Legislature(1995 - 1996)

01/26/1995 08:03 AM STA

Audio Topic
* first hearing in first committee of referral
+ teleconferenced
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
 HSTA - 01/26/95                                                               
 Number 020                                                                    
 HJR 4 - USE OF INITIATIVE TO AMEND CONSTITUTION                             
 REPRESENTATIVE TERRY MARTIN, SPONSOR OF HJR 4, gave a history of              
 state constitutions and the rights of people to change them. He               
 said a constitution is a contract between the state and its people            
 and thus people have a right to change it.  Constitutional                    
 conventions were instigated as an alternative to revolution as a              
 method for change, but they became too cumbersome and the public              
 initiative came into being.  In Alaska, over 500 initiatives have             
 been introduced by legislators, but less than 20 of them have                 
 passed.  He added that the people of Alaska need a way to change              
 their constitution.                                                           
 Number 133                                                                    
 REPRESENTATIVE ED WILLIS asked what states allow a change in the              
 constitution by just a simple majority of the voters on a ballot.             
 REPRESENTATIVE MARTIN replied that most do, although it is more               
 difficult for a legislature to get an issue on the ballot,                    
 requiring a two-thirds vote of the legislators in most states.                
 REPRESENTATIVE WILLIS asked how many signatures are required on a             
 citizen's petition, and then what happens.                                    
 REPRESENTATIVE MARTIN replied that the figures of the National                
 Conference of State Legislatures show between five and ten percent            
 of the number of voters in the most recent election.  Then there is           
 a five-step procedure.  A group forms with one hundred members                
 throughout the state and three officers; they create a stated                 
 mission, which they take to the Lt. Governor's office for approval            
 to petition.  When enough signatures are gathered and certified by            
 the Division of Elections, corresponding legislation is then                  
 required.  He stated it is not a very easy process and people don't           
 sign a petition blindly.                                                      
 Number 226                                                                    
 REPRESENTATIVE IVAN IVAN commented this resolution scares him and             
 some of his constituents.  He stated that Alaska reviews its                  
 constitution every ten years.  He added he thought that the voters            
 in his district would be outvoted by the voters in the more urban             
 districts and that because English is a second language to many               
 voters in his district, they might be confused by the technical               
 wording of the language on the ballot.                                        
 REPRESENTATIVE MARTIN disagreed, stating that Alaska has this                 
 option but has never exercised it because the voters have always              
 voted down a constitutional convention.                                       
 Number 281                                                                    
 CHAIR JAMES commented that, while not coming out in support or                
 against this resolution, she felt that if the voters had had this             
 right in the past, they would have supported a number of issues to            
 the ballot, including term limits and the subsistence issue,                  
 possibly without the rationality or balance of power that the                 
 legislature can provide.  She added though, that the people in                
 California had used the initiative process numerous times to the              
 extent that the legislature and administration of that state                  
 complained about the massive intrusion of the people into their               
 affairs, and that the question had to be asked whether this was               
 good or bad.  She said she had mixed feelings about the resolution,           
 but also knew that for some issues you would never get a two-thirds           
 majority of the legislature to agree, and this could prevent the              
 voice of the people from being heard.  She further stated today we            
 have professional petitioners who can, for a few bucks, circulate             
 petitions and gather signatures, and she wasn't sure that everyone            
 who signed a petition knew exactly what they were signing.  She               
 said that, in fact, she's heard a lot of people, who after signing            
 a petition say they don't go along with this process, but think the           
 people should have a right to vote on it.  She further stated many            
 times the people only get one side of the argument, because one               
 side has more money to spend than the other.  "The bottom line is             
 that the needs of the people are not met," she said.  She concluded           
 by saying that no matter what they did, they were going to be                 
 infringing on the rights of someone, and the best thing they could            
 do was to try and find a balance and to do the best job they could            
 do to have a democratic society, and that it is never going to be             
 Number 337                                                                    
 REPRESENTATIVE JOE GREEN concurred with Chair James and said he               
 felt that it probably summarized the position of a lot of                     
 legislators.  He said it was possible that, because of the formal             
 presentations given to legislative committees, legislators may be             
 more informed about an issue than the average citizen on the                  
 street.  He agreed with Chair James, that if you have a                       
 preponderance of information on one side and not the other, you can           
 sway the public.  He said one thing that should be pointed out is             
 that although legislators are elected by their constituents, it is            
 not necessarily representative of the whole voting public because             
 some legislators, especially Chairs, have the ability to kill                 
 certain legislation, which the rest of the elected body doesn't               
 have a chance to vote on.  He thought there was an imperfect                  
 situation of being able to represent the will of the people without           
 their direct vote.                                                            
 Number 362                                                                    
 REPRESENTATIVE BRIAN PORTER was concerned that the actual wording             
 that would ultimately change the constitution would be written by             
 special interest groups, instead of going through a set process as            
 it has to now.  He said this was what had happened in California,             
 and this was what they could not live with down there.  He further            
 stated he wasn't sure the voting public was that interested in this           
 Number 380                                                                    
 REPRESENTATIVE SCOTT OGAN stated he had read this resolution very             
 carefully because it had long-term ramifications.  He stated he               
 viewed the constitution as something almost sacred, and he had                
 taken an oath to uphold and defend it to the best of his ability.             
