House Majority Leader Alan Austerman says he’s open to changes to a bill that would re-establish an Alaska Coastal Management Program.
House Bill 325 was introduced Friday with Austerman as primary sponsor. Six other members of the House Majority caucus – four Democrats and two Republicans – co-sponsored the bill. Minority Leader, Juneau Democrat Beth Kerttula signed on as a co-sponsor immediately after its introduction on the House floor.
The bill was referred to the House Resources and Finance Committees. Austerman says he’ll request a hearing as soon as possible.
“We will request a hearing on it. We will suggest changes that may or may not need to be made,” says Austerman. “And we will deal with any changes that people suggest as far as the process is concerned and what the bill should look like.”
HB 325 closely mirrors a citizen’s initiative on track for a statewide vote later this year. Lawmakers can pre-empt the measure with substantially similar legislation, and would have a lot of leeway in doing so. The initiative proposes a coastal management program that gives local communities quite a bit more input than a bill that failed in the House last year.
Austerman says the fact that initiative backers collected the required signatures in less than a month shows there’s strong support for that version of the program.
“If I look at just the initiative process and the amount of people and time frame that it took to generate those signatures to get it on the ballot, I think it shows a lot of support in reference to recreating the program,” Austerman says.
Juneau Mayor Bruce Botelho is prime sponsor of the initiative and chairman of the Alaska Sea Party, the group behind the signature gathering effort. Botelho has said the Sea Party prefers to have the legislature take action, because it would help the program get up and running faster and avoid a costly campaign to convince voters to approve the measure.
Before closing last year, the Alaska Coastal Management Program allowed the state and local communities to have greater input into federal permitting decisions along Alaska’s coastline. It also helped developers by streamlining the regulatory processes of various state and federal agencies.
The legislature failed to reauthorize it after the Parnell administration and some House Republicans fought efforts to expand the role of local communities.