Legislature(2001 - 2002)

02/11/2002 03:40 PM FSH

Audio Topic
* first hearing in first committee of referral
+ teleconferenced
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
HB 284-BOARD OF FISHERIES CONFLICTS OF INTEREST                                                                               
[Contains discussion of HB 283]                                                                                                 
CO-CHAIR STEVENS  put before  the committee  HOUSE BILL  NO. 284,                                                               
"An Act relating to participation  in matters before the Board of                                                               
Fisheries  by  members  of  the   board;  and  providing  for  an                                                               
effective date."                                                                                                                
Number 2222                                                                                                                     
REPRESENTATIVE  SCALZI, Sponsor  of HB  284, explained  that this                                                               
bill was a companion to [HB  283].  He said regardless of whether                                                               
HB  283  goes through,  it  is  imperative  that this  bill  move                                                               
forward.  He  gave an example of  a board member on  the Board of                                                               
Fisheries being  "conflicted out"  of an issue  because he  was a                                                               
charter boat operator.   Representative Scalzi said reconsidering                                                               
the state's boards  and commissions would be a  good idea because                                                               
it  is counterproductive  to excuse  those people  with the  most                                                               
knowledge and  experience in a  given area.   He said that  it is                                                               
important for  a board member  to declare any  potential conflict                                                               
of interest,  but said that  knowledge is lost when  those people                                                               
are "conflicted out."  He asked  that the bill go through without                                                               
being amended.                                                                                                                  
Number 2384                                                                                                                     
REPRESENTATIVE  KERTTULA asked  how  this bill  would change  the                                                               
Board of Fisheries from other bodies.                                                                                           
REPRESENTATIVE SCALZI said  that he did not want  to make blanket                                                               
changes for all of the other boards.   He said it was a one-board                                                               
Number 2438                                                                                                                     
REPRESENTATIVE COGHILL said if a  person has a conflict under the                                                               
current regime  and states  it, the board  could give  the member                                                               
consent to participate.  He said  the bill is "kind of throwing a                                                               
check and balance out."                                                                                                         
REPRESENTATIVE SCALZI  said that the  chairman on a  board should                                                               
have the  same criteria as  the legislature.   In the case  of an                                                               
overwhelming  conflict,  a board  member  could  be excused,  but                                                               
under the current system it is mandatory.                                                                                       
REPRESENTATIVE COGHILL said HB 284 is giving a lot of latitude.                                                                 
REPRESENTATIVE SCALZI  said that the  bill gives only  the amount                                                               
of  latitude  enjoyed  by  the  legislature,  the  North  Pacific                                                               
Fisheries  Management  Council,  and  the  International  Pacific                                                               
Halibut Commission.  He gave  the example of a halibut commission                                                               
meeting  where a  member  stated  a conflict,  but  was asked  to                                                               
remain and  add to  the knowledge  of the area  in question.   He                                                               
spoke of the familial ties in  the Bristol Bay area, and said the                                                               
stringent  guidelines  could  hamstring the  board  by  exempting                                                               
valuable information and viewpoints.                                                                                            
REPRESENTATIVE COGHILL made the  clarification that members would                                                               
not be  able to participate  unless they declared  their conflict                                                               
and were accepted.                                                                                                              
REPRESENTATIVE  SCALZI said  that under  the current  regime, "if                                                               
you have a conflict, you're excused - end of sentence."                                                                         
Number 2613                                                                                                                     
REPRESENTATIVE KAPSNER asked if currently  one could be forced to                                                               
vote despite a conflict.                                                                                                        
REPRESENTATIVE  KERTTULA said  there  are  some circumstances  in                                                               
which that could be the case, but she deferred to Lance Nelson.                                                                 
Number 2647                                                                                                                     
LANCE  NELSON,  Assistant  Attorney  General,  Natural  Resources                                                               
Section   (Anchorage),   Department   of   Law,   testified   via                                                               
teleconference.   He  said the  way  the process  works with  the                                                               
board is,  the members are  expected to declare areas  where they                                                               
would  have a  conflict  with the  ethics  Act [Alaska  Executive                                                               
Branch Ethics  Act]; the chairman  then rules, and the  board can                                                               
then vote - with a majority  - to overturn the chairman's ruling.                                                               
He said the  board generally does not require  participation if a                                                               
member declines.   The board can also defer to  the Department of                                                               
Law if  there is a  question.  He  said board members  can always                                                               
abstain,  and  they can  always  participate  as members  of  the                                                               
public by not sitting at the table or voting.                                                                                   
MR. NELSON  said the  administration opposes the  bill.   He said                                                               
that the administration  feels the exemption from  the ethics Act                                                               
is too  broad.   He pointed  out the  difficulty in  applying the                                                               
ethics Act  to some boards  and not others.   Under this  bill, a                                                               
conflict  of interest  cannot be  considered a  violation of  the                                                               
ethics Act, even though a board  member could be in a position to                                                               
use  state resources  for personal  and financial  benefit.   Mr.                                                               
Nelson said  that under the  bill, the member could  disclose the                                                               
conflict  on the  record, but  there is  no board  vote or  other                                                               
control over actions that would  benefit significant interests of                                                               
the  board member.   He  said board  members would  no longer  be                                                               
required to  disclose potential violations arising  from personal                                                               
or financial interests  in writing to the Office  of the Attorney                                                               
General  or a  designated supervisor.   They  would just  have to                                                               
declare it on  the record.  He said officials  and members of the                                                               
public  might not  know about  a potential  conflict unless  they                                                               
were attending the meetings.                                                                                                    
MR. NELSON said,  "It is not as  much of an issue as  it may seem                                                               
