Legislature(2005 - 2006)CAPITOL 106
03/16/2006 08:00 AM STATE AFFAIRS
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* first hearing in first committee of referral
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
HB 438-INITIATIVE, REFERENDUM, RECALL PETITIONS 8:56:18 AM CHAIR SEATON announced that the next order of business was HOUSE BILL NO. 438, "An Act relating to initiative, referendum, and recall petitions; and providing for an effective date." 8:57:13 AM ELIZABETH BARBARA BACHMEIER, testifying on behalf of herself in opposition to HB 438, told the committee that she has a Master's degree in Government. She paraphrased her written testimony, which read as follows [original punctuation provided]: In consideration of the current situation in Alaska and my analysis of this bill, I believe that this is unnecessary legislation. Current procedures are not broken; they do not need to be fixed. Please apply your attention to matters that need your focused attention, consideration, and action. I have worked as a paid signature gatherer in Alaska on a number of petitions. I am delighted to do this work as it causes me to feel that I am participating in democracy and the qualitative improvement of our state. As a retired military officer and former high school teacher, this activity now allows me to participate at the grass-roots level in democratic principles that I hold dear and that keep our state strong. I like that. Please don't make it more difficult for me and others to participate in this way. 8:59:19 AM The following are four specific areas that I find objectionable in this proposed legislation (24- LS1344\L, dated 2/8/06): 1) As discussed on pages 6 line 22 and 10 line 9, there is no need to increase the percentage of qualified voter signatures in order to determine that an initiative, a referendum, or a recall petition has been successful and may appear on an appropriate ballot. Qualified signatures from ten percent of those who voted in the preceding general election comprise a fair sampling of the population. It is important to note that the matter is not finally decided by 10% of the voters; this simply allows the issue to come before all voters on the next voting occasion. This is perfectly fine. 2) I also disagree with setting the maximum rate of meals reimbursement, shown on pages 2 line 2, 4 line 13, and 8 line 6, at only $15.00 for circulators who travel 100 miles or more from their home communities. This figure is unreasonably low and there is no need to address it in this way. But, for the record, I taught school near Bethel; $15.00 there might buy somebody breakfast, but certainly not lunch and dinner, too. I was a circulator in Fairbanks and had meals at the hotel where I stayed; dinner each night was always over $15.00. If this reimbursement must be addressed, and I don't believe it should be, I recommend the federal per diem rate. In May, legislators will get $200.00 per day for food and lodging in Juneau during the session. If this must be addressed, why not make the circulator's meals reimbursement equal to the federal per diem rate that you receive when you are away from your homes and staying here? 3) While I was in Fairbanks, I was asked to perform some organizing duties in addition to my signature gathering; I specifically provided circulator training, distributed signature books, collected completed ones, and other duties. I can see no reason to disallow this occasional additional duty as is discussed on pages 2 line 12, 4 line 23, and 8 line 16. Disallowing the activities I have described increases the cost of the initiative, referendum, and recall process. This is not good for democracy or Alaska. 4) One final important point is the fiscal note that must be associated with this bill. The bill speaks of fees or fines charged to organizations, organizers, or circulators as punishment for infractions or violations to prohibited practices; how are these fines levied, collected, and accounted for? How will these enforcement operations be funded? There is also a new form that is proposed here and that would need to be created and managed. Do we need to spend the State's money in this way? No. The current initiative, referendum, and recall process works just fine. There is no reason to change it. Do not pass this proposed legislation. There are other topics that need your time and attention. This bill seems to make much more difficult the people's right to participate in state and local government. And, this change would be very wrong. Thank you for allowing me to testify against HB 438. Again, as a person experienced in this work, I believe that changes to the process proposed in this legislation are unnecessary and counter to democracy. 9:03:22 AM REPRESENTATIVE GRUENBERG asked for Ms. Bachmeier's testimony in writing. 