Legislature(2005 - 2006)CAPITOL 106
01/31/2006 08:00 AM House STATE AFFAIRS
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* first hearing in first committee of referral
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
HB 160-PUBLIC FUNDS & BALLOT PROPS/CANDIDATES 9:19:19 AM CHAIR SEATON announced that the next order of business was HOUSE BILL NO. 160, "An Act limiting the use of money of the state and its political subdivisions to affect an election." CHAIR SEATON noted for the record that Representative Bill Stoltze, sponsor of HB 160, had been waiting to testify but had to leave for another meeting. 9:19:24 AM BEN MULLIGAN, Staff to Representative Bill Stoltze, Alaska State Legislature, testifying on behalf of Representative Stoltze, sponsor of HB 160, said he would address questions the committee had last year when the bill was introduced. 9:20:31 AM REPRESENTATIVE GATTO moved to adopt the committee substitute (CS) for HB 160, Version 24-LS0586\X, Kurtz, 1/30/06, as a work draft. There being no objection, Version X was before the committee. 9:21:02 AM MR. MULLIGAN explained that Version X incorporated an amendment adopted by the committee last year. In response to a request from Chair Seaton, he explained that Version X specifies "state election" in the title. It would allow local school boards to advocate for local municipal bond propositions. Version X also added new language to Section 3, which read as follows: *Sec. 3. AS 15.13.145(c) is amended to read: (c) Money held by (1) the division of elections or a municipal election official [AN ENTITY IDENTIFIED IN (a)(1)-(3) OF THIS SECTION] may be used (A) [(1)] to disseminate information about the time and place of an election and to hold an election; or (B) [(2)] to provide the public with the information described in AS 15.58.020; (2) a municipality, school district, regional educational attendance area, or another political subdivision of the state may be used to provide the public with nonpartisan information about a ballot proposition or question other than a state ballot proposition or question or about all the candidates seeking election to a particular [PUBLIC] office. 9:22:31 AM CHAIR SEATON said, "As I read this, if it's a state bond or state anything, then they wouldn't be able to provide that information, is that correct? But a local ballot proposition they could?" 9:23:12 AM MR. MULLIGAN answered that's correct. 9:23:42 AM MR. MULLIGAN, in response to a question from Representative Gatto, said [a school district] could advertise for a local ballot proposition on a state bond, because it would be a local proposition to accept or not accept it. 9:24:08 AM REPRESENTATIVE GARDNER offered an example of a ballot issue that dealt with municipal revenue sharing and said the Matanuska- Susitna Borough was "intensely interested in seeing that pass." She asked if under this proposal the borough would be prohibited from lobbying for that. 9:24:40 AM MR. MULLIGAN answered that's correct. 9:24:45 AM REPRESENTATIVE GATTO said, "Since the bonds haven't been passed, the money they're using to advocate for these bonds comes from some other source." He questioned whether there are legal and illegal sources and if there is some way to identify if there is an illegal source. 9:25:01 AM MR. MULLIGAN said money in a municipality's general fund could be used to advocate. He said currently most state and federal monies are earmarked for a specific purpose. 9:25:44 AM CHAIR SEATON noted that government obligation (GO) bonds can only be used for capital projects. 9:25:53 AM REPRESENTATIVE RAMRAS offered an example in which a city could spend a half million dollars to influence a statewide vote to fail. If the proponents of that ballot measure didn't have the means of raising money, then - as Representative Ramras said is often the case - one side would be empowered and well-financed while the other side would not be able to gets its message out. He offered his understanding that the proposed legislation would "prohibit that kind of influence from a governmental agency." 9:26:56 AM MR. MULLIGAN confirmed that is correct. 9:27:03 AM REPRESENTATIVE GRUENBERG said the last time the bill was before the committee he had expressed concern about issues of constitutionality. He said he has since received a legal opinion from Kathryn Kurtz of Legislative Legal and Research Services, which is included as a memorandum in the committee packet. He read portions of the letter, and he stated that his concerns are now alleviated. REPRESENTATIVE GRUENBERG asked, "This does prohibit ... the use of any money held by the municipality, whether it's state money or any other money, right?" 9:29:29 AM MR. MULLIGAN answered that's correct. 9:29:37 AM REPRESENTATIVE GRUENBERG directed attention to language on page 2, lines 7-8, which read as follows: (c) Money held by (1) the division of elections or a municipal election official REPRESENTATIVE GRUENBERG stated that he is not certain if the money is technically held by the Division of Elections or held by a municipal election official. He said, "I think the money is technically held in the treasury." He said if that's the case, then HB 160 would not achieve its desired effect. He recommended having legal counsel check on that. 9:30:46 AM MR. MULLIGAN said he would have that question addressed. 