 He said he wasn't sure that it was something that should be changed           
 by whims or popular ideas of a time.  He said the constitution was            
 something that had had a lot of thought go into it, and the                   
 forefathers of the Alaska Constitution had framed our constitution            
 much on the U.S. Constitution.  He stated his biggest problem with            
 this resolution was that it allowed for changes to the constitution           
 with a simple majority of the people.  He thought it might be more            
 appropriate if changes could only be made with a two-thirds                   
 majority, as was required of the legislature.  He thought this                
 would give a more true indication of the will of the people.  He              
 said this was a tough call for him because he thought the people              
 should have a right to change their government by referendum.                 
 Number 415                                                                    
 REPRESENTATIVE CAREN ROBINSON said she agreed with many of the                
 comments already made, but was also concerned with what might be              
 the fiscal impact of this resolution.  She said she could see where           
 there could be increased costs to the election department and                 
 attorney general's office, and she was curious as to whether the              
 departments were just not finished with the fiscal note or whether            
 it was just too difficult to determine the costs on this one.                 
 REPRESENTATIVE MARTIN responded that the cost would be $2,200; the            
 cost of ballot printing.  He said in most cases the people paid for           
 the costs, which he thought demonstrated their sincerity over that            
 of the legislature, who didn't have to pay for the costs of                   
 legislation.  He explained the initiative process was something               
 that was very time consuming and which was paid for by the sponsors           
 of the initiative and not the public treasury.                                
 REPRESENTATIVE ROBINSON verified that the reason there was no                 
 fiscal note was that it was just going to cost the $2,200 for the             
 printing of the ballot.                                                       
 REPRESENTATIVE MARTIN agreed.                                                 
 REPRESENTATIVE ROBINSON asked which other states allowed the                  
 initiative process of amending their constitution.                            
 REPRESENTATIVE MARTIN replied there were several.  He further                 
 stated that everyone seemed to be bringing up the case of                     
 California as an example of where the people used the initiative              
 process often, and reminded the committee that the sponsors paid              
 the cost of the initiative and not the government.  "Even though              
 California pushes through a lot of initiatives and they have a lot            
 of excitement about democracy, relatively few of the ballot                   
 questions pass" he said.  He continued, "I bet it's less than                 
 fifteen percent.  But the ones that do pass are well thought of."             
 He added that most of the time, the only reason it cost the state,            
 was when the government fought the decision of the initiative.  He            
 further stated the advantage of this resolution was that it                   
 required legislation accompany the initiative, and if the                     
 legislation was better worded and met the intent of the initiative,           
 it could be chosen as the one to go on the ballot.  He added that             
 the legislators hadn't been the best proposition writers either,              
 and the courts had even, on occasion, thrown out ballot                       
 propositions from the legislature because the intent wasn't clear.            
 REPRESENTATIVE ROBINSON requested an example of what type of                  
 initiatives could be sponsored by the people, and where the                   
 stopping point of these constitutional initiatives was.  She                  
 wondered if they could bring up just anything?                                
