Legislature(2003 - 2004)
05/06/2003 08:06 AM STA
* 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 0297 CHAIR WEYHRAUCH 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." Number 0336 REPRESENTATIVE VIC KOHRING, Alaska State Legislature, sponsor, relayed that HB 288 changes the name of the Department of Community & Economic Development (DCED) to the Department of Commerce. He opined that the name "Commerce" more accurately reflects the objectives of the department, that being to: promote growth in Alaska's economy through the large-scale trading, buying, and selling of goods between cities, states, and countries; and have business dealings with the same. He relayed that the DCED's web site lists, among others, the following two objectives: "Organize and conduct business trade missions to expand product sales in current markets and develop new markets," and "Marketing Alaska-Sell Alaska's goods and services throughout the world." A second reason for changing the name, he offered, is that it will "eliminate any confusion that's out there about whether we even have an agency in Alaska that is tasked to develop commerce as we attempt to promote the state throughout the world and attract investment here." REPRESENTATIVE KOHRING mentioned that numerous other states include "Commerce" in the title of their comparable agency. In addition to the aforementioned reasons, the administration desires a name change, he remarked, noting that the governor announced in his "State of the State" speech that the administration would be referring to the department as the "Department of Commerce." House Bill 288 merely formalizes that change and is accompanied by a zero fiscal note. Number 0526 REPRESENTATIVE DAHLSTROM moved to report HB 288 out of committee with individual recommendations and the accompanying zero fiscal note. REPRESENTATIVE KOHRING explained that although the administration desires a name change, it wishes for the words "Economic Development" to remain in that new name; thus the new name would be "the Department of Commerce & Economic Development." He said that he would be amenable to such a change to HB 288 Number 0629 REPRESENTATIVE DAHLSTROM withdrew her motion to report HB 288 out of committee. Number 0636 REPRESENTATIVE LYNN made a motion to adopt Amendment 1: to add, after "Commerce" on page 1, line 7, the words "and Economic Development"; to retain, after "Commerce" on page 1, line 9, the words "and Economic Development; to add, after "Commerce" on page 2, line 2, the words "and Economic Development"; and to add, after "commerce" on page 2, line 2, the words "and economic development". There being no objection, Amendment 1 was adopted. Number 0835 EDGAR BLATCHFORD, Commissioner, Department of Community & Economic Development (DCED), indicated that the administration supports HB 288, as amended, adding that the cost to the state will be minimal in that the changes effected will be gradual in terms of acquiring supplies containing the new name. He added, "We are eager to change the name of the department to "Commerce & Economic Development, simply for the sake that we need to be more effective in our communications with people: the private sector, and in the community, and in the international arena." COMMISSIONER BLATCHFORD, in response to questions, confirmed that he'd been commissioner of the Department of Community & Regional Affairs (DCRA) under Governor Hickel in the early 1990s; that in 1999, the DCRA was merged with what was then known as the Department of Commerce and Economic Development; and that with the change proposed by HB 288, the last vestige of the name "Community & Regional Affairs" will be removed. He relayed that his heart and sole is in rural Alaska; therefore, one of the things he did as the commissioner of the Department of Community & Economic Development was to reorganize the department to reflect a continuing commitment to activities in the unorganized boroughs as well as the organized boroughs. He mentioned that one of the divisions in the DCED is now responsible for all of the programs that were under the purview of the DCRA. COMMISSIONER BLATCHFORD went on to say that the DCED strongly believes that the municipalities, the boroughs, and the unorganized areas of the state need to be at the table when public policy discussions are underway. He assured the committee that the proposed change in the department's name contains no intention to diminish the functions that were formerly under the purview of the DCRA, adding that it is the DCED's intention to strengthen its commitment to the private sector and to economic development in both the organized and the unorganized boroughs. He relayed that the department views the name change as a strengthening of the its mission. Number 1121 CHAIR WEYHRAUCH asked whether either the sponsor or the commissioner would have any objection to changing the title of HB 288 to say: "An act changing the name of the Department of Department of Community and Economic Development to the Department of Commerce and Economic Development." CHAIR WEYHRAUCH noted that Representative Kohring is "shaking [his] head, 'No,' to that title change." REPRESENTATIVE BERKOWITZ asked for a definition of the word "commerce." REPRESENTATIVE KOHRING replied that he defines it both by the dictionary and by the department's mission statement, and reiterated his earlier comments on that issue. REPRESENTATIVE BERKOWITZ offered that under Article X, Section 14, of the Alaska State Constitution, it says: "An agency shall be established by law in the executive branch of