9:03:45 AM MS. BACHMEIER, in response to a series of questions from Representative Ramras, offered her understanding that there is presently no per diem given for meals, but "it is a negotiable item," which "probably would vary, depending on location." She said when she worked on an initiative by Representative Ramras she was not reimbursed for meals; however, she has been reimbursed for meals while working on other initiatives - too many to list separately. REPRESENTATIVE RAMRAS asked, "Do you understand that it's illegal to take additional money - more than a dollar per signature - as a reimbursable item?" MS. BACHMEIER replied, "I don't understand that to be the case. I did point this out to you, however, in Fairbanks, when we spoke." REPRESENTATIVE RAMRAS said, "Which is why we didn't offer any incentives like that, because they're illegal." He described Ms. Bachmeier as a thoughtful, articulate person, and said that he has a great deal of respect for her, even if her views differ from his own. MS. BACHMEIER, in response to questions from Representative Ramras, said she received a flat fee for "those tasks that I mentioned: training others in the legal requirements, passing out booklets that were needed, and collecting notarized ones." She said one of those initiatives had to do with "same-day airborne shooting." She said she has lived in Alaska just over a decade. 9:07:09 AM REPRESENTATIVE RAMRAS asked Ms. Bachmeier if she thinks it's appropriate for non-Alaska residents with "multiple voter IDs from multiple states" to come to Alaska to participate in the initiative process. MS. BACHMEIER said she has not heard of such a situation, but she indicated that she does not think such a thing would be appropriate. 9:08:08 AM REPRESENTATIVE RAMRAS asked Ms. Bachmeier if she can appreciate that the intent of the bill, as it relates to signature gatherers, is to protect Alaskans. 9:08:31 AM CHAIR SEATON said he would like the sponsor to focus on questions unrelated to the intent of the bill, because he said he doesn't think anyone is challenging that intent. MS. BACHMEIER stated, "Right, and I don't find it protective, so I was going to disagree with the initial premise." 9:09:01 AM REPRESENTATIVE GRUENBERG observed that Representative Ramras, [during his questions to Ms. Bachmeier], was focusing on Section 1 of the bill, related to the qualifications of the people who gather the signatures. He said Ms. Bachmeier has expertise [in collecting signatures]. MS. BACHMEIER, in response to questions from Representative Gruenberg, offered her understanding that although she does not [circulate petitions] as her sole means of income, there are others who do, and she said although there may be administrators from out of state, she has never met another circulator working in Alaska who is not an Alaskan. 9:11:43 AM MYRL THOMPSON, testifying on behalf of himself in opposition to HB 438, reminded the committee that he was the chair of the successful Ogan Is So Gone recall effort. He shared an anecdote related to initiatives, recalls, and referendums. 9:14:00 AM MR. THOMPSON stated that there is absolutely no need for HB 438, because the current system works well. He reviewed the recall process that was used during the Ogan is So Gone recall, stating that he hopes he never has to go through the grueling process again in his lifetime. He said the process was started 13-14 months before the end of the term of the particular legislator, and a number of months passed before the recall group could get answers to its questions from the Division of Elections on how to proceed. At that point, if a recall petition is approved, then it must be circulated for another round of signatures, he said - up to 25 percent of the people who voted. He offered other details related to the Ogan Is So Gone recall experience. MR. THOMPSON said that no matter how thorough a recall process is, there are still factors that slow it down. For example, some of the signatures are rejected because people change addresses. He talked about a court challenge, whereby Representative Ogan challenged the criterion for the recall. He stated, "I think that you should probably pull ... the summary of that case, because what they said was that ... those four criterion were actually good enough - ... they don't have to be more specific than that." Mr. Thompson said the definitions that are proposed [in HB 438] seem to "bring this up to almost a criminal level," by requiring proof that is almost impossible to get. He concluded by reiterating that there is no provision in the bill that needs to be adopted; the system works well as is. 9:20:00 AM REPRESENTATIVE RAMRAS directed attention to page 5, lines 1-10, which define the terms "corruption", "incompetence", "lack of fitness", and "neglect of duties". He asked Mr. Thompson for his feedback on the definitions. 9:21:07 AM MR. THOMPSON answered, "I feel that they weren't given a definition on purpose." He explained that the courts already said the hurdles don't need to be made any higher than they already are, and the definitions in bill would make the recall process more difficult. 9:22:04 AM REPRESENTATIVE GRUENBERG asked if Mr. Thompson and Ms. Bachmeier have suggestions on how the legislature could improve the law. 9:23:03 AM MR. THOMPSON, regarding the recalls, reiterated that the present system works well. He said there has only been one recall in the history of the state, and he said he thinks "that speaks volumes." 