 Number 498                                                                    
 REPRESENTATIVE MARTIN replied that they most certainly could bring            
 up whatever they wanted.  It was, after all, their government, but            
 he cautioned there would be checkpoints along the process; one of             
 the main ones would be the Lt. Governor's office.  He said citizens           
 weren't expected to know the constitution or the procedures like              
 legislators were, and they might get angry and propose something              
 that wasn't workable.  Thus, there were checkpoints along the way             
 to tone down outrageous initiatives.  He also added that we could             
 get an idea of what type of issues might be brought up by looking             
 at the history of states, such as California, that allow the                  
 initiative process.                                                           
 CHAIR JAMES responded that currently the citizens of Alaska could             
 change the law by initiative, just not the constitution.  She added           
 if the legislature puts out a ballot issue that is not a                      
 constitutional mandate, then it is only an advisory vote, which the           
 legislature can choose to follow or reject.  She also commented               
 that almost every organization has a committee to review its                  
 bylaws, because life changes and things need to be modified.  So,             
 she said, it is evident that we need a method to change our                   
 constitution.  The question is what is the best way and what is the           
 best way to represent the people.  She added it was never a mistake           
 to ask the people, but the people had to be informed of the issue.            
 She said sometimes the information given to the people was                    
 misleading or overwhelming in favor of one side or the other.                 
 REPRESENTATIVE PORTER informed the committee that over the interim            
 there was a constitutional amendment commission formed, which                 
 resulted in a request for legislation to form a citizens committee            
 to review requests for constitutional amendments coming from the              
 public or the legislature.  He added there would be checks and                
 balances in the system, such as having the judiciary committees in            
 both the House and Senate review the requests and modify them as              
 necessary to put them in there proper form.  Thus, there have been            
 steps to try and get more citizens involved in the process, but               
 short of the initiative process, he said.                                     
 REPRESENTATIVE MARTIN said several states had tried this method,              
 and that currently two states included having commission review as            
 a step in the initiative process.  He said, though, the final                 
 decision was still left up to the people, not the legislature.  He            
 said what he was trying to do was to knock down the barriers to the           
 people; adding that, of the 500 or so proposed initiatives, there             
 was really only 20 or so that kept getting brought up because the             
 legislature wouldn't pass the issue.  He also stated the biggest              
 thing that was always brought up was fear, fear, fear and reminded            
 the committee of the fear that the Founding Fathers must have felt            
 during the Revolutionary War with the British.  He said they had to           
 constantly remind themselves of what they were fighting for - the             
 right of the individual citizen over government.  He further stated           
 that people shouldn't judge Anchorage as being white, middle-class,           
 because he could remember when he represented the largest Native              
 village in Alaska in Mountain View, and could remember seeing fish            
 wheels and catch in their backyards and having to fight for their             
 subsistence rights.  He added if you wanted a divisive community on           
 any issue, it was Anchorage.  He went on to state the groups                  
 opposed to the constitutional convention always used fear, fear,              
 fear as a tactic, and we shouldn't fear change, but should have               
 CHAIR JAMES called for a break so Representative Green and                    
 Representative Porter could attend to some urgent business.  She              
 called the meeting back to order shortly before 9 a.m.                        
 Number 625                                                                    
 REPRESENTATIVE OGAN called for an amendment to line 17, page 2 of             
 the resolution to require a two-thirds majority of votes to pass a            
 constitutional amendment.                                                     
 CHAIR JAMES called for comments on the proposed amendment.                    
 REPRESENTATIVE MARTIN objected saying history had proven that such            
 a large majority being required guaranteed minority rule, and this            
 was the exact opposite of representative democracy.  He pointed out           
 that if legislators needed a two-thirds vote to get elected, not              
 many of them would be there.  He also pointed out the initiative              
 process is a long process, requiring large public input.  He said             
 it would be over a year-long process, requiring input from the                
 legislature.  He said a two-thirds majority requirement was simply            
 too large, and it simply defied the wonderful experience of our               
 CHAIR JAMES allowed Representative Ogan to respond.                           