9:30:55 AM CHAIR SEATON directed attention to page 1, on which he noted there is a list of those entities that cannot use money to influence ["the outcome of the election of a candidate to a state or municipal office or the outcome of an election concerning a state ballot proposition"]. He then directed attention to Section 2, which read as follows: *Sec.2. AS 15.13.145(b) is amended to read: (b) Money held by an entity identified in (a)(3) [(a)(1)-(3)] of this section may be used to influence the outcome of a municipal [AN] election concerning a ballot proposition or question, but only if the funds have been specifically appropriated for that purpose by [A STATE LAW OR] a municipal ordinance. CHAIR SEATON said, "So, normally you can't unless you specifically have an ordinance -- by ordinance, not any other action." 9:32:08 AM MR. MULLIGAN responded, "They can use the money to distribute nonpartisan information or those designated in Section 3, not to influence the outcome. So, ... if you designate that money to be used to distribute information about ... a given ... municipal ballot proposition at the time, they can designate that money and use that for that purpose." CHAIR SEATON added, "To influence the election." 9:33:44 AM MR. MULLIGAN, in response to a question from Representative Gruenberg, noted that Ms. Kurtz said if a future legislature wants to permit state entities to use state funds to influence the outcome of elections concerning ballot propositions, it can amend the law. 9:34:04 AM BROOKE MILES, Executive Director, Alaska Public Offices Commission (APOC), told the committee that the commission takes a neutral position on the bill. 9:36:02 AM CHAIR SEATON, in response to a question from Ms. Miles, specified that certain language she had expressed concern about is deleted from Version X. 9:36:18 AM LARRY WIGET, Director, Government Relations, Anchorage School District, testified on behalf of the district in support of allowing school districts to provide the public with nonpartisan information regarding a ballot proposition. He said the district would also appreciate having the same ability to provide the public with nonpartisan ballot proposition information for state ballots, particularly in regard to GO bonds or other statewide bonds that would directly impact the school district, in terms of school construction and maintenance. MR. WIGET said at the local level, under the current municipal ethics law, the district is not allowed to advocate yeah or nay for bond propositions, but may only provide its public with information. He said the district would appreciate having the ability to provide the voters of the community with information on statewide ballot propositions that impact the Anchorage School District. 9:37:58 AM MR. WIGET, in response to a question from Representative Gruenberg, clarified that he would like the language "other than a state ballot proposition or question" removed from [page 2], lines 16-17. He further clarified that on the local level, all the information that the district sends out through its "dissemination process" is approved by local bond council to ensure a high level of neutrality in order not to influence a level of outcome. He said, "Our basic goal is to provide information from which our voters can make an educated guess." He indicated that the community makes up its own mind, based on the information. 9:38:51 AM CHAIR SEATON asked Mr. Wiget if he understands that Section 2 on page 2 would "allow for advocacy for a position on a municipal bond ballot proposition if the assembly would specifically pass a municipal ordinance allowing for that." 9:39:16 AM MR. WIGET said he does. 9:39:26 AM REPRESENTATIVE GRUENBERG referred again to lines 16 and 17, and clarified that Mr. Wiget would like the school district to be able to advocate on a state ballot proposition. He observed that Section 2 only applies to municipal elections. 9:39:59 AM REPRESENTATIVE GARDNER asked Mr. Wiget if he is proposing that school districts be taken out "of the effect of this bill" in order that the school district could lobby for issues that are statewide issues that affect school districts. 9:40:19 AM MR. WIGET responded that the issue is not to lobby for a position, but to be able to provide information from which the voters can make a decision to vote yeah or nay. 9:40:43 AM REPRESENTATIVE GRUENBERG observed that the language on page 2, line 14, includes not just school districts, but also municipalities, regional educational attendance areas, and political subdivisions of the state. He indicated that he would like to know how those other entities felt about the language. 9:41:17 AM KATHY WASSERMAN, Alaska Municipal League (AML), testified as follows: The Alaska Municipal League is opposed to HB 160. The first and most important reason is that it attempts to remove local control. There have been and will continue to be many issues that this state faces that impact different communities in many different ways. We would defend local governments' right to inform residents, in as fair a manner as possible, what the ramifications of state election results might entail for their community. Many times, local assemblies and councils take a stand - through resolutions, proclamations, and so forth - on state issues which may then find their way back to the state voting booth. To say "nothing," as this bill mentions, does not reflect nonpartisanship; it reflects irresponsibility. A good manager of a business or a city owes [his/her] employees and the constituents as much information as possible to make an informed decision. Most small communities have no other organization within their community to pass that information on. The local government and the schools are sometimes the only places to go to