9:23:30 AM MS. BACHMEIER concurred with the remarks of Mr. Thompson that the current system is a good one, and she said she sees no reason to invest energy or funds in making unnecessary changes. 9:23:49 AM REPRESENTATIVE GARDNER asked what percentage of signatures in the Ogan Is So Gone recall process was discarded. 9:24:05 AM MR. THOMPSON estimated 30 percent, but said that number could have been higher. In response to a follow-up question, he indicated that the rejected signatures happened in "both instances" when signatures were collected, even when extreme attention to detail was given. 9:24:50 AM MR. THOMPSON, in response to questions from Representative Gatto, said there were three people, plus himself as chair, who made up the recall committee. In response to a follow-up question from Representative Gatto, he said he took his job as chair seriously. 9:26:32 AM REPRESENTATIVE GATTO offered his understanding that there were some activities during the Ogan Is So Gone recall process that were borderline illegal. He asked Mr. Thompson if, as chair, he would feel it was his responsibility to encourage people engaged in those activities to cease. 9:27:40 AM MR. THOMPSON answered absolutely. He emphasized that if he had thought that anybody connected even in the most remote way to a recall was carrying on with such behavior he would have done everything he could to [stop] it. He assured Representative Gatto that no one involved with the Ogan Is So Gone recall had anything to do with borderline illegal activities, if they indeed happened. 9:29:19 AM REPRESENTATIVE GATTO referred to the proposal in the bill to raise the 10 percent to 20 percent, and he asked Mr. Thompson how significant an increase that would be and if it would have affected the ability of Mr. Thompson's group to have effected a recall. MR. THOMPSON said the higher percentage would have made it more difficult for the Ogan Is So Gone recall. He said a requirement for 20 percent would result in a significant increase in time, effort, and cost on the part of gatherers having to obtain the increase in required signatures, and it would translate into more time and money for the Division of Elections, because it would have to hire people to count those signatures. Furthermore, he said, it would also increase the amount of money that has to be paid by the initiative groups that pay $1 per signature. 9:29:59 AM REPRESENTATIVE GATTO asked Mr. Thompson if he agrees that it would be the right of citizens to say that they don't need a reason for a recall, only signatures. 9:30:23 AM MR. THOMPSON responded, "I support the system that we have currently in place; I don't think that it needs to be lessened or made harder." 9:30:59 AM REPRESENTATIVE GRUENBERG asked Mr. Thompson, "You had to ultimately get 25 percent of what?" 9:31:11 AM MR. THOMPSON answered [25 percent] of registered voters in the district [before the recall could get on the ballot]. REPRESENTATIVE GRUENBERG asked Mr. Thompson if he thinks 25 percent is too high. MR. THOMPSON said that is a reasonable amount - not too low or too high. He added, "All you're doing ... at that point is getting it to where it can go before the vote of the people, and that's a substantial number." In response to a follow-up question from Representative Gruenberg, he said the Ogan Is So Gone recall signature gatherers were able to reach that number. 9:31:46 AM CHAIR SEATON asked Mr. Thompson whether that is 25 percent of the number of people who voted in the last election, or if it is 25 percent of the total registered voters. 9:32:05 AM MR. THOMPSON indicated that, "to be safe," the Ogan Is So Gone group "went with ... the vote in the last election." 9:32:15 AM REPRESENTATIVE GARDNER said she thinks it's important to distinguish that "it doesn't have to be 25 percent of the same individuals, but 25 percent of the number of people." 9:32:47 AM MR. THOMPSON responded, "I believe that's the case, because they went through the Division of Elections' result on the number of people that -- actually there was some contention between ballots cast and voters, which ... did make it a little more difficult also. That changed the numbers somewhat." 9:33:12 AM JOHN VINDUSKA testified on behalf of himself in opposition to HB 438. He said he was a signature gatherer during the Ogan Is So Gone recall and because of that experience he knows how difficult it is currently to recall a person. He stated, "It's a very hard process, and I don't believe people are going to recall someone just because of policy difference." He stated his belief that with the current corruption in government, there needs to be a mechanism for people to be able to do recalls. He echoed Mr. Thompson's statement that the Ogan Is So Gone recall is the only successful recall in the history of Alaska, thus, he said he doesn't think people will "be doing this frivolously." He remarked that everything he needed to say Mr. Thompson has already covered, other than the fact that if HB 438 is enacted it will send the wrong message to people by making the bar so high there is no way to get anyone out of office "unless ... they murder someone or something like that." He expressed his support for the status quo and reiterated his opposition to the bill. 9:36:10 AM REPRESENTATIVE GATTO asked if there are particular parts of the bill that are glaringly in need of being remedied. 