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Coastal Management disclosure debate continues

Legislature may have to hold hearings before petition is certified, lieutenant governor says

Posted: January 19, 2012 - 1:19am  |  Updated: January 20, 2012 - 1:05am

Alaska’s revamped initiative process is seeing its first-ever initiative to reach “properly filed” status under new rules governing the initiative process, Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell has told the Legislature.

That means there are a minimum number of presumptively valid signatures, he said.

Those rules are intended to require more public disclosure and make the public better informed about issued they may see on the ballot.

One of the legislators instrumental in changing that process was Rep. Kyle Johansen, R-Ketchikan. Now, he says the process is working like it is supposed to.

“For the first time in the state’s history, during the initiative process we know how much money was donated to the issue,” Johansen told the Legislature in a floor speech.

The public knows who felt strongly enough to give, how much they gave, and how the Alaska Sea Party sponsors of the initiative spent the money and who they hired to campaign for them.

In the past, that wasn’t the case, he said.

“We had no clue,” Johansen said.

Statements made recently by Juneau Mayor Bruce Botelho, chairman of the Alaska Sea Party, indicate the public may not have as much information as Johansen thinks it does.

Most of the signatures the Alaska Sea Party collected with its combination of volunteers and paid signature gatherers were collected before the group’s first financial reports were made public, and only covered the fourth quarter of 2011.

That amount, about $68,000, was the number to which Johansen referred on the House floor.

But, Botelho said, following the Alaska Sea Party’s turning in the signatures they’d continued to raise and spend money and had topped $100,000, and might have reached $105,000 so far.

That amount will be made public formally when the Alaska Sea Party files its disclosure reports with the Alaska Public Offices Commission for the first quarter of 2012 in mid-April.

In the meantime, Treadwell has recommended to the Legislature it go forward with another of the new parts of the initiative process required by Johansen’s bill.

It requires legislative committees selected by the House speaker and Senate president to hold a hearing on the initiative within 30 days of the start of the session on the costs and impacts to the state.

Treadwell told legislative leaders even though signature verification won’t be done by that time, they will presumably have to hold the hearing before the verification is complete to meet the deadlines.

Johansen said the reforms on the initiative process are having their intended effects and are keeping the public more informed.

“It’s a real change in the policy of initiatives in the state, and I think it’s very healthy,” he said.

He also acknowledged the process may not be perfect, and said the public should be able to see “every single penny as quickly as possible.”

“If there are things that don’t work properly, I think we should have and open mind to maybe tweak those statutes,” Johansen said.

• Contact reporter Pat Forgey at 523-2250 or at patrick.forgey@juneauempire.com.

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