Legislature(2003 - 2004)
05/09/2003 03:40 PM L&C
* first hearing in first committee of referral
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
HB 288 - CHANGING NAME OF DEPT OF COMM & ECON DEV. Number 1321 CHAIR ANDERSON announced that the next order of business would be HOUSE BILL NO. 288, "An Act changing the name of the Department of Community and Economic Development." [Before the committee was CSHB 288(STA).] Number 1327 REPRESENTATIVE VIC KOHRING, Alaska State Legislature, sponsor, said that HB 288 changes the name of the Department of Community & Economic Development to "Department of Commerce & Economic Development." He opined that the name "Department of Commerce & Economic Development" more accurately reflects the goals and strategies of that department, adding that its mission is to promote commerce and the development of Alaska's economy. He pointed out that Governor Murkowski, in his "State of the State" speech in January, announced that his administration would be referring to the department as the "Department of Commerce." Representative Kohring said that the goal of HB 288 is to formalize that concept in statute. REPRESENTATIVE KOHRING opined that using the name "Department of Community & Economic Development" somewhat complicates the state's efforts to attract investment. He listed the department's goals and strategies as being the following: promote local economic development and crucial infrastructure, market Alaska's goods and services throughout the world, organize and conduct business and trade missions to expand product sales in current markets and develop new markets, and facilitate the exchange of information between Alaska's exporters and potential customers. He mentioned that many other states have a comparable department with the word "commerce" in its name. REPRESENTATIVE CRAWFORD noted that a few years ago, Representative Kohring sponsored the legislation that combined the Department of Community and Regional Affairs (DCRA) with the Department of Commerce & Economic Development, thereby creating what is now known as the Department of Community & Economic Development. He asked what has happened to the mission of the DCRA: is it no longer a part of the current department's mission? He added that according to his recollection, having a portion of each of the old department names combined into the new department name was a compromise which intended to reflect that the new department would carry on with the missions of both departments. House Bill 288 appears to do away with all vestiges of the DCRA. Number 1544 REPRESENTATIVE KOHRING offered that the former DCRA has not gone away; instead, it has become a division within the DCED called the Division of Community and Business Development. He indicated that because it is important to develop Alaska's rural economy, it is not his intention to hurt or do away with the former DCRA's programs. Merging the two departments has saved money by eliminating duplication and trimming upper management costs, he opined, and has thus ensured the continuance of the programs important to rural Alaska. He assured the committee that even with a name change, the department will maintain its Division of Community and Business Development. REPRESENTATIVE GUTTENBERG said he is concerned that changing the department's name will leave people in rural communities wondering whether their needs will be overlooked by the administration. REPRESENTATIVE KOHRING, in an effort to allay Representative Guttenberg's concern, opined that the department's track record over the last four years demonstrates that the DCED has not compromised the aforementioned programs and has instead made them better by becoming more efficient. Number 1683 EDGAR BLATCHFORD, Commissioner, Department of Community & Economic Development (DCED), said that the administration supports HB 288. He added that the term "commerce" is broader and more clearly reflects the role of the department, and that the administration believes that "commerce" includes dealings with governments and all of their subdivisions - the boroughs, the unorganized boroughs, and other entities within the unorganized boroughs. After mentioning that he'd at one time served as commissioner for the DCRA, he relayed that with the merger, the DCED's mission is twofold: one, continue to be an advocate for rural Alaska and the municipalities in both organized and unorganized boroughs; and, two, be "somewhat of a regulator" regarding occupational licensing, insurance, and investments. COMMISSIONER BLATCHFORD went on to say: We feel that this will send a very clear message to the people who are eager to do business, or [are] thinking about doing business, in the state, that Alaska is open for business and that we welcome the opportunity to discuss business activities, both in rural Alaska and in the urban centers. ... I was at a conference the other day, and it was where you had financing agencies from across the country meeting in Anchorage, and when I was introduced as "the commissioner of the soon to be called Department of Commerce and Economic Development," one of the representatives from another state leaned over and said that is what their state did two years ago - they changed the name of the department to more clearly reflect what the mission of that department was, and that was to encourage commercial activities, business activities, economic activities. COMMISSIONER BLATCHFORD, in response to a question, said that when he was commissioner of DCRA, his mission was to serve as the commissioner of a department that was dedicated, heart and soul, to rural Alaska, to assist those communities in accessing government, in generating economic activities, and in establishing local government entities. REPRESENTATIVE CRAWFORD asked whether changing the department's name will result in those goals no longer being a focus. COMMISSIONER BLATCHFORD said that the development of the Division of Community and Business Development within the DCED was intended to ensure that those goals did remain a focus of the department. He said that the DCED takes its role in that regard very seriously, and that the Division of Community and Business Development is the largest section in the department. He went on to say: "The way the department is organized now, you have the regulators, so to speak, on one side, and then you have the advocates, so to speak, on the other side, and we bring the two together to look at how we can best ... foster economic activities throughout the state." In response to another question, he said that he did not see changing the department's name as creating a problem. He opined that in order for Alaska's communities to become self sufficient, there must be economic activity. The DCED will continue to work closely with communities to help them develop a strong private sector, and changing the name of the department, he surmised, will send a strong message that the private sector is the entity that can offer hope, economic opportunities, jobs, and responsibility. Number 1957 REPRESENTATIVE DAHLSTROM moved to report CSHB 288(STA) out of committee with individual recommendations and the accompanying zero fiscal note. REPRESENTATIVE ROKEBERG asked whether the sponsor and the commissioner had given consideration to other possible names. COMMISSIONER BLATCHFORD indicated that they had simply settled on "the Department of Commerce & Economic Development." REPRESENTATIVE ROKEBERG asked how the name change is going to be perceived by those living in rural Alaska. COMMISSIONER BLATCHFORD replied: I think ... Alaska has changed. ... When the Department of Community and Regional Affairs was created 30-some years ago, ... more of Alaska was in the unorganized borough, and a large portion of Alaska's population was in the unorganized borough. That has changed to some degree and you now have more boroughs, certainly more communities, organized communities, [and] second class cities recognized by the state. So ... I think ... changing ... the name is a recognition that Alaska has also changed and that we're moving with the times ... in this day and age of budget cuts, ... that we're seizing the opportunities to present a good public image that we want commercial activities, business activities, throughout the state. [Chair Anderson turned the gavel over to Vice Chair Lynn.] REPRESENTATIVE ROKEBERG mentioned that he'd considered offering an amendment to change the department's name in a different fashion, but had since changed his mind. Number 2120 REPRESENTATIVE DAHLSTROM again moved to report CSHB 288(STA) out of committee with individual recommendations and the accompanying zero fiscal note. Number 2130 REPRESENTATIVE GUTTENBERG objected. He indicated that removing "Community" from the department's name is a significant, albeit symbolic, change because it shifts the focus from rural Alaska. REPRESENTATIVE CRAWFORD opined that the proposed name change focuses the department's mission away from communities - leaving out regional affairs - and that "community advocacy" or "regional affairs" should be included as part of the department's name. VICE CHAIR LYNN opined that commerce, in both urban and rural areas, needs to be developed. Number 2253 REPRESENTATIVE GUTTENBERG removed his objection. Number 2257 VICE CHAIR LYNN announced that without objection, [CSHB 288(STA) was reported from the House Labor and Commerce Standing Committee].