Legislature(2001 - 2002)
02/21/2002 08:08 AM CRA
* first hearing in first committee of referral
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
HJR 39-DISAPPROVE HOMER BOUNDARY CHANGES CO-CHAIR MEYER announced that the next order of business would be HOUSE JOINT RESOLUTION NO. 39, Disapproving the Local Boundary Commission recommendation regarding the annexation of territory to the City of Homer. CO-CHAIR MEYER explained that HJR 39 is a resolution that disapproves the Local Boundary Commission's (LBC) recommendation. If HJR 39 is approved, then the committee would be disapproving the LBC's decision. If HJR 39 isn't approved, then the LBC's recommendation is being approved. Co-Chair Meyer noted those folks that were available to answer any questions. Number 0478 REPRESENTATIVE SCALZI commented that [the Homer annexation] is a contentious issue, which he believes has received good dialogue with the various parties. Representative Scalzi acknowledged that being the local representative for Homer, he couldn't escape his input in regard to the outcome. He also acknowledged that the legislature often defers to the local representative. However, he pointed out that when an annexation comes before the LBC, the LBC is the disinterested, unbiased, third party. The LBC's recommendation is reviewed by the legislature in order to determine whether the process was followed correctly. He emphasized that the legislature has the final review not the representative from the impacted area. Therefore, he felt that this should be a committee decision. Although he said that he could go either way on this matter, he said he believes the decision should be in the best interest of the state. Furthermore, if HJR 39 is approved, he hoped that there would be good justification in the "Whereas" clauses. He noted that when he reviewed other [annexations] that have been vetoed, there was little to no evidence why. Number 0745 REPRESENTATIVE MURKOWSKI agreed with Representative Scalzi's comments in regard to the need to justify a rejection of the annexation. She noted that she has consistently heard that although the LBC may have acted within its jurisdiction, improvements are necessary in order to avoid such a contentious annexation. However, annexations by nature are contentious. Although Representative Murkowski remarked that this should be viewed as an opportunity to provide constructive guidance, she was at a loss as to where to start an outline [of improvements] as mentioned by Representative Scalzi. She related her belief that the City of Homer could've done better "leg work" at the beginning of the process. Number 0982 REPRESENTATIVE GUESS agreed with the previous two speakers. She related her belief that the standards were met and the final decision was probably the correct decision. However, she believes the process was flawed. She said she believes that the council overreached and was sloppy in requesting the 25 square miles. Moreover, the public process was poor. Representative Guess emphasized that the [LBC] should've returned to the city when the [petition] was changed to 4.5 square miles. However, she wasn't sure how to go about fixing the process. She stated her belief that the [change to the] 4.5 square miles was correct. Number 1153 REPRESENTATIVE HALCRO remarked that the greatest part of this discussion is that the process worked. He acknowledged that one side to this issue is regarding whether [the process was] legal, which it was determined to be. There is also the social side to this issue. Representative Halcro said that one has to question whether one more public hearing would've helped when one considers the large picture and the public's involvement. He couldn't see that another public hearing would've made a difference. He remarked that the 4.5 square miles [of annexed] land is justified. Therefore, Representative Halcro said he believes that the committee should say that although there are some changes that should be made, those are another discussion. In this case, the process worked, he reiterated. Number 1314 REPRESENTATIVE KERTTULA echoed the earlier comments regarding the difficulty of this decision. She noted that Dan Bockhorst, Staff, LBC, provided her with case law regarding the constitution and the constitutional minutes when the decision was made to create this process, which made her realize that this is something the legislature is supposed to resolve. Although she really cared about the individuals involved, she found that the cases highlight that there is a public interest in the way that the state is managed as well as its land. She referred to Wasilla's past when the best farmland in the state was paved over for strip malls. REPRESENTATIVE KERTTULA said that she, too, couldn't point to anything that the