 REPRESENTATIVE OGAN said he wanted a two-thirds majority                      
 requirement because he felt the constitution shouldn't be so easy             
 to change according to the popular ideas and political doctrines of           
 the day.  He said we needed to have this protection for minority              
 viewpoints, and that an overwhelming majority should be required to           
 amend the constitution.                                                       
 REPRESENTATIVE GREEN said he could appreciate the sentiments of               
 Representative Ogan, but pointed out that in the 17 years he had              
 lived in Alaska, we had yet to elect a governor with even a simple            
 majority, and that such a large majority being required would just            
 ensure that no amendments would ever be made via the initiative               
 CHAIR JAMES commented that there was a difference between voting              
 for a candidate and an issue, in that an issue was simply a yes/no            
 vote.  She said there was only two choices.  Whereas with                     
 candidates there were many choices to choose from.                            
 REPRESENTATIVE PORTER agreed, saying there were remedies to getting           
 a majority vote for candidates and he would support those proposals           
 as well as this amendment.  He said he agreed with Representative             
 Ogan in that the constitution shouldn't be something that could be            
 tinkered with so easily.  He stated he recognized there were                  
 safeguards put in, including the requirement of a legislative                 
 review, but they could only change the wording, not the intent of             
 a particular initiative.                                                      
 REPRESENTATIVE WILLIS agreed that the constitution must require               
 more than a simple majority to be changed, and a two-thirds                   
 majority requirement would offer this protection.  He said he would           
 support this amendment to the resolution.                                     
 REPRESENTATIVE MARTIN said the original constitutional convention             
 made decisions by a simple majority, and it was a simple majority             
 that elected the delegates.  He added that it was barely a simple             
 majority that voted for the constitution itself.  He said that                
 two-thirds was simply an astronomical number, which was simply                
 impossible to achieve.  He cited the sixty percent requirement to             
 increase the tax cap in Anchorage as an example.  He stated if the            
 committee wanted to kill the resolution, then they would succeed              
 with a two-thirds majority requirement, because no initiative in              
 the country would ever succeed in getting a two-thirds majority               
 TAPE 95-3, SIDE B                                                             
 Number 000                                                                    
 CHAIR JAMES asked if there was some other number between fifty and            
 sixty-six percent that would be reasonable and attainable.                    
 REPRESENTATIVE MARTIN replied that no number this high would be               
 achievable when talking about a citizen initiative.  He said the              
 constitution was never meant to be sacred; it was simply an                   
 agreement between the citizens and those that were elected to                 
 govern.  He said the Alaska Constitution was so limiting in so many           
 ways, that it defied democracy.  He said the more that it was                 
 brought out to the people, they would see that they didn't have               
 that many rights in this state.                                               
 CHAIR JAMES questioned Representative Martin as to how he would               
 respond that it took a two-thirds majority of the legislature to              
 pass a constitutional amendment.                                              
 REPRESENTATIVE MARTIN replied this was because the people didn't              
 trust their legislators.                                                      
 Number 080                                                                    
 CHAIR JAMES called for a roll call vote of the committee regarding            
 the proposed amendment to the resolution.  Representatives James,             
 Ogan, Ivan, Porter, Robinson and Willis voted in favor of the                 
 amendment.  Representative Green voted against the amendment; so              
 the amendment passed.                                                         
 Number 095                                                                    
 REPRESENTATIVE MARTIN requested the resolution be held, saying that           
 with the new amendment, it was a worthless issue unless he could              
 get more information to persuade the committee otherwise.                     
 CHAIR JAMES responded that she would hold the resolution, but urged           
 Representative Martin to try and find some percentage that was                
 agreeable over fifty percent, so he could get the needed support to           
 pass it through the legislature.  She asked whether he would be               
 ready for the next committee meeting or if he wanted to make                  
 another request for a new hearing.                                            
 REPRESENTATIVE MARTIN responded that he needed to talk with                   
 constitutional experts, and would prefer to make another request.             
 He said a two-thirds majority was just too high of a requirement in           
 order for this resolution to be effective.                                    
 CHAIR JAMES replied that she personally agreed with him, but she              
 thought that in order to get the needed support to get it passed              
 through the legislature, he would need to find some percentage                
 between fifty and sixty-six percent.  She reiterated that the                 
 committee would hold the resolution until he said what he wanted              
 the committee to do with it.                                                  
 CHAIR JAMES said the next item on the agenda was HB 70.                       

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