Legislature(2001 - 2002)
04/19/2001 08:04 AM STA
* first hearing in first committee of referral
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
HB 189 - REPEAL TERM LIMITS/TERM LIMITS PLEDGES Number 0790 CHAIR COGHILL announced that the next order of business would be HOUSE BILL NO. 189, "An Act repealing statutory provisions relating to term limits and term limit pledges." Number 0189 REPRESENTATIVE NORMAN ROKEBERG, Alaska State Legislature, came forward to testify as chair of the House Judiciary Standing Committee, sponsor of HB 189. He explained that HB 189 repeals statutory provisions relating to term limits and term limit pledges. REPRESENTATIVE ROKEBERG went over the sponsor statement, which said: On February 28, 2001, in a case entitled Cook v. Gralike, et al., the United States Supreme Court ruled that printing term limit pledges on the ballot next to a Congressional candidate's name is unconstitutional. The Missouri act which was struck down required "DISREGARDED VOTERS' INSTRUCTION ON TERM LIMITS" to be printed on ballots by the names of members failing to take certain legislative acts in support of the proposed term limit amendment. It also provided that "DECLINED TO PLEDGE TO SUPPORT TERM LIMITS" be printed by the names of the non-incumbent candidates refusing to take a "Term Limit" pledge to bring about a specified "Congressional Term Limits Amendment." Through the Elections Clause, the Constitution delegated to the states the power to regulate the "Times, Places, Manner of holding Elections for Senators and Representatives," subject to a grant of authority to Congress to "make or alter such Regulations." The states may regulate the incidents of such elections, including balloting, only within the exclusive delegation of power under the Elections Clause. The Supreme Court found that the requirement of printing on the ballot a candidate's lack of acceptance of a term limit pledge was not a procedural regulation. It did not regulate the time of elections; it did not regulate the place of elections; nor did it regulate the manner of elections. Rather, the court found, the requirement was plainly designed to favor candidates who are willing to support the particular form of a term limits amendment, and to disfavor those who either oppose term limits entirely or who would prefer a different proposal. The Court stated that "... it seems clear that the adverse labels handicap candidates at the most crucial state in the election process -- the instant before the vote is cast. The labels imply that the issue is an important -- perhaps paramount -- consideration in the citizen's choice, which may decisively influence the citizen to cast his ballot against candidates branded as unfaithful. Thus, far from regulating the procedural mechanisms of elections, the Missouri act attempts to dictate electoral outcomes. Such 'regulation' of congressional elections simply is not authorized by the 'Elections Clause.'" Alaska statutes AS 15.15.500-575 require that "VIOLATED VOTER INSTRUCTION ON TERM LIMITS" be printed on the ballot adjacent to the name of any respective state Senator or Representative who failed to take appropriate action in support of a congressional term limit amendment to the constitution, during the preceding term of office. The same shall be printed on the ballot adjacent to the name of any United States Senator or Representative who also fails to take appropriate action during the preceding term. Non-incumbent candidates for United States Senator and Representative, and state Senator and Representative who decline to take a "Term Limits" pledge shall have "DECLINED TO TAKE PLEDGE TO SUPPORT TERM LIMITS" printed adjacent to their name on every primary and general election ballot. Any candidate for the United States Congress and the Alaska Legislature is permitted to submit to the lieutenant governor an executed copy of the Term Limits Pledge set for in AS 15.15.560(b). The lieutenant governor shall place on every election ballot "Signed TERM LIMITS pledge: Will serve no more than [3 terms] [2 terms]" next to the name of any candidate who has ever executed the Term Limits pledge. In addition, "Broke TERM LIMITS pledge" shall be placed on every ballot next to the name of any candidate, who at any time executes the applicable Term Limits Pledge, and thereafter qualifies as a candidate for a term that would exceed the number of terms or years set for in the applicable Term Limits Pledge. Since the Alaska statutes are so similar to those of Missouri, this United States Supreme Court ruling suggests that our statutes are unconstitutional. This bill will repeal these unconstitutional statutes. The