get your questions answered. In larger communities, the local government does not have to be the only organization giving any information, but why would the government be the only organization prohibited from giving that information? Local government is made up of local people, elected by their neighbors. Why would the state wish to silence those elected officials from informing their constituents on impacts to their area? One example that comes to mind is a couple of years ago we had a state vote that dealt with the gas line. Would that have kept the Fairbanks North Star Borough, the City of Valdez, and the North Slope [Borough] from speaking to the issue? In that case, we probably could have heard input from the oil producers and the environmentalist - not that there's anything wrong with that, but that is only a section of the whole story. So, I would ask that you not pass this bill. [MS. WASSERMAN'S written testimony is included in the committee packet.] 9:43:57 AM REPRESENTATIVE RAMRAS stated his understanding that Ms. Wasserman testified that local bodies pass resolutions and represent local constituencies. He said: This bill doesn't prevent local bodies from doing that, it just prevents them from then leveraging a resolution into a local municipality spending money to represent an opinion. Earned media isn't prohibited by this bill. Am I misunderstanding what local municipalities, assemblies, and whatnot are allowed to do? 9:44:31 AM MS. WASSERMAN stated her understanding that there is no differential between how that money is spent. She queried, "If a stipend is given to assembly or council members, if a city manager is indeed paid for his time and he researches a state issue in order to give information across, where does it stop where money is spent? It doesn't necessarily just speak to media." 9:45:09 AM REPRESENTATIVE RAMRAS asked Ms. Wasserman if she feels that the bill would prohibit local municipalities from passing resolutions to take a position for or against a bond issue or a matter that comes before the state. 9:45:19 AM MS. WASSERMAN replied that she feels the bill does not give the municipality the ability to speak on behalf of state issues - a resolution being a small part of that. 9:45:36 AM CHAIR SEATON asked Ms. Wasserman to clarify if she is saying the bill would allow [a municipality] to pass a resolution, but it could not advertise the resolution or state the city's position in the event of an election. 9:45:48 AM MS. WASSERMAN answered, "Unless there's something in this bill that I don't see, I don't think you could pass a resolution, I don't think you could take a stand, you can just simply advertise the time and the place of the election. I'm just very concerned that local government ... would not have the right to make their wishes known or to inform, more than anything." 9:46:15 AM REPRESENTATIVE RAMRAS said the bill doesn't seem to restrict the freedom of speech of a municipality taking a position, but it does restrict that municipality from spending discretionary funds to advertise the position that it takes. 9:46:44 AM MS. WASSERMAN responded that she doesn't see anything in the bill that speaks to advertising; she interprets the bill as addressing "money spent," which she said is of concern to her. 9:47:01 AM REPRESENTATIVE GARDNER, regarding money spent, stated her understanding that Ms. Wasserman testified that a paid employee of the municipality who spends money researching a state proposition would be in violation of the proposed law in HB 160. 9:47:23 AM MS. WASSERMAN confirmed that is a concern. 9:47:35 AM REPRESENTATIVE GRUENBERG told Ms. Wasserman that Mr. Wiget, during his testimony, had said the removal of the phrase, "other than a state ballot proposition or question" from page 2, lines 16-17, would be helpful for the school districts. He asked Ms. Wasserman if she would support an amendment deleting that phrase. 9:48:11 AM MS. WASSERMAN answered in the affirmative. 9:49:13 AM CHAIR SEATON directed attention to Section 2 [text provided previously], and interpreted Ms. Wasserman's concern related to that section as follows: You're saying that it could be interpreted that the time, effort, and energy to pass a resolution - that is expenditure of funds, and if that is related to an election question or question that is going to be on a ballot, then that might be prohibited, because it would be expending money, even to pass a resolution, unless you first pass an ordinance granting specific authority to spend money that would be necessary to generate the resolution, because this specifies "by ordinance." 9:51:15 AM MS. WASSERMAN confirmed that she is concerned about that issue. She explained that some boroughs include remote areas, and if travel by an official was necessary to inform people of an upcoming vote, that would be prohibited. 9:51:25 AM MR. MULLIGAN mentioned "legislation in administrative code" and read as follows: In the absence of a specific appropriation, an officer or an employee of an entity who is identified in statute may use money held by that entity to communicate about a ballot proposition or question if the communication is made in the usual and customary performance of the officer or employee's duties. MR. MULLIGAN interpreted that language to mean that [an officer or employee] can research and report to the council, because doing so is his job. CHAIR SEATON requested language be drafted regarding this issue. He asked Mr. Mulligan to coordinate with Ms. Miles. 9:53:31 AM CHAIR SEATON announced that HB 160 was heard and held.