Legislature(1999 - 2000)
04/08/1999 08:05 AM CRA
* first hearing in first committee of referral
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
HB 155 - MUNICIPAL ASSEMBLY APPORTIONMENT Number 2765 CO-CHAIRMAN HALCRO announced that the final order of business before the committee would be HOUSE BILL NO. 155, "An Act relating to municipal assembly forms of representation and apportionment." REPRESENTATIVE SMALLEY, Sponsor of HB 155, Alaska State Legislature, explained that HB 155 would allow borough governments and municipalities to have the state reapportionment plan in place before the borough draws up its election districts. This would eliminate confusion for voters with regard to what precinct the voter belongs. He informed the committee that the committee packet includes a letter from the Alaska Municipal League. Representative Smalley said, "...it says that if there's a determination that existing apportionment fails to meet standards set forth in Alaskan statute, the assembly must adopt an ordinance providing reapportionment and present it to the voters within six months of its determination under that statute." He pointed out that it is practically impossible for the Kenai Peninsula Borough to develop and adopt the state precinct lines since the new lines are unknown, yet by law the borough's plan must be in place. Therefore, it would seem appropriate to require the assembly to adopt its reapportionment plan and bring it to the voters after the state's plan has been approved and put in place. LINDA MURPHY, Borough Clerk, Kenai Peninsula Borough, testified via teleconference from Kenai. She explained that municipalities with districted seats on the assembly and city council must determine whether existing apportionment meets state standards within two months of receiving the federal decennial census. If the determination is that the city is malapportioned, the assembly must go before the voters with a reapportionment plan within six months. At that time, there is no way to know what the state plan will be. Ms. Murphy pointed out that often, the assembly districts are set by the then current precinct lines which are changed by the state within one to two years. Currently, the Kenai Peninsula Borough has one precinct which has portions of four different assembly seats which causes much confusion for qualifying the candidates for those assembly seats. TAPE 99-23, SIDE B MS. MURPHY informed the committee that there could be three different ballot types; one with no assembly seat, and then two different ballot types with different assembly seats. Furthermore, confusion is caused in the borough office with absentee ballot requests by mail. This would simplify the process and reduce costs since fewer ballot types would have to be produced. Ms. Murphy also felt that the possibility of a contest of an election based on a voter potentially receiving an incorrect ballot would be reduced. In conclusion, Ms. Murphy urged passage of HB 155. Number 2900 CO-CHAIRMAN HARRIS indicated that state reapportionment laws are different than municipality and borough reapportionment. For example, the state must take into account such things as ethnic diversity during reapportionment. Co-Chairman Harris noted that portions of Anchorage are represented into areas within the borough, but not located within Anchorage itself. MS. MURPHY said that she was not qualified to speak on the state's reapportionment requirements. She reiterated that she is interested in knowing where the state draws its precinct lines in order that borough apportionment can follow the state precinct lines as closely as possible which lessens confusion at the polls. In response to Representative Murkowski, Ms. Murphy informed the committee that she has been the Kenai Peninsula Borough Clerk for the past two years, prior to that she was the City of Seward Clerk for 17 years. REPRESENTATIVE MURKOWSKI expressed interest in whether Ms. Murphy was in the clerk's office during the last census and if so, were there problems or confusion. MS. MURPHY specified that she was the clerk in Seward during the last census. Seward does not have districted seats, but is part of the Kenai Peninsula Borough. Ms. Murphy was aware of the problems the borough was having due to the joint elections meetings with all the clerk's in the borough. The borough was having difficulties establishing a plan without knowing what the state's plan would be. Number 2744 CO-CHAIRMAN HARRIS stated that HB 155 would effect all communities that have more than one Representative or Senator in their district as well as multiple assembly or council members. How would HB 155 effect areas such as Fairbanks or Anchorage? Such areas have more House and Senate districts and members than assembly districts and members. MS. MURPHY clarified that HB 155 would not have any impact on Senate or House seats, that is dealt with in the state's reapportionment plan. Furthermore, the Fairbanks Northstar Borough would not be effected because that borough does not have