                                                                    
     governing assembly can vote to  hold a special election                                                                    
     so there is  that option - special  election or regular                                                                    
     election.                                                                                                                  
                                                                                                                                
     The  bill is  supported  by the  Municipal League,  the                                                                    
     Fairbanks  North  Star  Borough,  the  Kenai  Peninsula                                                                    
     Borough,  and  the   Alaska  Association  of  Municipal                                                                    
     Clerks.  It  streamlines  the  special  initiative  and                                                                    
     referendum  process  by  giving  local  governments  an                                                                    
     option to cut costs and  hold a special election during                                                                    
     their annual election cycle.                                                                                               
                                                                                                                                
SENATOR GRETCHEN  GUESS observed there  would be a  13-month wait                                                               
if  the next  regular election  fell less  than 60  days after  a                                                               
petition was certified.                                                                                                         
                                                                                                                                
She said she would like  further explanation of the local control                                                               
option.                                                                                                                         
                                                                                                                                
CHAIR  GARY STEVENS  initially pointed  out that  Anchorage isn't                                                               
affected  because it  is a  first class  city. Then  he explained                                                               
that  municipalities could  continue with  a special  election or                                                               
referendum  if  they chose  to  do  so  or  they could  elect  to                                                               
postpone until  the regular October  election. This  simply gives                                                               
another option  so municipalities  aren't forced to  hold special                                                               
elections on every issue that comes before them.                                                                                
                                                                                                                                
SENATOR BERT STEDMAN remarked that  the issue of cost savings can                                                               
be substantial and this gives cities more fiscal control.                                                                       
                                                                                                                                
CHAIR GARY STEVENS  told Senator Guess he would come  back to her                                                               
in awhile if she had more questions.                                                                                            
                                                                                                                                
SENATOR JOHN COWDERY  noticed that there was a change  from 45 to                                                               
60 days  and he wondered what  had to be prepared  within 60 days                                                               
of the election.                                                                                                                
                                                                                                                                
CHAIR GARY STEVENS  told him everything that's  associated with a                                                               
regular election has to be  done including ballot preparation and                                                               
staff arrangements.                                                                                                             
                                                                                                                                
JOHN COWDERY asked if all polling stations would stay the same.                                                                 
                                                                                                                                
CHAIR GARY STEVENS said they would.                                                                                             
                                                                                                                                
SENATOR  GUESS  asked  what  would   happen  if  a  petition  was                                                               
certified 30 days before the regular election.                                                                                  
                                                                                                                                
CHAIR GARY  STEVENS read  Section 1, but  wasn't clear  about her                                                               
question.                                                                                                                       
                                                                                                                                
SENATOR LYMAN  HOFFMAN said the language  creates a disqualifying                                                               
window for petitions  that are certified less than  60 days prior                                                               
to a regular election.                                                                                                          
                                                                                                                                
SENATOR COWDERY wasn't certain that he read Section 1 correctly.                                                                
                                                                                                                                
CHAIR GARY STEVENS asked his staff whether he had clarification.                                                                
                                                                                                                                
DOUG LETCH,  staff to Senator  Gary Stevens, said "it  comes down                                                               
to local  option that  does exist  that says that  if you  have a                                                               
more pressing  matter that comes  before the governing  body they                                                               
do  have  that option  of  putting  on  a special  election."  He                                                               
thought the Kenai clerks might be able to elaborate.                                                                            
                                                                                                                                
CHAIR   GARY   STEVENS   said   a   Ketchikan   Gateway   Borough                                                               
representative  was  online  and  might be  able  to  answer  the                                                               
question.                                                                                                                       
                                                                                                                                
SCOTT  BENDT-ERICKSEN,   attorney  with  the   Ketchikan  Gateway                                                               
Borough, thanked  the Chair for  introducing the  legislation and                                                               
said  municipal attorneys  and clerks  support the  bill and  the                                                               
concept. He  said he  did have some  specific suggestions  and he                                                               
though he could answer some of the questions that were raised.                                                                  
                                                                                                                                
The  reason  for  the  change  from 45  to  60  days  is  because                                                               
elections require  pre-clearance from the Justice  Department and                                                               
it would be  difficult to complete the clearance in  less than 60                                                               
days. With regard to Senator Guess's  question, he said that if a                                                               
petition  is certified  less  than  60 days  prior  to a  regular                                                               
election,  it  could  be  as   long  as  14  months  before  that                                                               
initiative measure appears on the ballot.                                                                                       
                                                                                                                                
MR. BENDT-ERICKSEN suggested changing  the word "regular" on page                                                               
1,  line 5  to "regular  or special"  or simply  remove the  word                                                               
"regular" to make it clear that there was an option.                                                                            
                                                                                                                                
He also suggested  that if there isn't a  regular election within                                                               
75  days of  a petition  being  certified, there  should be  some                                                               
provision for the  measure to be suspended until there  is a vote                                                               
on the referendum petition.                                                                                                     
                                                                                                                                
The balance of Mr. Bendt-Ericksen's testimony was indiscernible.                                                                
                                                                                                                                
CHAIR GARY  STEVENS asked him  to comment  to the issue  of voter                                                               
turnout in regular elections versus special elections.                                                                          
                                                                                                                                
MR. BENDT-ERICKSEN stated that  special elections frequently have                                                               
half or less than half the turnout of regular elections.                                                                        
                                                                                                                                
SENATOR COWDERY  noted that most  of the  language on line  6 was                                                               
not new but it was confusing  nonetheless. He then asked what the                                                               
outer limit might be.                                                                                                           
                                                                                                                                
MR. BENDT-ERICKSEN replied  the greatest length of  time would be                                                               
about 14  months. If a  petition weren't certified until  59 days                                                               
before the next regular election,  it wouldn't go on that regular                                                               
election. It would  go on the regular election one  year later. A                                                               
special election could be called if the matter was pressing.                                                                    
                                                                                                                                
CHAIR  GARY  STEVENS  restated  the  timeframe,  which  would  be                                                               
between 60  days and  14 months  and then made  the point  that a                                                               
local governing  body could make  the decision to have  a special                                                               
election.                                                                                                                       
                                                                                                                                
SENATOR GUESS asked which statute  gives municipalities the local                                                               
option because it isn't contained in the bill.                                                                                  
                                                                                                                                
MR. LETCH supplied, "Title 29, line [chapter] 60."                                                                              
                                                                                                                                
CHAIR GARY STEVENS asked Mr.  Bendt-Ericksen to explain the issue                                                               
of referendums.                                                                                                                 
                                                                                                                                
MR. BENDT-ERICKSEN  explained that  a referendum  typically comes                                                               
about because  someone wants  to repeal  or undo  an action  of a                                                               
governing body. He continued, "  Under the current provisions, if                                                               
the referendum  petition is submitted  before the  effective date                                                               
then the  issue can be suspended  until the vote. If  the measure                                                               
has  already gone  into  effect, then  it's  not suspended  until                                                               
there is a vote on the issue."                                                                                                  
                                                                                                                                
CHAIR GARY  STEVENS announced he  would hold the bill  to address                                                               
the issues that were raised.                                                                                                    

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