Legislature(1997 - 1998)
04/08/1997 03:33 PM STA
* first hearing in first committee of referral
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
SENATE STATE AFFAIRS COMMITTEE April 8, 1997 3:33 p.m. MEMBERS PRESENT Senator Lyda Green, Chairman Senator Jerry Ward, Vice-Chairman Senator Jerry Mackie Senator Mike Miller Senator Jim Duncan MEMBERS ABSENT All members present COMMITTEE CALENDAR CS FOR HOUSE BILL NO. 20(FIN) "An Act relating to dog mushers' contests." - MOVED CSHB 20(FIN) OUT OF COMMITTEE CS FOR HOUSE BILL NO. 112(FIN) "An Act amending the definition of `political party' except as the definition of the term applies to the regulation of contributions and expenditures in state and municipal election campaigns, an amendment that also has the effect of changing the definition of `political organization' as applied to the regulation of games of chance and contests of skill." - MOVED CSHB 112(FIN) OUT OF COMMITTEE HOUSE BILL NO. 86 "An Act relating to the payments in lieu of taxes program for cities in the unorganized borough; and providing for an effective date." - MOVED HB 86 OUT OF COMMITTEE SENATE BILL NO. 147 "An Act relating to a retirement benefit for the surviving widow or widower or surviving divorced spouse of a governor or lieutenant governor of the state; and providing for an effective date." - CSSB 147(STA) HELD IN COMMITTEE PREVIOUS SENATE COMMITTEE ACTION HB 20 - No previous action to record. HB 112 - No previous action to record. HB 86 - No previous action to record. SB 147 - No previous action to record. WITNESS REGISTER Representative Ivan Ivan State Capitol Juneau, AK 99801-1182 POSITION STATEMENT: Prime Sponsor of HB 20 & HB 86 Representative Al Vezey State Capitol Juneau, AK 99801-1182 POSITION STATEMENT: Prime Sponsor of HB 112 Jim Baldwin, Assistant Attorney General Department of Law P.O. Box 110300 Juneau, AK 99811-0300 POSITION STATEMENT: Testified in opposition to HB 112 Kevin Ritchie, Executive Director Alaska Municipal League 217 2nd St. Juneau, AK 99801 POSITION STATEMENT: Testified in support of HB 86 Joe Ambrose, Staff to Senator Robin Taylor State Capitol Juneau, AK 99801-1182 POSITION STATEMENT: Offered information on SB 147 Elton Engstrom 734 Goldbelt Ave. Juneau, AK 99801 POSITION STATEMENT: Testified in support of SB 147 Bill Church, Retirement Supervisor Division of Retirement & Benefits Department of Administration P.O. Box 110203 Juneau, AK 99811-0203 POSITION STATEMENT: Responded to questions on SB 147 ACTION NARRATIVE TAPE 97-19, SIDE A Number 001 CSHB 20(FIN) DOG MUSHING CONTESTS CHAIRMAN GREEN called the Senate State Affairs Committee to order at 3:33 p.m. and brought up CSHB 20(FIN) as the first order of business before the committee. REPRESENTATIVE IVAN IVAN, prime sponsor of HB 20, said dog mushing contests are historically important activities to many Alaskans and communities across the state, and the legislation would authorize dog musher associations, which run races recognized by the Division of Charitable Gaming, to conduct statewide games of chance. The division recognizes those associations which have been in existence for at least three years, have at least 25 Alaskan members and be a not-for-profit organization. The prizes of money will be awarded for the closest guesses of at least three elements of uncertainty about a sled dog race that cannot be determined before the start of the race. The intent is to provide a mechanism to assist race organizing committees to become financially self-sufficient. Representative Ivan pointed out that throughout the years high profile protesting by animal rights groups has caused important corporate sponsors to withdraw financial support. He said CSHB 20(FIN) would create a sweepstakes similar to one passed by the previous Legislature for the Iditarod Race Committee and, hopefully, allow sled dog races which do not have strong financial backing to continue. Representative Ivan clarified the legislation would allow contestants to purchase tickets on which the contestant would guess the checkpoints and finish line arrival times, the temperature when a particular team crosses the finish line, the total number of dogs that finish the race, etc. The dog mushers' associations will administer the mushers' contests in conjunction with the state regulatory authority. He added the legislation is an attempt to start up a mechanism to keep dog mushing activities continuing throughout the state. Number 070 CHAIRMAN GREEN inquired if the legislation applies to dog mushing contests in general, and REPRESENTATIVE IVAN acknowledged that it applies to any dog mushing group that is recognized by the Division of Charitable Gaming. There being no further testimony on CSHB 20(FIN), CHAIRMAN GREEN asked for the will of the committee. SENATOR WARD moved CSHB 20(FIN) and the accompanying zero fiscal notes be passed out of committee with individual recommendations. Hearing no objection, it was so ordered. CSHB 112(FIN) AMEND DEFINITION OF "POLITICAL PARTY" CHAIRMAN GREEN brought CSHB 112(FIN) before the committee as the next order of business. REPRESENTATIVE AL VEZEY, prime sponsor of HB 112, said recognizing that since 1970 the state of Alaska has not elected a governor by a majority vote, he introduced