the state government to advise and assist local governments. It shall review their activities, collect and publish local government information, and perform other duties prescribed by law." He pointed out that "that term" was not mentioned in either of the definitions proffered by the sponsor. He opined that "this title change doesn't sweep in the constitutional requirements," adding that during the discussions surrounding the merger in 1999, there was a great deal of angst that the DCRA was going to be swallowed up by the Department of Commerce & Economic Development and that the concerns of rural Alaska were going be swept under the rug. REPRESENTATIVE BERKOWITZ relayed that he viewed Governor Murkowski's announcement as a retreat from the commitments and assurances made during the original debate that the needs of rural communities were going to be met. There is a lot in a name, he remarked, adding that the signal being sent via HB 288 is: "Not only have we done away with ... 'Regional Affairs,' in phase one, now we're going to do away with the 'Community' part of what we're supposed to take care of." He said it seems to him that the proposed change deviates from the constitutional mission that used to belong exclusively to the DCRA, and that it adds another brick in the wall between urban and rural Alaska that could easily be interpreted as a slight to rural Alaska. Number 1465 REPRESENTATIVE KOHRING suggested that the creation of a division within the DCED specifically tasked with administering programs to rural Alaska was an adequate solution to the concerns expressed regarding the original merger. He said that he believes that the assurances made in 1999, that rural programs are taken very seriously and that the intent is to retain them, still apply. COMMISSIONER BLATCHFORD said that as Alaska has changed, so has the department. At statehood, all of Alaska was in the unorganized borough, and since that time, he offered, much of Alaska's population is now living in the organized borough or in some form of a borough or under a joint city-borough type of government. The department's mission is still the same with regard to dealing with municipalities, he assured the committee, adding that some communities still welcome the department's help and some no longer need it. COMMISSIONER BLATCHFORD offered his view that the goal of state government is to enable local governments to make their own decisions as much as possible. He also offered his view, as the former commissioner of DCRA, that rather than the DCRA being swallowed up by the Department of Commerce & Economic Development, the opposite has happened in that the functions of the DCRA swallowed up the Department of Commerce & Economic Development. He again offered to the committee that the department's mission remains the same, to be available to assist communities and provide them with as many resources as possible. REPRESENTATIVE BERKOWITZ offered his opinion, however, that notwithstanding the commissioner's assurances, everything he has seen from the current administration runs counter to letting local people make local decisions. He added: The signal that is sent, in addition, by the change here, is fairly unmistakable. And there are good people involved in your department, and I have every confidence in your ability to steward the department. But these departments and these institutions endure long after we're gone. And we ought to make sure that the good that [is] occurring now and the good that occurred in the past continues, and a name change is just a precursor to a mission change. And a mission change could readily happen under someone who is much less friendly to rural Alaska and rural needs than you are. Number 1785 REPRESENTATIVE DAHLSTROM moved to report HB 288 [as amended] out of committee with individual recommendations and the accompanying zero fiscal note. Number 1792 REPRESENTATIVE BERKOWITZ objected. CHAIR WEYHRAUCH asked whether there were any objections regarding his suggestion to change the title of HB 288 to read: "An act changing the name of the Department of Community and Economic Development to the Department of Commerce and Economic Development." He added, "I move that title change." REPRESENTATIVE BERKOWITZ said he objects to that title change. CHAIR WEYHRAUCH announced that the title change had already been adopted, and invited Representative Berkowitz to speak to his objection. REPRESENTATIVE BERKOWITZ remarked: Economic development is one of these vague terms that we all tried out, particularly around campaign season and in our great rhetorical flourishes on the floor, but it doesn't have a specific meaning. And ... we ought to be precise and short, and "Commerce" is pretty short and to the point. It also links up fairly well, I think, with the federal department of commerce, and there could be benefits from that. So, we ought to be short and to the point, and if we're going to get rid of "Economic Development" -- if it wasn't the intent of the sponsor to have "Economic Development" in it, the administration was acquiescent in that. It's their department and I think they should call it what they intended to call it. And hopefully, in future years, we'll go back to making it what it's supposed to be. Number 1882 A roll call vote was taken. Representatives Holm, Seaton, Dahlstrom, Lynn, and Weyhrauch voted in favor of reporting HB 288, as amended, from committee. Representatives Berkowitz and Gruenberg voted against it. Therefore, CSHB 288(STA) was reported from the House State Affairs Standing Committee by a vote of 5-2.