committee urges your support of this bill. Number 1200 REPRESENTATIVE ROKEBERG said he submits that the pledge that candidates for the Alaska legislature are required to either decline or [find it] unconstitutional. He said he was very surprised that it found its way onto the ballot, and expressed disappointment with the lieutenant governor and the attorney general for not finding it unconstitutional. He said there has been adjudication throughout the country on the issue. REPRESENTATIVE ROKEBERG said he had been "a rabid term limits supporter" when first elected to the legislature. "As I was here longer, my wisdom started growing," he testified, and he now thinks it takes two to four years to learn the job. He said he thinks he would support term limit pledges if they were for "eight years in one house and four in the other or twelve years or whatever -- or none at all," but he thinks that in Alaska's statute, a candidate has to agree to serving no more than eight years within a 16-year period. CHAIR COGHILL said, "That is if you sign the pledge." Number 1477 REPRESENTATIVE ROKEBERG said he does not agree with the existing limitation. He explained: The voters have forced me into a situation where I either have to sign or not sign for something I really believe in philosophically, that is to say, term limits. But because I disagree with the specific number of years, that puts me at odds with the whole situation. So I would have a "scarlet letter." As a matter of fact, I signed a term limit pledge last time because I thought it was representative of my philosophy. Now, because I introduced this bill, the lieutenant governor is going to have to put the "scarlet letter" next to my name. So I'd ask the committee to pass this bill so I won't have that happen. REPRESENTATIVE ROKEBERG noted that committee members had in their packets a letter from a former state attorney general, John Havelock, in which he states his support for HB 189. Number 1425 CHAIR COGHILL asked if those who have signed the pledge would be released from that pledge if HB 189 were to pass. REPRESENTATIVE ROKEBERG said they would. REPRESENTATIVE ROKEBERG mentioned a 1998 Alaska State attorney general's opinion that found a portion of the state statute to be unconstitutional. [That opinion was included in committee members' packets.] He explained, "The term limits pledge as it relates specifically to Congressional candidates (Alaska's U.S. senators and congressman) [is unconstitutional] because of the Supreme Court case." REPRESENTATIVE ROKEBERG said, "It seems to me that those same arguments, albeit applying in a broader picture, [also apply] to the state candidates for the state legislature. I think the people of the state of Alaska erred in the construction of the initiative that was put forward to them and it's unconstitutional based on First Amendment grounds." CHAIR COGHILL commented, "A point well taken." REPRESENTATIVE JAMES added, "I second it." Number 1580 CHAIR COGHILL said his major question concerned the releasing of those who had already signed the pledge. He said he supposed that those who agree with the concept of term limits could publicly make note of the fact that that it is their philosophy. REPRESENTATIVE ROKEBERG responded, "It's called campaigning." Number 1541 CHAIR COGHILL said one of the reasons he did not sign the pledge was because he wants the people in the district to make the determination [of how long he will serve]. REPRESENTATIVE ROKEBERG agreed, saying, "The major method of term limiting is the ballot box. Let the voters decide." Number 1594 CHAIR COGHILL asked, "Do you see any other questions that might arise from us taking it off this statute?" GAIL FENUMIAI, Election Program Specialist, Division of Elections, Office of the Lieutenant Governor, replied: No, in fact, the division was just contemplating how to go about monitoring this whole voluntary term limits pledge, which is the only part ... of this section that would be repealed ... because as Representative Rokeberg pointed out, the first section to this statute, 15.15.500 to 15.15.535, ...