the legislation as a means of modifying the state's election law in the smallest way possible which might produce a result that might reduce the number of candidates that appear on the ballot and might increase Alaska's chance of electing a governor by a majority vote. Representative Vezey said Alaska's election law is well established and has withstood constitutional challenge, and the approach in HB 112 is to not restrict or further restrict access to the ballot, but to expand the means by which a group of people can organize and get recognition as a political party. It sets a standard that in addition to qualifying for the ballot by getting 3 percent of the vote, that if a party has registered voters equal to 3 percent of the vote cast in the last gubernatorial election, which would be 6,500 registered voters under a party affiliation, it would qualify a party for recognition as a political status. He added that this may or may not have any affect on the number of candidates that appear on a ballot, but it might provide a major party an opportunity to maintain its party status and not run a candidate when it isn't serious about winning an election. Number 140 SENATOR DUNCAN asked if under this new definition the Republican Party, Democratic Party and the Alaska Independent Party could retain party status without getting 3 percent of the vote in each gubernatorial election year because of the number of registered voters that they have. REPRESENTATIVE VEZEY responded that it is his understanding that if this bill becomes law, those three parties would have the option of how they wanted to maintain their political status. SENATOR DUNCAN asked if for any other party the only option would be to have a gubernatorial candidate every four years and get at least 3 percent of vote if they didn't have at least 10,000 registered voters. REPRESENTATIVE VEZEY answered that was not correct. Right now groups of people that want to qualify as a party have to run a candidate and garner 3 percent of the vote. If this bill becomes law, an option would be that they could go out and register voters equivalent to the same number. Number 180 SENATOR MACKIE observed that this change makes it easier for someone to get on a gubernatorial ballot. REPRESENTATIVE VEZEY agreed, and said this is expanding the options available. Number 200 JIM BALDWIN, Assistant Attorney General, Department of Law, stated the legal issues brought up in this bill are substantial. He said he suspects that if it becomes law it will provoke a lawsuit by one of the major minor parties because of the differential treatment. The Green Party, for example, is a recognized political party, and the way the 3 percent works, they would not get the same treatment as the Alaska Independent Party. They would not be able to sit out the next gubernatorial election; they would have to run a candidate in order to keep their recognized status in tact. He said in order to sustain a differential treatment, the state is going to be held to a very high standard of showing a governmental interest, and he doesn't think that there has been a sufficient record developed in the hearings that he has attended thus far before the Legislature to support that kind of a governmental interest. Mr. Baldwin said the legislation appears to allow easier access to the gubernatorial ballot, but its the manner in which the access is granted that may raise some problems. For example, he is counsel to the state on a case currently pending in the U.S. Supreme Court having to do with the open primary. One of the issues raised is does the state's open primary statute violate the freedom of association under the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution for particularly a political party that wants to close its primary. He noted the state has argued that political parties really don't mean that much in Alaska because of the way our election laws are established, and he thinks that if this law were to be enacted, it would further bolster the state's arguments because the ability to become recognized as a political party would be lessened. Number 290 SENATOR MILLER commented that Mr. Baldwin had said that the only option the Green Party would have was to run a candidate, but he pointed out that they would have the second option of putting on a massive registration drive and get the 3 percent. MR. BALDWIN agreed, but he added that he thinks that presents another problem. By using that as a second prong of the test to become a major political party, what you are saying to the adherents of that political party is that the only way you are going to be recognized as a party is for you to declare openly your affiliation. He thinks that if members of a political party could in court allege by doing that they are being laid open to threats or intimidation or coercion, the state will not be able to sustain that kind of a requirement either. Number 321 SENATOR MACKIE asked if the bill became law, an election was held, and then there was a lawsuit and the state lost, does that mean the whole election has to be voided. MR. BALDWIN replied that it would be highly unlikely there would be a situation where a election would be invalidated. The courts usually bend over