9:36:49 AM MR. VINDUSKA replied that the most glaring issue is the proposal to raise the number of signatures required. He said people have to collect signatures within the district of the person being recalled, adding, "Everything is geared to give the representative the benefit of the doubt." He indicated that the bill would squelch future efforts. 9:38:23 AM CHAIR SEATON asked Mr. Vinduska to confirm that the interpretation he got from the Division of Elections was that a signature gatherer could not collect the signature of a person from the district of the public official being recalled, unless the person was physically in the district at the time he/she signed the petition. MR. VINDUSKA answered in the affirmative. He offered further details. 9:39:21 AM REPRESENTATIVE RAMRAS announced his intention as sponsor to delete much of the language regarding percentage [increases]. He explained that the bill was intended primarily to address cheating in the initiative process. He asked future testifiers to give him a chance to create a committee substance to "take all that into account." 9:40:06 AM REPRESENTATIVE GRUENBERG said the issue of having to collect signatures while within district boundaries may be a technical point to review. REPRESENTATIVE GARDNER said she has been pouring through statute and doesn't see any reference to a requirement that the signatures have to be collected within the district - only that they must be collected from people who are registered to vote in the district. 9:41:13 AM CHAIR SEATON said the committee would seek clarification on the issue from the Division of Elections. 9:41:28 AM ROBIN McLEAN, testifying on behalf of herself, relayed her involvement with the Ogan Is So Gone recall. She confirmed, "The Division of Elections did require us to collect signatures in this very massive district only, which I think was a judgment call of the Division of Elections." She explained that instead of being able to collect signatures from a major store where everyone shopped, the signature gatherers had to collect the signatures in rural areas. Regarding the previous comments of [Representative Gatto] regarding the activities reported during the Ogan Is So Gone recall, Ms. McLean said she thinks the people involved in that recall were careful to behave in a professional way and were not involved in any of those activities. She said she would like a law in place [allowing petitioners to gather the signatures of people from a district, no matter if those people are in the district at the time they sign the petition. She explained the reason she would like to see such a law codified is because, for example, in Anchorage many people don't even know where the district lines are. MS. McLEAN said she feels the current process for recalls is a fair one. She stated that it is not only a citizen's right, but also his/her duty, to conduct recalls. She noted that those who worked on the Ogan Is So Gone recall effort did so without reimbursement, because they believed deeply in the cause. She added, "Although I believe that's probably the best way, I think that with initiatives and referendums, that's pretty much impossible with the time constraint." She concluded, "I do understand the need to feel that these signature gatherers are ... valid signature gatherers; however, I do very strongly feel that the emphasis should be more on giving citizens the right to sign one of these petitions [than] on the people gathering them." 9:45:48 AM MICHAEL MILLER, testifying on behalf of himself, addressed the previously stated concern regarding people outside of the state funding petition efforts in Alaska. He stated that, outside of never having witnessed that himself, he wanted to note that an initiative, [referendum], or recall cannot happen without citizens actively wanting it to happen. He explained that people aren't paid to sign - they do so because they believe in the cause. Furthermore, the issues still have to go through a voting process following the signing. He said he doesn't see the purpose of HB 438, unless it's to make the process easier. He stated that the process definitely does not need to be made more difficult, "because there is just not a situation in this state where our government and way of life is being disrupted by people ... swarming in and changing our laws - that's not happening." 9:47:45 AM CHAIR SEATON, after ascertaining that there was no one else to testify, closed public testimony. 9:48:20 AM REPRESENTATIVE GRUENBERG expressed his interest in helping to figure out the previously discussed issue regarding where signatures may be collected. He offered his understanding that AS 15.45.580 dealt with this issue. 9:48:48 AM CHAIR SEATON announced that HB 438 was heard and held.