to be."   He told the committee  that there were no  votes by the                                                               
board where  the conflicts  would have made  a difference  in the                                                               
outcome  of  the vote,  and  there  is  usually only  one  member                                                               
conflicted  at a  time.   Other  members of  the  public who  are                                                               
equally as informed as the member can also testify.                                                                             
MR. NELSON  said current  requirements do not  slow the  board or                                                               
make  it less  informed.   He said  another concern  is that  the                                                               
"purpose" provision  says one thing,  but the bill appears  to do                                                               
another.   He said  that the  effect of the  bill is  not clearly                                                               
what  the drafters  might have  intended.   Mr.  Nelson told  the                                                               
committee that the  purpose says, "Board members  are required to                                                               
participate,  even if  they have  a conflict  by virtue  of their                                                               
participation in the  fishery."  Mr. Nelson said  the language of                                                               
the bill  differs from  the purpose because  it does  not require                                                               
members with  a conflict  to participate,  and also  allows board                                                               
members  to  have personal  and  financial  interests in  matters                                                               
before the board without any restriction or qualifications.                                                                     
Number 2944                                                                                                                     
SUE ASPELUND,  Cordova District  Fisherman United,  testified via                                                               
teleconference.   She disagreed with  Lance Nelson on  the matter                                                               
of conflict-of-interest  issues "bogging down the  process."  She                                                               
said  she  has sat  through  22  years  of board  meetings  where                                                               
valuable information  was lost  because members  were "conflicted                                                               
out."   She  said  it is  unfair to  withhold  a permit  holder's                                                               
testimony, but not a lodge owner or processor's.                                                                                
TAPE 02-2, SIDE B                                                                                                               
MS. ASPELUND expressed her organization's support for HB 284.                                                                   
Number 2920                                                                                                                     
BRUCE SCHACTLER,  Fisherman, testified before the  committee.  He                                                               
expressed his complete support for the  bill, and likened it to a                                                               
brother or  sister of HB 283.   He said  this bill is one  of the                                                               
many ways to get the fishing  industry moving forward again.  Mr.                                                               
Shactler said  that the board system  is outdated.  He  said that                                                               
public testimony  is not  where the  discussion and  debate takes                                                               
place on the Board of Fisheries.   He said that an exempted board                                                               
member's expertise  is lost  when that member  is not  allowed to                                                               
take part  in the  discussions that occur  outside of  the public                                                               
hearings.   He said he would  like to see the  committee move the                                                               
bill out.  He said the fishing  industry needs a lot of help, and                                                               
that help can only come with positive change.                                                                                   
Number 2822                                                                                                                     
JERRY McCUNE,  United Fisherman of  Alaska, testified  before the                                                               
committee.   He said that in  his experiences with the  board, he                                                               
had seen processors,  lodge owners, and guides  not be conflicted                                                               
out, but commercial fishermen were  conflicted out regularly.  He                                                               
characterized  the  Board  of  Fisheries  as  the  most  powerful                                                               
regulatory  board in  the  whole state.   He  said  that all  the                                                               
members on  the board  should be  able to vote,  as long  as they                                                               
disclose any potential conflict.                                                                                                
Number 2730                                                                                                                     
CHERYL  SUTTON,   Commercial  Fisherman,  testified   before  the                                                               
committee.    She  said  that  any decision  she  makes  for  her                                                               
business depends  on the decisions of  the board.  She  said that                                                               
the board has  been given authority by the  legislature to govern                                                               
a multibillion-dollar industry, and it is a big responsibility.                                                                 
MS.  SUTTON  said  that  those  members  who  may  be  commercial                                                               
fishermen,  and  who   bring  with  them  a   certain  amount  of                                                               
expertise, should not be excluded.   She said permits and vessels                                                               
are  tangible  assets.   She  said,  "Declare them;  participate;                                                               
vote.   Name your relatives,  name your associations....   People                                                               
can  connect dots."   She  said what  troubles her  more are  the                                                               
conflicts that  arise where  there are no  tangible assets.   Ms.                                                               
Sutton  said in  these cases,  bias  and prejudice  are what  the                                                               
board is forced to operate on.                                                                                                  
Number 2618                                                                                                                     
MS.  SUTTON  said the  administration  professes  that the  board                                                               
members are not  elected officials and should not be  held to the                                                               
same standard.   She added  that the legislature has  delegated a                                                               
portion  of its  authority;  therefore, the  board  has a  larger                                                               
responsibility  than  others  in  the   state.    She  asked  the                                                               
committee  "why would  we want  to  conflict out  folks who  have                                                               
expertise,  when  it  is  very  important  to  formulating  sound                                                               
regulations."  She urged the  committee to support the bill along                                                               
with HB 283.                                                                                                                    
Number 2562                                                                                                                     
REPRESENTATIVE SCALZI  said that HB  284 was a companion  bill to                                                               
HB 283,  and asked  that the  committee should  also hold  it for                                                               
consideration.    He  said  he  wanted  more  dialogue  with  the                                                               
administration.   He said that  the testimony concurred  that the                                                               
bill is  the direction  that commercial  fishing has  to go.   He                                                               
said  fishermen must  rationalize  their industry  with the  most                                                               
expertise available.  Representative Scalzi  said he hates to see                                                               
personal  attacks on  the issue.   He  said there  is a  need for                                                               
consideration of  a more broad  representation for  the industry.                                                               
He asked that the bill be held.  [HB 284 was held.]                                                                             

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