backwards to avoid that kind of result from happening, but it tends to lead to a lot of uncertainty for the Division of Elections and a potential for further problems with the electoral process. SENATOR MACKIE inquired if Mr. Baldwin sees a solution that would satisfy his legal concerns with this legislation. MR. BALDWIN responded that there were some amendments that were proposed on the House floor and in House Finance that would ameliorate a lot of problems such as taking it down to 1 percent. He also said the state has taken the strong position that it favors the open primarily, and he thinks that what is done here as far as what defines political party affects that case, and he suggested that should be kept in mind. There being no further testimony on CSHB 112(FIN), CHAIRMAN GREEN stated the bill would be set aside. HB 86 CITIES: PAYMENTS IN LIEU OF TAXES CHAIRMAN GREEN brought HB 86 before the committee as the next order of business. REPRESENTATIVE IVAN IVAN, prime sponsor of HB 86, stated he introduced the legislation because it will have a positive economic impact on communities in rural Alaska that are in unorganized areas of the state. The bill establishes the payment in lieu of taxes program within the Department of Community & Regional Affairs for home rule and general law cities located in the unorganized borough within federally designed areas of the Alaska. He related the program will be financed by funds the states receives annually from the federal government under 31 U.S.C. 6901 - 31 U.S|.C. 6902. Senator Ted Steven sponsored an amendment to the Omnibus Parks and Public Lands Management Act which allows cities in the unorganized borough to receive payment. Representative Ivan explained the legislation will provide a method for the Department of Community & Regional Affairs to distribute the annual funding and to establish criteria to determine whether a city is eligible to receive payment under the program as intended by federal law. The amount of money to be distributed to each eligible home rule or general law city will be based upon the population of the city as certified by the commissioner of the DCRA. The funds received by the cities under this program can be used for any general purpose for which the city is authorized under federal, state or local law. In conclusion, Representative Ivan said these funds will supplement rather than replace current funding provided to the cities by the state. He said it will improve the financial health of the cities and, hopefully, will enhance and encourage cities to remain incorporated instead of dissolving. Number 430 CHAIRMAN GREEN asked Representative Ivan if the cities in the areas that will impacted by the legislation are in favor of it, and he acknowledged that they are. Number 440 KEVIN RITCHIE, Executive Director, Alaska Municipal League, voiced the Alaska Municipal League's support for HB 86. Mr. Ritchie noted that before the federal legislation was passed last year the only part of the United States that was not receiving payment in lieu taxes funding was the unorganized boroughs, and this legislation simply includes the unorganized borough with all of the other boroughs in Alaska and the rest of the United States. There being no further testimony on HB 86, CHAIRMAN GREEN asked for the will of the committee. SENATOR MACKIE moved HB 86 and the accompanying zero fiscal note be passed out of committee with individual recommendations. Hearing no objection, it was so ordered. Number 470 SB 147 PERS:GOV/LT GOV'S SURVIVING SPOUSE OR EX CHAIRMAN GREEN introduced SB 147 as the next order of business before the committee. She then directed attention to a proposed committee substitute. SENATOR WARD moved the adoption of CSSB 147(STA). Hearing no objection, CHAIRMAN GREEN stated the committee substitute was before the committee for its consideration. JOE AMBROSE, staff to Senator Robin Taylor, read into the record the following sponsor statement: "Senate Bill 147 was introduced at the request of Alaskans concerned about the ability of the spouses of our elected statewide leaders to sustain themselves in their senior years. Because of the fact that the few individuals who might possibly benefit from the legislation have been women, this sponsor statement will refer to these individuals as our former "First Ladies". It should be pointed out, however, that the provisions of this bill would apply equally to any qualified spouse, regardless of gender. Although our First Ladies are not elected, they do serve an important role in any administration. This legislation is intended to acknowledge that role and provide a small benefit under limited conditions to recognize that service. SB 147 would provide a benefit of $1,000 per month to the surviving widow or widower or the former spouse of a governor or lieutenant governor. The spouse would have had to have been married to the governor or lieutenant governor during their term in office. The benefit is further restricted to an individual who is at least 60 years of age, unmarried at the time of collecting the benefit and not employed in a position covered by a state retirement system. Eligibility for the benefit would terminate with the death of the individual or if they remarry