Legislature(2001 - 2002)
02/27/2002 01:00 PM RES
* first hearing in first committee of referral
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
HB 284-BOARD OF FISHERIES CONFLICTS OF INTEREST [Contains discussion of HB 283] Number 2631 CO-CHAIR SCALZI announced that the next order of business before the committee would be 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." [HB 284 was sponsored by Representative Scalzi.] Number 2681 SUE ASPELUND, Executive Director, Cordova District Fishermen United (CDFU), testified via teleconference. She said CDFU thinks that HB 284 is very important; furthermore, CDFU believes it is unfair to withhold full participation in this very important process to an entity that is there because of its expertise and knowledge in the fisheries arena. She said she had personally sat through a number of Board of Fisheries meetings where members were conflicted out; those members' invaluable knowledge would have been helpful to the proceedings, but they were precluded from providing that input because of the conflict-of-interest statute. Emphasizing the importance of HB 284, she urged that it be moved from committee. Number 2739 REPRESENTATIVE KERTTULA asked if those members were precluded from giving the information because they weren't allowed to deliberate or if it was because there was a short amount of time for testimony. MS. ASPELUND said members with a conflict of interest are able to participate as a member of the public. During public testimony, they may sit at the public testifiers' table and provide their five minutes of testimony. However, a member who has a conflict of interest isn't allowed to participate in the committee meetings, deliberations, or voting, she said. If particular knowledge on an issue comes up during a committee [meeting] or during deliberations that may not have come up during public testimony, members with a conflict of interest aren't allowed to provide input; consequently, at a very key part of the process they are precluded because of their conflict of interest. Number 2795 ROBIN SAMUELSEN testified via teleconference. He told the committee he fully supported Ms. Aspelund's testimony. He said the conflict-of-interest rules are really restrictive. There are seven [Board of Fisheries] members; there are checks and balances in the board system. Consequently, it's a thorough public process. Under the present conflict-of-interest rules, however, he said he doesn't think the decisions being rendered are the best decisions; a [board member] who has a conflict isn't allowed to participate in the discussion. He said the [conflict-of-interest rules] have hindered the process when he was on the board; it has become more complicated since that time. He referred to the disclosure statement, which he said he felt was very cumbersome and unwieldy. Number 2846 BOB MERCHANT, President, United Cook Inlet Drift Association (UCIDA), testified via teleconference. He told the committee UCIDA supports the passage of HB 284; furthermore, he concurred with Ms. Aspelund's testimony and said that was also UCIDA's position on HB 284. Number 2858 WILLIAM SULLIVAN testified via teleconference. He told the committee he supported HB 284. He asked the committee to consider the effects on the board with the passage of HB 284 without the passage of HB 283. He remarked that if one accepts the idea that the board is presently weighted in one direction, it may go even more in that direction by freeing up some of the conflict language. Number 2885 PAUL SEATON testified via teleconference. He referred to a facsimile he'd submitted to the committee. He told the committee he was in opposition to HB 284. Commercial fishermen on the Board of Fisheries can fully participate in any discussion of commercial fisheries other than the specific species and area that person has a financial interest in, he explained. Every state in the Union has conflict-of-interest laws; furthermore, the laws had to be passed because conflict of interest results in bad regulations and lots of problems; he pointed out that judges or jurors don't make decisions on things in which they have a financial participation. MR. SEATON said this bill would essentially convert the Board of Fisheries into the same structure as the [North Pacific] Fishery Management Council (NPFMC) on the federal level; in addition, [NPFMC] is exempt from conflict-of-interest laws, and can accept money from anybody or be hired as a lobbyist by anybody, in spite of a financial interest. Furthermore, [NPFMC members] can be strong participants in one particular segment of the industry and can vote in favor of that segment of the industry. He noted the vast difference in legal and practical aspects between the Board of Fisheries and the [NPFMC], since the latter is advisory in nature. He offered that [HB 284] is a terrible idea. TAPE 02-10, SIDE B Number 2970 MR. SEATON suggested that Alaska and all other states have drawn up conflict-of-interest laws because when people are allowed to create regulations despite having a financial conflict of interest, it causes problems. This is not a problem that "we" need to inject on top the current problems with the Board of Fisheries, he said. He urged the committee to reject HB 284. Number 2921 LANCE NELSON, Assistant Attorney General, Natural Resources Section, Civil Division (Anchorage), Department of Law, testified via teleconference. He informed the committee that the administration is opposed to HB 284. He said the current ethical standards give the Board of Fisheries