An influential Republican legislator has introduced a bill to reestablish a Coastal Management program, possibly heading off an election later this year.
An initiative to force an election was sponsored by the Alaska Sea Party, headed by Juneau Mayor Bruce Botelho.
He called the introduction “a very, very positive development.”
Joining prime sponsor Rep. Alan Austerman, R-Kodiak, in sponsoring House Bill 285 are seven other representatives including southeast Reps. Beth Kerttula, D-Juneau, and Peggy Wilson, R-Wrangell. Austerman is House Majority leader, and Wilson is also a member of the leadership of the House Majority Caucus. Kerttula is Minority leader.
State elections officials recently announced that the Alaska Sea Party had collected the minimum 28,875 valid signatures from at least 30 House districts to qualify for the ballot.
It would restore a Coastal Management program in Alaska, the only coastal state without one.
Under state law however, that vote won’t take place if the Legislature enacts “substantially similar” legislation on its own.
Botelho said the bill introduced appears to “parallel” the initiative he helped craft.
It is apparent that the bill’s sponsors tried to come up with a bill that would meet the requirement of being close enough to the initiative to eliminate the need for an election, if it were to pass and be signed by the governor, Botelho said.
Beginning with Austerman and other members of the Majority will likely be a help in getting the bill passed, Botelho said.
“Having the majority leader as a prime sponsor will be a material help to the process,” Botelho said, but that didn’t mean the bill would get any less scrutiny.
Rep. Beth Kerttula, D-Juneau, a backer of the initiative, signed on to the bill as well Friday, said she was glad to see a bill was introduced.
“I had hope, but I really had hope when I saw we had the signatures and the districts,” she said.
Qualifying signatures were collected in 37 of 40 districts, easily exceeding the requirement of 30 districts established a few years ago making initiative’s harder to pass.
Senate President Gary Stevens, R-Kodiak, said there is strong support for the bill in the Senate, but that a successful bill would likely have to originate in the House of Representatives.
The Coastal Management program ended in the state after decades of operation after the House and Senate were unable to reach an agreement on its reauthorization last year.
Coastal Management gives the state a formal role in responding to federal actions in Alaska’s coastal areas, but how much of the state’s authority it would share with local communities was a point of contention that led to its failure.
Whether Gov. Sean Parnell would sign a Coastal Management bill is less clear, and he has referred to a preference for leaving he issue up to the voter. That was before legislation was introduced.
• Contact reporter Pat Forgey at 523-2250 or email@example.com.