House to Decide on Changes to Initiative Laws

By Dave Donaldson

House members today opened hearings for the year on a bill that would change the way ballot initiatives get before the public.  The Finance Committee heard a bill that would require the disclosure of funding for gathering signatures to show support for a measure. 

Sponsor Kyle Johansen told the committee that he sees a loophole in the process that the public is not aware of.   He says the problem develops when the initiative booklets are distributed to people who will get signatures from enough voters in three quarters of the state’s house districts to qualify for the election.

From that time until the boxes with the signatures are handed in to the lieutenant governor to be reviewed and okayed,  there’s a hole in the disclosure law.  We don’t know who’s spending money during that period of time.   The main portion of this bill is to make sure that that portion of the process is disclosed to the public.

But Anchorage Democrat Harry Crawford sees a risk raised by the proposal.  He has been a co-sponsor of three separate initiatives,  and he foresees the risk of threats by opponents — who would not, at that time, have been identified.

The place where you can kill the intiative process is at the very beginning, where corporations can come in and intimidate the people that are trying to organize and put an initiative on the ballot.   That’s the reason why in Alaska state law, we don’t have a disclosure provision in that initial process — so that big corporations can’t come in and intimidate those people that give money to get the initiative on the ballot.

The bill would also require a series of public hearings — featuring supporters and opponents — two in each of the state’s four judicial districts — to bring open debate and identification to each initiative.

Johansen says he’s not so tightly tied to other provisions of the bill.  As it is written, it would disallow the current payments to people who gather signatures,  and would require executive branch agencies to publicly notify the effects of the initiative on agencies.    Crawford sees no reason for change to the current system.

Every section of this bill is targeted at making the initiative process either more difficult or next to impossible to get done.   That may not be the intent of the sponsors,  but that is the effect of it.

Finance Co-chair Bill Stolze says the bill will be heard again — and individual members anticipate various amendments to it.   Its next hearing has not yet been scheduled.


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