A bill moving through the House would make it harder for Alaskans to get initiatives on the ballot.
Rep. Bill Williams, R-Saxman, wants to amend the state constitution to require people to collect large numbers of signatures from 30 of the state's 40 election districts to get their initiatives on the ballot for a statewide vote.
The petitioners would need to get signatures in each of those districts equal to least 7 percent of the local people who voted in the most recent election.
Supporters of House Bill 31 and House Joint Resolution 5 say it is needed to give rural Alaskans a voice in issues that affect them. Opponents say the change would make it much harder for citizens to get issues on the ballot.
"That is a burden that effectively only the wealthy will be able to deal with," said Democratic Rep. Les Gara of Anchorage.
Williams' proposal, as an amendment to the state's constitution, would require two-thirds approval of the Legislature, then a mandate from voters statewide.
To get an issue on the ballot currently, Alaskans need signatures from 26 election districts - but only a single signature is required from each district. To get the required 10 percent of the number of voters in the last general election, almost all the effort can be focused in urban areas.
Williams has been advocating the change for years. This year, his proposal has won the support of the House State Affairs Committee. And on Wednesday, the House Judiciary Committee voted 5-1 to support it. Only Gara opposed it.
Fairbanks Republican Rep. Jim Holm, who serves on the judiciary panel, argued that Alaska is unique in that about half the population of the state lives around Anchorage, and those urban residents are dictating proposals that affect rural areas.
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