municipality did that was illegal. However, she did believe there was a better way to manage public hearings and such, which she believes the LBC recognizes because it is putting in place a regulation to resolve some of those issues. Although she agreed with Representative Halcro that the process worked, she didn't believe that the ends justify the means. She expressed concern over what she viewed as punishment. She announced that until the vote is taken, she wasn't sure how she would vote. Number 1593 REPRESENTATIVE SCALZI remarked, "I'd like to whack the city myself." However, he agreed with Representative Kerttula that punishment isn't the legislature's role. In regard to the 25 square mile boundary, Senator Torgerson has said that he wouldn't support [the annexation] without a vote. Representative Scalzi recalled that at the time he said he wouldn't support the 25 square miles, but would wait to review the LBC's [decision]. What the LBC presented, annexation of 4.5 square miles, was reasonable. REPRESENTATIVE SCALZI referenced a draft resolution that he provided to the committee. He proposed that this draft resolution from the committee would be directed to the LBC and urge the LBC to promote standards and regulations that would provide a preliminary judgment on some of these ridiculous petitions. Therefore, the city or municipality would have to do their homework on the matter. He noted that Kevin Waring, LBC, helped draft this draft resolution. He hoped that the committee would review this draft resolution regardless of the outcome with HJR 39. REPRESENTATIVE SCALZI, in response to Co-Chair Meyer, related his belief that HB 13 is a separate issue entirely and shouldn't be incorporated into HJR 39. Number 1858 CO-CHAIR MORGAN remarked that he agreed with everyone's comments thus far. He also agreed that the process worked. He noted that he, too, would have to make the decision when the time comes. CO-CHAIR MEYER noted that he was torn as well. He pointed out that this has been a long process and thus there will be no public testimony taken today. He also noted his respect for the citizens of Homer in regard to the manner in which they conducted themselves throughout this process. Co-Chair Meyer echoed earlier testimony regarding the notion that 4.5 square miles is a reasonable annexation. Furthermore, when looking at the map of that area, [the 4.5 square acres] is a densely populated area, and it looks as if it is a part of the City of Homer. He concluded that there should be some resolution to this. Number 2069 REPRESENTATIVE MURKOWSKI informed the committee that when people stopped by her office, she asked whether the 4.5 square miles should be annexed. Every person she spoke with conceded that that the 4.5 square miles was reasonable to annex. If this annexation is rejected, two years from now the committee could be reviewing the approval of the same 4.5 square mile annexation. On the other hand, if the committee agrees that the annexation is reasonable, she questioned whether it would be fair for the citizens to have to go through the process again, only to get the same result. REPRESENTATIVE HALCRO thanked Representative Scalzi for all the research he has done on this issue. Representative Halcro noted that during the LBC's history there have been 120 annexations, 9 of which have been vetoed by the legislature, and 7 of those 9 have returned in the next few years with little modification. Representative Halcro related his belief that there is no need to put the citizens of Homer through this for another year or two. Representative Halcro commented that he was impressed with the city councilmen who announced that they would resign and run again in order to protect the voting voice of [those in the annexed area]. Number 2273 REPRESENTATIVE GUESS returned to Representative Halcro's comment regarding whether one more public hearing would've helped. She said she feels that it would have helped, although she didn't think the lack of another public hearing is a reason to reject the resolution. She pointed out that when there is a significant change in the [annexed area], there should be a public hearing. When dealing with boundary changes, one should move through the process very carefully. CO-CHAIR MEYER asked if the Representative Scalzi wanted his draft resolution to come forward as a committee resolution regardless of the outcome of HJR 39. REPRESENTATIVE SCALZI answered yes. Representative Scalzi read the draft resolution into the record. [Please refer to HCR 27.] CO-CHAIR MEYER related his belief that [HCR 27] addresses some of the issues and concerns mentioned by the committee. Although [HCR 27] wouldn't help the current situation, it would help future annexations. REPRESENTATIVE HALCRO recalled that the [LBC] comes before