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Clerk out to initiate change

Borough official wants to revamp initiative process

Posted: Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Borough Clerk Sherry Biggs has asked the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly to consider revising the borough's initiative and referendum procedures.

"The review process for these applications and the petitions that may be issued if the applications are approved have brought to light several aspects in need of clarification," she said in an Aug. 9 memo to the assembly.

An ordinance up for introduction at Tuesday's meeting in Soldotna would make several key changes to the current law, including requiring petition applicants to pay a $100 filing fee for each application. The money would be forfeited if the applications failed certification, but be refunded if the certification requirements were met.

Biggs said she proposed the fee in response to receiving numerous simultaneously submitted petition applications on the same subject, something she believes sponsors do to ensure at least one clears certification.

The Alliance of Concerned Taxpayers, or ACT, which has seen several of its initiative efforts make it to the ballot in recent years, has employed the practice, but it can be problematic for the clerk's office.

"It is hoped that sponsors will work toward filing an acceptable application rather than multiple applications, all of which must be reviewed and rejected within the 14-day time frame established by state statute," Biggs said.

There is precedent for such fees. Filers of state level initiative and referendum petitions are required to submit a deposit of $100.

Biggs also has proposed eliminating confusion between two terms used in the borough code, "contact person" and "sponsor," by using sponsor for contact person throughout the code. Applications for referendum or initiative petitions require at least 10 sponsors, though they may have more.

"These sponsors are the ones charged with circulating the petition if the application is approved," Biggs noted.

Applications would require the names and addresses of the prime sponsor and an alternate sponsor to whom all correspondence relating to the petition would be sent.

Biggs suggested clarifying the code with regard to the initiative or referendum summaries that appear on each page of the petition. Consistent with state case law, "it is emphasized that the ballot summary be complete, concise, impartial and accurate," she said. An amendment would include a clause using those specific terms. Preparing that summary is the duty of the clerk.

Another revision would allow petition signers to give their dates of birth in lieu of voter registration numbers, which many people do not know and do not carry with them, Biggs said. Birth dates are required when a person registers to vote, and thus would provide an alternative identifier useful to the clerk when validating signatures, she said.

The rules for handling signed petition booklets also are up for a small change. The current code requires the clerk to immediately check each petition booklet and reject those that fail to meet requirements. This must be done in the presence of the sponsor. Biggs called that process administratively unworkable.

"There can be numerous booklets filed simultaneously, the clerk may be immediately unavailable, and it may take more time to make these determinations than what is immediately available," she said.

Proposed revisions would eliminate the need to perform the duty on the spot and allow it to be done outside the presence of the sponsor. Biggs said she would be able to date stamp the first booklet and accept all the booklets as a single filing and then begin the review process on each and every booklet. The clerk has 10 days to perform that duty.

The revisions amount to a bit of housekeeping, Biggs said.

"The intent and workings of petitions have not changed at all," she said.

If the assembly votes to introduce the measure, it would be scheduled for a public hearing Sept. 18.

Hal Spence can be reached at hspence@ptialaska.net.



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