Measure advances for initiative change

Posted: Monday, May 10, 2004

JUNEAU (AP) A proposed amendment to the Alaska Constitution requiring ballot initiative sponsors to collect signatures from a wider range of voters will head to the ballot in November.

The state Senate approved the measure 17-3 on Saturday. The measure needed two-thirds approval, or 14 votes, to pass. It previously passed the House.

The measure would require initiative sponsors to collect signatures from three-quarters of the state's 40 House districts before being certified and placed on the ballot. Signatures from each district would have to total 7 percent of the votes cast in that district from the most recent election.

The Alaska Constitution now requires at least one signature from two-thirds of the House districts.

Proponents of the change say current requirements make it too easy for high-population areas of the state such as Anchorage or the Matanuska-Susitna Borough to gather signatures to certify ballot issues.

Sen. Kim Elton, D-Juneau, said the change would make sure the initiative process remains a grass-roots process. It also would make it harder to get support to move the state capital.

''I have grown up in a community in which we kind of stutter-step into the future because every time we have a capital move initiative it freezes everybody in place for nine to 12 months,'' Elton said. ''People are afraid to make decisions and it's based on an initiative system in which somebody can go to the Palmer fair or have paid signature gatherers in front of the Oaken Kegs in Anchorage and get all the signatures they need.''

Opponents of the proposal say it will stifle grass-roots lawmaking.

''It will make it harder to get an initiative on the ballot,'' said Sen. Hollis French, D-Anchorage.

French said the initiative requirements were set during the Alaska constitutional convention and that the signature-gathering guidelines should stand as the delegates intended.

''These questions have always been dominated by two groups, one that wants to keep as much power as possible at the ballot box and one that seeks to restrict it,'' French said. ''It will be a big ad war on both sides.''

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