this committee every year to provide an overview of the LBC's activities of the year. He also recalled that the overview seems to always include suggestions of needed clarifications to state law. Therefore, he asked whether any of the vagueness in state law clouded this public process issue. He also asked if there is anything that can be done legislatively to address these problems. Number 2650 KEVIN WARING, Chairperson, Local Boundary Commission, testified via teleconference. In regard to [HCR 27], he didn't believe that any clarification of law is required. Mr. Waring pointed out that the LBC does receive "flawed" petitions. Petitions that are procedurally flawed can be returned. Furthermore, petitions that are contrary to laws or the constitution can be returned as well. In the years of the commission's existence, petitions that have weak facts or petitions that may not be supportable by the standards aren't returned without going through the entire process. Mr. Waring related his understanding that [HCR 27] establishes a circuit breaker that would allow the LBC to return a petition that the commission has deemed to not be supported by facts or is seriously at odds with the standards without going through the entire process. Therefore, the local government could amend the petition and resubmit it. Mr. Waring remarked that he believes it isn't a question as to whether the LBC has statutory powers but rather would the commission pursue the step of adopting regulations and standards. Mr. Waring stated that this would be a welcome step forward as the LBC is always looking to improve the process. He said he believes that [HCR 27] would result in an improvement. If [HCR 27] was passed, he expected that the LBC would report [to the legislature] regarding what it has done to move in the direction of [HCR 27]. Number 2800 REPRESENTATIVE MURKOWSKI inquired as to how Mr. Waring would define "substantively deficient" [which is the language included in HCR 27]. MR. WARING answered that the language would be defined in the regulations. He related his belief that "substantively deficient" would mean [the petition] didn't have the facts. He presumed that the LBC would adopt standards and there would be a process by which the staff would evaluate a petition against the standards. If the staff suggested that the LBC review the petition, he envisioned a "mini-hearing" whereby the petition is reviewed against the standards. If the LBC found that the facts were weak, then the commission may make the decision to return the petition so that the petitioner would have the opportunity to review and perhaps revise the petition. In further response to Representative Murkowski, Mr. Waring agreed that there is a difference between a return of a petition versus a rejection of a petition. Rejection has consequences that prevent the petitioner from returning the petition for some time. Therefore, it seems punitive to not allow the opportunity to reject a petition without allowing the petitioner to make the fix. Number 2916 REPRESENTATIVE SCALZI noted the discussion of a possibility of a percentage that must be met in relation to the standard. He asked if [the LBC] would consider a guideline in the standards in order to be clear that the municipality has to be within a certain standard of reason. MR. WARING answered that he wasn't sure that a percentage would work. He pointed out that statute governing the LBC mandates that the LBC accept and consider petitions. He explained that the regulatory standards would include specific guidelines that would be of use to potential petitioners. He hoped that if there were standards of that sort that the LBC might never have to utilize this authority. Therefore, warning of the consequences might motivate the petitioner to do the job correctly initially. TAPE 02-8, SIDE B The committee took an at-ease from 8:59 a.m. to 9:07 a.m. CO-CHAIR MEYER announced that the committee has decided to [sponsor] the draft resolution [HCR 27]. Number 2957 REPRESENTATIVE SCALZI moved to report HJR 39 out of committee with individual recommendations and the accompanying fiscal notes. REPRESENTATIVE HALCRO objected. REPRESENTATIVE HALCRO clarified that the committee is voting on whether to move HJR 39 out of committee. Therefore, a [majority] of yes votes would move HJR 39 out of committee and a [majority] of no votes would fail to move HJR 39 out of committee. A roll call vote was taken. Representative Morgan voted for moving HJR 39 out of committee. Representatives Guess, Kerttula, Halcro, Murkowski, Meyer, and Scalzi voted against moving HJR 39 out of committee. Therefore, HJR 39 failed to move out of the House Community and Regional Affairs Standing Committee by a vote of 1:6. The committee took an at-ease from 9:11 a.m. to 9:14 a.m.