Measure would tighten initiative requirements

Posted: Tuesday, March 04, 2003

A plan by a Southeast lawmaker could make it more difficult to get initiatives on the ballot, but the proposal could help stave off future capital-move efforts.

Rep. Bill Williams, a Saxman Republican, has argued for several sessions that it is too easy for people in large population centers such as Anchorage or the Matanuska-Susitna Borough to collect the signatures needed to get an initiative petition certified.

House Bill 31 and House Joint Resolution 5 by Williams would require sponsors of a ballot initiative to collect signatures from three-quarters of the state's 40 House districts. The number of signatures collected in each district also would have to total 7 percent of the number of votes cast in the most recent election in that district.

The state constitution requires at least one signature be collected in two-thirds of the state's House districts.

Williams said he did not have a particular initiative proposal in mind when introducing the legislation for the first time in 1999 but said his intention is that smaller communities will have more say on ballot measures.

"With the type of electronic devices we have today - e-mail, fax machines - it's easier to get their signatures and get the people out there in those rural communities more involved," Williams said.

Despite the bill's inability to pass in recent legislative sessions, Williams said he is hopeful it will gain more support with a new set of lawmakers.

"The bill is the same as it was when I (first) introduced it ... ; the only thing that's changed are the people in the Legislature," Williams said.

The two measures were presented to the House State Affairs Committee this morning, but no decisions were made on either proposal.

The constitutional amendment would have to get approval from two-thirds of the members in both the House and Senate. Then the question would go to a vote of the people in the 2004 general election.

Community leaders argued last fall , during the height of initiative-driven campaign to move legislative sessions to Anchorage and then the Matanuska-Susitna Borough, that changes to the initiative process would make it harder to get capital-move measures on the ballot.

Jamie Parsons, executive director for the Juneau Chamber of Commerce, however, noted passing the constitutional amendment would not stop efforts to move the capital.

"(Changes to the initiative process) would lessen the threat significantly, but it wouldn't eliminate it," Parsons said. "It will always be there, and that is why it behooves us to continue making improvements (to the capital)."

Timothy Inklebarger can be reached at timothyi@juneauempire.com.



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