Legislature(2005 - 2006)CAPITOL 124
03/17/2005 08:00 AM House COMMUNITY & REGIONAL AFFAIRS
Download Mp3. <- Right click and save file as
* first hearing in first committee of referral
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
HB 160-PUBLIC FUNDS & BALLOT PROPS/CANDIDATES 9:08:44 AM CO-CHAIR THOMAS announced that the next order of business would be HOUSE BILL NO. 160, "An Act limiting the use of money of the state and its political subdivisions to affect an election." 9:08:53 AM REPRESENTATIVE BILL STOLTZE, Alaska State Legislature, presented HB 160 as a modest campaign finance reform measure, which will prohibit local governments from using money to influence ballot measures. He noted that there are already prohibitions in place with regard to campaigns involving candidates. Representative Stoltze opined, from the conversations that he has had, that the public generally supports this measure. In fact, most people thought it was already illegal. If people already believe something is in law, then it's probably best to ratify it, he stated. This legislation protects municipalities, smaller ones in particular, from political pressures. He related his belief that the legislation includes enough protections to allow the dissemination of neutral information. 9:11:52 AM REPRESENTATIVE NEUMAN asked whether HB 160 would limit those on school boards from actively promoting school bonds. He related his understanding that this legislation merely limits spending municipal funds on the aforementioned. REPRESENTATIVE STOLTZE responded that he didn't believe HB 160 would prohibit one, such as a school board member, from attending community forums, although it may prohibit such an individual from [using municipal funds] to travel to another community [to promote/oppose a particular issue]. CO-CHAIR THOMAS turned attention to page 1, lines 13-14, and asked if the language refers to employees [of the entities specified on page 1, lines 9-12]. REPRESENTATIVE STOLTZE clarified that the distinction would be whether [the employee] is present as an individual or a representative of the entity [by which the individual is employed]. CO-CHAIR THOMAS related his understanding that although municipalities can't use [municipal funds to influence ballot measures], a member of the assembly can campaign and create a group for a ballot measure. REPRESENTATIVE STOLTZE recalled that during the last two elections [in Anchorage] the superintendent of the Anchorage School District was involved in an independent entity to [influence the outcome of a ballot measure]. He opined that the aforementioned was [funded outside of municipality funds], which was appropriate. He opined that government entities shouldn't be involved in expending public funds to influence elections. 9:14:52 AM REPRESENTATIVE NEUMAN surmised then that the intent of HB 160 is to ensure that municipal funds aren't spent to influence [elections], while allowing people the freedom to speak so long as they aren't spending government funds to promote any political activities. REPRESENTATIVE STOLTZE replied yes, adding that he didn't want to stifle anyone's Second Amendment rights. Although an assembly member, for example, may maintain a strong voice for his or her community, [that member] shouldn't dip into the government treasury to do so. There are enough mechanisms, such as a political action committee (PAC), available through which an effort could be put forth. Representative Stoltze characterized this as an issue of public trust, which often backfires when one uses taxpayers' money [to influence an election]. 9:16:57 AM REPRESENTATIVE LEDOUX recalled passage of legislation to promote hunting, trapping, and fishing as one of the commissioner of Alaska Department of Fish & Game's (ADF&G) duties. She further recalled Representative Kelly discussing when outside interests enter the state. The laws seem to prohibit the state from taking a position on ballot propositions and this legislation seems to make it even more difficult for the state or the municipality to take positions against some of the outside interests that want to make changes in Alaska. REPRESENTATIVE STOLTZE specified that this legislation wouldn't prohibit the ADF&G commissioner from stating a position of state policy. However, the state wouldn't run advertisements, although another group could use the department's statements in its own private campaign. 9:20:00 AM REPRESENTATIVE LEDOUX expressed concern that one could argue that someone being paid a salary is using [government] resources to advocate a matter or position if that individual, in the course of his or her duties specifies that the state doesn't like something. REPRESENTATIVE STOLTZE clarified that it's not his intent for a commissioner of ADF&G to be barred from attending a public forum of a public interest. This legislation closes a loophole that municipalities can use funds by passage of a simple ordinance. He said he would ferret out a legal opinion on that matter. 9:21:47 AM REPRESENTATIVE KOTT surmised then that HB 160 would prohibit the Permanent Fund Corporation from advocating the percent of market value (POMV) with state funds. REPRESENTATIVE STOLTZE related his belief that currently the Permanent Fund Corporation would be prevented [from advocating, with the use of state funds, a specific methodology]. This legislation only speaks to closing the municipal loophole. 9:22:57 AM KEVIN RITCHIE, Executive Director, Alaska Municipal League (AML), agreed with the sponsor in that good government is the issue and how good government is implemented is key. He commented that good government is dependent upon the flow of information between elected officials and residents [of the area]. The [language in the legislation] that speaks of only disseminating the time and place of meeting would be ripe for litigation, he mentioned. Mr. Ritchie provided the following example of what he characterized as good government in which a municipality felt the need to raise its sales tax in order to provide adequate services. Very seldom will there be a local advocacy group for raising a sales tax. Because one size doesn't fit all, it would be nice to specify what is appropriate for municipalities to do or not do. For example, it would be appropriate to have a series of meetings around the community regarding the situation of the community and what might be done with a proposed sales tax. Often, good government also includes sending out a brochure on the matter. There is a gray line with regard to what is appropriate or not and often people who feel "had" vote against the measure or don't re-elect those involved with the measure. Mr. Ritchie indicated the need to clarify this gray line without taking away the ability of local government to have a conversation with the public on the policy. 9:27:11 AM REPRESENTATIVE NEUMAN asked if Mr. Ritchie could make any suggestions and work with Representative Stoltze on this matter. MR. RITCHIE answered that he would try to work with the sponsor. However, he said that he hasn't determined how to define the gray line. He noted agreement with the bright line this legislation draws regarding the inability for public money to be used to influence the outcome of an election of a candidate. However, a ballot issue could be a critical area of public policy and for the municipality not to have the broad ability to participate in the public policy discussions may cause a problem in some areas. 9:28:50 AM REPRESENTATIVE KOTT asked if a municipality has ever used public funds to support or endorse a candidate for office. MR. RITCHIE said not that he knew of, adding that it would be illegal. 9:29:19 AM BROOKE MILES, Executive Director, Alaska Public Offices Commission (APOC), stated that APOC takes a neutral position on HB 160. Current law prohibits the state and its political subdivisions from spending its money in efforts to support or oppose a candidate. However, current law permits the expenditure of public money to support or oppose a ballot proposition if the funds are appropriated specifically for that purpose by state law or municipal ordinance. Since the aforementioned provision has been in effect since January 1997, the state hasn't appropriated funds to support or oppose a ballot measure. However, APOC did have substantial discussions with the Permanent Fund Corporation last election year as the corporation considered what it would do if POMV was on the ballot. The APOC issued some complex informal advice. Ms. Miles highlighted that many municipalities and school districts have appropriated and spent money to support local issues such as school bonds and capital improvement projects. CO-CHAIR THOMAS announced that HB 160 would be held over.