districted seats. Ms. Murphy explained that HB 155 would allow those areas with districted seats, such as the Kenai Peninsula Borough and the Municipality of Anchorage, to base the plan on state precinct lines when possible. She acknowledged that there may be times the state precinct lines could not be followed, however there would be the opportunity to have a better plan than now. CO-CHAIRMAN HARRIS believed that this tries to mirror the state precinct lines. He was unsure as to whether HB 155 would require following the state precinct lines or merely provides that as an option. MS. MURPHY specified that HB 155 merely provides the option of following state precinct lines. This would allow the knowledge of the state precinct lines during the borough planning process. Additionally, HB 155 would allow the borough to offer the voters a new plan if an approved state plan was set aside for some reason and state precinct lines change. Currently, the borough can only go to the voters following a census or any time apportionment is found not to meet those standards specified in state statute. REPRESENTATIVE DYSON understood that the desire is to allow borough redistricting after the state has reapportioned. He informed the committee that he had sat on a local assembly and had his seat sued. REPRESENTATIVE MURKOWSKI referred to page 2, lines 24 through 26 which states, "The assembly may provide, by ordinance, for a change in an existing apportionment of the assembly whenever a final state redistricting plan is changed as a result of federal or court action." Is there an opportunity to change it after the adoption of a final plan and is there the possibility of court action subsequent to that? Number 2448 TAMARA COOK, Director, Legislative Legal and Research Services, Legislative Affairs Agency, informed the committee that as a drafter she had a dilemma. The request was to set up a system which would enable an assembly to become reapportioned only after the state was reapportioned which is technically impossible. Ms. Cook explained that Sections 1 and 2 of HB 155 refer to the final state redistricting plan adopted under the constitution. Currently, the amended constitution requires that after a federal census, members be appointed to a reapportionment board within 30 days. After the board members are appointed, the board has 90 days in which to declare the final state plan. She explained that existing law directs assemblies to start this process, reapportionment, two months after a census. With regard to the constitutional provisions, the assembly action has been delayed by two more months under HB 155. Once there is a state final plan, the Department of Justice reviews the plan. The Department of Justice must respond to the state within about 90 days, but the response can be a request for more information. There is no specific time period in which the state must gather its information in which to justify its plan. Once the state has provided its justification, there is another period in which the Department of Justice must act. Therefore, the state must deal with an uncertain length of federal justice review. Only after that review, can the question of an individual litigate occur. MS. COOK explained that she created a system in which the assembly responds to the final plan adopted by the redistricting commission without considering the appeal process which could be another two years. Therefore, the assembly has four months within which to respond to the federal census. At that time, the state proposal is known. Ms. Cook emphasized that the assembly has the option to consider the state final plan, but there is no requirement to do so. MS. COOK stated that the change in Section 3 accommodates the possibility of the state plan being thrown out in court or by a decision of the Department of Justice review. Another layer of flexibility is provided to the assembly. If the assembly has chosen to follow the state plan, and the state plan is then thrown out or adjusted, the assembly may elect to provide a different assembly apportionment plan in an effort to follow the revised state plan. She reiterated that this is merely an option. Currently, the assembly has the power to present a new plan any time the assembly determines the current plan is out of apportionment. However, the current system does not allow the assembly to present a new plan when there is a determination that the plan is in apportionment, although not practical. There is also the consideration of a new plan per voter petition. Ms. Cook clarified that Section 3 of HB 155 provides an additional reason, that the state plan has changed, for the assembly to provide a new plan. In response to Representative Murkowski, Ms. Cook specified that the only thing mandatory is that an assembly determination must be provided within about four months. Number 2138 CO-CHAIRMAN HARRIS moved that HB 155 be reported from committee with individual recommendations and the attached zero fiscal note. There being no objection, it was so ordered.