JUNEAU (AP) -- Citizens trying to create law through initiatives would have to work harder to get their ideas on the ballot under a proposal that cleared a House committee Thursday.
The proposed constitutional amendment by Rep. Bill Williams, R-Ketchikan, would require initiative sponsors to collect signatures from three-quarters of the state's election districts.
Also, in each of those districts they'd need signatures from a number equal to 7 percent of those who voted in the last election.
Now sponsors only need signatures from two-thirds of the election districts, and they can have as little as one signature from a given district.
House State Affairs Committee Chairman John Coghill, R-North Pole, said the change could help patch a so-called urban-rural divide by ensuring that rural Alaskans have more input.
He and other supporters said currently initiative backers can quickly gather most of the signatures they need in large urban areas and ignore voters in outlying parts of the state.
Rep. Harry Crawford, D-Anchorage, argued against the proposal, saying citizens would find it much harder and more expensive to put initiatives on the ballot if they need to spend a lot of time off the road system, in places such as Barrow or the Aleutians.
''This is clearly directed at keeping things off the ballot that the Legislature has not seen fit to discuss,'' Crawford said.
Coghill argued voters in distant districts shouldn't be ignored simply because it's expensive to travel there.
''At what point do those who are hard to reach get disenfranchised from the process?'' he asked.
Williams proposed a similar constitutional amendment during the 2000 legislative session, but it died in the Senate.
A number of rural legislators were upset then about wildlife initiatives affecting rural Alaskans that made it on the ballot primarily because of signatures from urban voters.
The total required number of signatures needed to put a measure on the ballot would not change under Williams proposal. Initiative sponsors would still need a number of signatures equal to 10 percent of Alaskans who voted in the last election.
The House State Affairs Committee approved the proposal Thursday, sending it on to the Judiciary Committee. If it passes both houses of the Legislature with a two-thirds vote, the constitutional amendment will appear on the November election ballot.
The proposal is included in two measures: House Joint Resolution 25 and House Bill 213.
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