JUNEAU -- A bill that would establish a coastal management program in Alaska was introduced in the House on Friday, indicating lawmaker interest in taking a lead on the issue and not leaving the fate of a program up to a ballot initiative.
At least eight House members, Republicans and Democrats, have signed on to the bill, whose primary sponsor is Majority Leader Alan Austerman, R-Kodiak.
This comes as it appears an initiative that would establish a coastal management program will qualify for this year's ballot. Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell said it appears the proposal has sufficient signatures to qualify but he has not yet certified the measure. As of Friday, the Division of Elections had determined the proposal had 29,795 qualified signers. It needs at least 25,875.
The opt-in coastal management program lets states put conditions on certain activities on federal lands and waters. Alaska's program ended last year after lawmakers failed to agree on how best to revamp it.
The Legislature can pre-empt an initiative by passing substantially similar legislation.
House Democratic Leader Beth Kerttula said HB325 tracks closely with the proposed initiative. Kerttula, a vocal backer of the initiative, signed on as one of the bill's co-sponsors. She said public support for the program is exemplified in the sheer number of people who signed initiative petitions. Kerttula, D-Juneau, said lawmakers should now lead on the issue rather than leaving it to chance in a political campaign.
Senate leaders have indicated that if lawmakers were to take up a coastal management bill it should come from the House, noting the Senate had passed a measure during last year's second special session that the House later rejected.
Rep. Bob Herron, D-Bethel, noted that some of the people who've signed on to the bill were among those actively seeking a compromise on coastal management last year. He is included in that group. He said his constituents had asked that he be a part of efforts to revive the program. Bruce Botelho, an initiative leader, said he is pleased that Austerman has sponsored "meaningful legislation" to get the discussion about coastal management started in the House.
By BECKY BOHRER