higher credibility. In addition, people are usually or almost always present at the board meetings who can work on committees and give the same information and viewpoint as conflicted board members, he suggested. He said conflicted board members can give public testimony and talk to other Board of Fisheries members; however, they can't participate in the actual deliberations and voting. Number 2884 REPRESENTATIVE KERTTULA asked Mr. Nelson if he could offer an example of what is concerning people about board members who have a financial conflict not being allowed to deliberate. MR. NELSON said a board meeting begins with public testimony in which any member of the public can testify for a limited but equal amount of time to the board and can answer questions there. The board will assign proposals to committees, in which there is a panel of public members appointed to speak for the varied interests that are following the proposal, either in support or opposition. Subsequently, the committee prepares a report and makes a recommendation to the full board, which then deliberates on the proposal. The deliberations are on the record and open to the public. The board takes frequent breaks; consequently, nothing prevents the conflicted board member from talking to the other members, the public, or representative interest groups during that time. However, the conflicted board member would be prevented from discussing or arguing for or against the proposal, and from voting. Number 2779 REPRESENTATIVE KERTTULA asked Mr. Nelson to describe the kind of conflict that would remove a member from deliberating or voting. MR. NELSON said the major conflict would be if a member has a significant financial interest at stake in the proposal. For example, if a proposal would increase an allocation to [the conflicted board member's user group] or allow the member to financially benefit, then that member is prevented from voting. Board members often remove themselves voluntarily if there is any question of conflict of interest, to avoid the appearance of unethical conduct. The other interest at stake usually arises when the board member - or an organization in which the board member is a policymaking officeholder - has a proposal before the board, or when that organization has taken a position on a proposal before the board, or in some cases in which the conflicted board member has "shepherded" a proposal through an organization and that organization has endorsed it. Such interests are defined as personal interests, and the [conflicted board member] is prevented from deliberating and voting on those proposals. Number 2684 PAUL SHADURA, Vice President, Kenai Peninsula Fisherman's Association (KPFA), testified via teleconference. He told the committee KPFA supports HB 284. He said: We could give you a good example: in Cook Inlet, where you have three sport representatives and also Mr. Umphenour is a registered guide, the situation if there was an appointment for a commercial fisherman to be there, [Mr. Umphenour] would be opted out by the current regulations or the policy from discussing any of his expertise - so making his expertise and his knowledge moot. MR. SHADURA said he could see the conflict if it were a direct benefit to an individual. But for general classes of people, he said he had a hard time thinking it is a conflict. He remarked that if that were so, then there would be a lot of conflicts "crossing each other for many different avenues in the state." He said for "us" that's a way to communicate. Referring to Mr. Nelson's testimony regarding committee process, he reported that after the public speaks during the committee process, there are usually two board members who then debate and discuss the [issue] with other people and come out with a report that is not on the record. After the decision is made, a committee report is generated, which doesn't necessarily reflect what was said during the committee forum. Mr. Shadura remarked that he'd had a problem with that particular situation; those two members had then discussed their views with the rest of the board members. He pointed out that there could be some very real discrepancies and conflicts because of that. Number 2570 CARL ROSIER, Alaska Outdoor Council (AOC), told the committee AOC is opposed to HB 284. This has been one of the major factors that's made the board such a trustworthy operation in the state, he remarked. He said the criticism directed toward the NPFMC on this issue seems to be a constant din of people criticizing that council as a result of [members] with conflicts of interest. He said, "Millions of dollars involved in every decision that that council makes - of course, on this, I am not here to say whether it's right or wrong." He added that from the public's perception of the council sessions on this, however, conflict of interest is close to the top as a major problem. MR. ROSIER suggested the Board of Fisheries doesn't get that same criticism; nor does the board overstep its bounds as far as conflict of interest is concerned. He said in 40 years of participating in or observing board sessions in the state, he had never seen an issue yet that the board couldn't come to resolution on, and individuals who were conflicted out availed themselves of opportunities to participate on the fringes. He said in order to maintain that credibility on the Board of Fisheries, it should continue to be subject to the conflict-of- interest provisions. Number 2460 CO-CHAIR SCALZI indicated HB 284 would be held for further consideration.