ALASKA - A statewide initiative to revive the coastal zone management program will be the first ballot measure proposed by Alaska voters to go through a public hearing process.
Lieutenant Governor Mead Treadwell, who oversees the Division of Elections, announced Monday 10 public hearings that will be held in July.
It’s part of a new law aimed at ensuring thorough public discussion of citizens' initiatives before Alaskans vote on them.
"In this case, you the voters are the lawmakers,” Treadwell said at a news conference Monday.
Ballot Measure 2 – which will appear on the August 28 primary election ballot – would revive the coastal management program that expired last year, when legislators and Governor Parnell could not agree on terms for its extension.
The program formerly allowed local input on federal permitting decisions affecting oil and gas projects, mining, tourism, fishing, and forestries.
"Initiatives are very powerful,” said Representative Charisse Millett. “They're more powerful than a law than any legislature can create. They last for two years; they can't be vetoed by the governor; and they can be amended, but in a very small amount."
A law sponsored by Millett requires, for the first time, that public hearings be held on citizens’ initiatives.
Treadwell has scheduled hearings from July 2 in Kenai and Soldotna through July 26 in Juneau, with one in Anchorage on July 9.
"The Anchorage hearing will be at the legislative information office. The Juneau hearing will be on Gavel to Gavel, on a tape-delayed basis. But where we can, we will have a call-in number so people can also call in and testify."
And Treadwell, in his news conference Monday, offered a taste of the coming debate.
"Coastal management does not stop development. It is a unifying force that resolves potential issues," said Terzah Tippin Poe, spokesperson for ballot group The Sea Party. “Making it easier to do business in Alaska, coastal management cuts red tape, coordinates permitting, resolves issues early and avoids lawsuits."
Countered Rick Rogers of Vote No On 2: "Now the sponsors say this is simply about restoring coastal management that expired in June 2011. That is not true. The reality is this measure could create a coastal management program unlike anything we've seen in Alaska before. Packaging this measure as something other than what it is may be good politics, but frankly we find it deceptive."
Under the new law, voters have the opportunity to be better informed about proposed laws they're asked to approve.
Treadwell said the hearings will be modeled after legislative committee hearings, with section-by-section review of the initiative and estimated fiscal impacts offered before presentations by proponents and opponents, questions and public testimony.
He said each hearing will be at least three hours.