[was] the mandatory term limits pledge ... that was declared unconstitutional by the courts, and so we were not enforcing that at all. So no, it'll free up some space on the ballots ... now without having to print that little line below people who did decide to take that voluntary pledge. Number 1654 CHAIR COGHILL said a ballot is for selecting candidates, not for disseminating information. Number 1694 REPRESENTATIVE STEVENS said he understood this is a state issue, but asked what is now the current law on the federal level as far as Senators and Representatives in Congress. Number 1721 REPRESENTATIVE ROKEBERG said the Supreme Court case decision in February found "any provisions regarding that as unconstitutional." REPRESENTATIVE STEVENS surmised, "So we'll see some changes in that as well". REPRESENTATIVE ROKEBERG replied,: Right. Frankly, without that case coming down, I would not probably have brought forward this legislation in fear of being castigated by the public as trying to overturn the initiative process and the will of the voters. I just think the way it was constructed and how it's done is unfair; it's unfair to the candidates who run for office and therefore unfair to the people of the state of Alaska. Number 1489 REPRESENTATIVE JAMES said she didn't think that repealing this law would stop various groups who believe strongly in term limits from trying to get candidates to pledge to them that they would support term limits. She said she does not believe that signing a pledge is a good idea "because you may find out some additional information that you didn't know before, and then you'd like to break it, and breaking pledges is just ... something you don't do in this job. So I try not to make firm commitments on anything. I just try to say I'll watch the bill and I'll see what I do when it's on the House floor and I'll see what it says." Number 1829 JENNIFER RUDINGER, Executive Director, Alaska Civil Liberties Union (AkCLU), came forward to testify in support of HB 189. She said the AkCLU's position has nothing to do with term limits. "It is simply that the ballot itself is no place for election propaganda," she said; "the voters have a right to a ballot that is clean and that candidates have a right not to have either 'scarlet letters' or, in this case, 'gold stars' next to their names." MS. RUDINGER said the AkCLU was close to filing a lawsuit on the original "scarlet letter law" that never took effect. Alaska's scarlet letter law that Attorney General Bruce Botelho ruled unconstitutional a few years ago was similar to Missouri's, she said. The difference between them was that the Missouri bill put something by a candidate's name indicating whether or not he or she chose to sign the pledge. The AkCLU calls Alaska's a "gold star" law because if a person doesn't sign the pledge, it doesn't say anything by that person's name on the ballot. It only says something by the names of those who chose to sign the pledge. MS. RUDINGER said the ACLU of Idaho successfully challenged a law essentially the same as Alaska's, a gold star law. The ACLU of Idaho took it to the Supreme Court of Idaho on two grounds, free speech rights of candidates and the rights of voters. Although they won on rights of voters, the court did not rule on the free speech issue. The Idaho court said: While respondents have argued that the state has a legitimate interest in providing voters with information, they have failed to demonstrate that such an interest is compelling and that the statute is necessary to further that interest. The information the state seeks to make available to voters is easily obtainable through a variety of other sources, namely media sources and the candidate's own voter information materials. The statute cannot be said to be necessary to provide that information to the voters. In addition, while the state does have a compelling interest in protecting the integrity of the electoral process, the ballot legend authorized by the statute undermines ballot integrity by "transforming it [the ballot] from a means of choosing candidates to a billboard for political advertising." MS. RUDINGER said that is the crux of the ACLU's objection. "We don't care what the issue is," she explained; "we do not think that the ballot is the place for this kind of speech." The AkCLU is happy not to have to go to court if HB 189 passes, and "We are here in support of it," she concluded. Number 2057 REPRESENTATIVE CRAWFORD commented, "I feel like I woke up in some sort of alternate reality this morning. We have Republicans talking against term limits pledges and the AkCLU backing them up. I don't know what's happened." He said he, too, supported HB 189. CHAIR COGHILL added, "We're all going to walk out of here joining hands." Number 2097 REPRESENTATIVE HAYES claimed a conflict of interest, as could all members, because HB 189 affected him. He called the bill "great." Number 2115 REPRESENTATIVE FATE moved to report HB 189 out of committee with individual recommendations and the accompanying zero fiscal note. There being no objection, HB 189 was moved out of the House State Affairs Standing Committee. CHAIR COGHILL declared a brief at-ease at 8:32 a.m. The committee was called back to order at 8:35 a.m.