Legislature(2001 - 2002)

02/27/2002 01:00 PM RES

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]                                                                                                 
                                                                                                                                
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.                                                                                                                  

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