or become eligible for a benefit under the state retirement system. We would like to assume that Alaska's former First Ladies are provided for in their senior years. That may not always be the case and SB 147 will provide a small safety net as a way of acknowledging their service to the state of Alaska." Mr. Ambrose related that Senator Taylor has no objection to deleting references to the lieutenant governor in this legislation so that it just applies to widows or widowers of former governors. Number 495 SENATOR DUNCAN asked the differences between the original bill and the committee substitute. MR. AMBROSE explained the original bill makes reference to the surviving divorced spouse and the committee substitute changes that to the former spouse. He also explained the suggestion to delete references to the lieutenant governor is being proposed because of the potential fiscal impact, as well as the role of the spouse of the lieutenant governor is not on the same level as the role of the spouse of the governor. Number 512 ELTON ENGSTROM of Juneau, the requestor of the legislation, said the wife of the governor is the only person in this state who does as much work, in some ways, as her husband. He related that approximately five or six months before he was contacted by a former first lady asking for his help as she had been kicked out of the Glory Hole,which is a shelter for homeless persons. He noted this is somewhat like something that happened 100 years ago. Another First Lady, Mary Lincoln, had a few mental problems and was having a difficult time, and in 1873 Congress passed an annual pension for her. Likewise, this legislation is for a former spouse of a governor who is in desperate straights and could use some acknowledgment for the time that she and others have worked for the state of Alaska. Number 547 SENATOR MILLER expressed concern with including divorced spouses in the legislation because he thinks it might be stretching beyond the concept that the requestor is trying to achieve. MR. ENGSTROM responded that this is dealing with such a limited group, and, to him, it is a recognition of the service performed by these individuals. Number 562 SENATOR WARD also expressed concern with putting this provision into statute because it appears this is creating a piece of legislation for one individual and he wasn't sure that was good public policy. TAPE 96-19, SIDE B Number 015 SENATOR MILLER offered an amendment to delete all references to the lieutenant governor which would limit the scope of the legislation. Hearing no objection, the Chairman stated Amendment No. 1 was adopted. Number 025 BILL CHURCH, Retirement Supervisor, Division of Retirement & Benefits, Department of Administration, stated he was present to respond to questions from the committee. SENATOR WARD inquired if former first ladies are eligible for survivor benefits under their spouses retirement plan. MR. CHURCH acknowledged they would have survivor benefits available if the former governor was a vested member of the retirement system and if the former governor, upon retirement, elected to provide survivor benefits to the spouse. He also clarified to Senator Ward that common law marriages are not recognized in the state for benefit purposes. SENATOR WARD asked if a governor was to serve only four years and did not become vested under the state retirement system, under this proposal would his spouse still qualify for this benefit. MR. CHURCH acknowledged that the spouse would. SENATOR WARD commented that could be unconstitutional. There being no further testimony on CSSB 147(STA), CHAIRMAN GREEN stated the bill would be held in committee. Number 069 CSHB 112(FIN) AMEND DEFINITION OF "POLITICAL PARTY" CHAIRMAN GREEN brought CSHB 112(FIN) back before the committee and requested a motion on the legislation. SENATOR MACKIE said he thinks the Department of Law has raised some serious questions on this legislation that should be looked into by the Attorney General. SENATOR MILLER said he understands Senator Mackie's concern; however, he does not believe the constitutional challenge is as much a concern as Mr. Baldwin expressed it to be. He said it is still the 3 percent, and nothing in the bill limits the party from going out and doing an active registration drive so that they don't have to run a candidate, or, if they want to continue to run a candidate, they can do so. SENATOR DUNCAN noted that the House Judiciary Committee had not looked at this legislation, and he recommended that a Senate Judiciary Committee referral be considered in addition to the Senate Finance Committee. SENATOR MILLER related that after the bill was passed out of the Sate Affairs Committee, he would get together with Senator Taylor to discuss referring it to the Senate Judiciary Committee. Number 102 SENATOR MILLER moved CSHB 112(FIN) be passed out of committee with individual recommendations. SENATOR DUNCAN objected. The roll was taken with the following result: Senators Mackie, Ward, Miller and Green voted "Yea" and Senator Duncan voted "Nay." The Chairman stated the motion to move CSHB 112(FIN) out of committee carried. There being no further business to come before the committee, CHAIRMAN GREEN adjourned the meeting at 4:31 p.m.