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Coastal program hearing coming

Posted: January 24, 2012 - 1:03am

Legislative leaders said Monday they’ll be holding a hearing on the Alaska Sea Party’s Coastal Management initiative, but no legislation has yet been introduced.

A new state law regulating initiatives, being used for the first time, requires a standing committee of each the House and Senate to hold a hearing on the initiative within the first 30 days of the legislative session.

It is not clear yet what will happen at the meeting, but Juneau Mayor Bruce Botelho said he expects to be called to testify.

The House speaker and Senate president have identified their respective Judiciary committees as the ones to hold the joint hearing, but committee leaders said they were not clear on what the hearing would be used for, other than to meet the requirement in the new initiative law of having a hearing.

“The purpose of the meeting is really to satisfy the law,” said Rep. Carl Gatto, R-Palmer, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee.

Botelho, who leads the group of elected officials making up the board of the Alaska Sea Party, doesn’t yet know what he’ll be asked to testify about.

Rep. Kyle Johansen, R-Ketchikan, said he knows what the witnesses at the hearing should be asked about.

Johansen said he was distressed to hear committee leaders were unclear on the intent of the hearing.

“I can tell you what the intent is because I wrote the language,” he said.

Johansen was chief sponsor of the legislation imposing new disclosure rules on initiatives.

Johansen said he wants to have the departments that would implement the initiative come before legislators and explain how they’d be able to do it.

For example, the Alaska Sea Party initiative would resurrect the Coastal Management Program in a new home, in the Department of Commerce, Community & Economic Development.

Johansen, who opposed the Coastal Management program in the Legislature last year, said he’d like to have the department’s commissioner, Susan Bell, before the Legislature.

Running the Coastal Management Program is unlike anything else the department does, and Johansen said he’d like to ask its representatives “what sort of expertise do you have in natural resource permitting?”

Johansen said it is also becoming clear the financial disclosure rules for initiative sponsors, that require quarterly reports at this point in the process, may be inadequate.

He said he’d like Botelho to be asked about the supporters who have yet to be disclosed. Johansen said the Alaska Sea Party has fully complied with existing disclosure requirements, but those don’t require another report until early April, likely after crucial legislative action.

“I think its fair for us to know in the public interest who contributed to this effort,” he said.

Botelho said he’d prefer that Johansen focus on “its merits, not a fixation on funding.”

Still, Botelho said he hopes the Alaska Sea Party’s steering committee will approve an extra, supplemental financial disclosure in time for the joint Judiciary Committee hearing.

“I’m going to recommend that we do so,” he said.

While a date has not yet been set for the hearing, representatives of the House and Senate Judiciary committees said they expected it to be during the week of Feb. 6, possibly on Feb. 6 itself.

It is not clear what the outcome of the hearing might be, and House Majority Leader Alan Austerman said he believes the Republican-led House Majority Caucus would wait until state elections officials have tallied signatures and made a decision on certifying the petition. Under state law, they have 60 days to do that from the date on which petitions were turned in, Jan. 17.

If Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell certifies the petition, the Legislature can prevent a public vote on the initiative by adopting a substantially similar program on its own.

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

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