Legislature(2009 - 2010)CAPITOL 120
04/01/2009 01:00 PM JUDICIARY
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HB 153 - OPEN MEETINGS: EXCEPTION AND DEFINITION 1:16:50 PM CHAIR RAMRAS announced that the next order of business would be HOUSE BILL NO. 153, "An Act exempting municipal boards, committees, commissions, or other similar bodies from the requirements of conducting meetings open to the public when a meeting is administrative or managerial in nature; and amending the definition of 'meeting' as it relates to public governmental meetings." [Before the committee was CSHB 153(CRA).] 1:17:22 PM REPRESENTATIVE DAHLSTROM moved to adopt the proposed committee substitute (CS) for HB 153, Version 26-LS0653\S, Kane, 3/25/09, as the work draft. There being no objection, Version S was before the committee. 1:17:38 PM JANE W. PIERSON, Staff, Representative Jay Ramras, Alaska State Legislature, on behalf of the House Community and Regional Affairs Standing Committee, sponsor by request, explained that HB 153 proposes changes to the [Administrative Procedure Act] to make it workable for municipal service area boards while still preserving the intent of the Act, which requires that all meetings of public bodies be open to the public and that a public body must provide reasonable advance notice of its meetings. The basic intent of the Act is to protect the public's right to know. Currently, there are exemptions excluding meetings of juries, parole boards, staff meetings of public employees, and certain other groups/entities. There is no exemption, however, for members of government bodies that also have administrative and managerial responsibilities. This is causing a hardship for volunteer advisory board members - such as road and fire service area commissioners - who often find that they must choose between complying with the Act and providing delayed or unresponsive services. MS. PIERSON said HB 153 would add an exemption to the Administrative Procedure Act for meetings by municipal service area boards when meeting solely to act on matters that are administrative or managerial in nature; this would allow them to conduct business more effectively without harming any of the purposes or intent of the [Administrative Procedure Act]. Examples of such activities include calling out snowplows, clearing brush, or fixing potholes, as needs arise. These advisory bodies would still be required to comply with the [Administrative Procedure Act] whenever they meet to discuss any policy or budgetary matter; under Fairbanks North Star Borough ordinance, such boards must meet publicly four times a year. Version S also addresses an anomaly in state law by amending the definition of "meeting" for advisory boards. Currently, the law governing advisory boards is more stringent than the law governing actual policy-making bodies such as a borough assembly. House Bill 153 will allow members of an advisory board to have a prearranged meeting as long as it does not result in a violation of the proposed "three or a majority" rule applicable to policy-making bodies. CHAIR RAMRAS relayed that he is familiar with the problem HB 153 is intended to address. 1:21:20 PM A. RENE BROKER, Attorney, Fairbanks North Star Borough (FNSB), relayed that the FNSB supports HB 153. Because service areas are far too small and lack the financial resources to hire employees, their administrative functions have to be performed by volunteer boards, which have been authorized by state law to oversee the furnishing of service in a service area, and so when service area boards perform that administrative function, they are performing work that would otherwise have to be done by paid employees. House Bill 153 would extend the existing statutory exemption to municipal service area boards only when they are conducting work of an administrative or managerial nature, and not when they are performing their other duties. House Bill 153 would also clarify that more than three members or a majority of the members, whichever is less, must be present in order for a gathering to be considered a "meeting". In conclusion, she reiterated that the FNSB strongly supports HB 153. 1:25:59 PM LUKE HOPKINS, Member, Fairbanks North Star Borough Assembly, Fairbanks North Star Borough (FNSB), relayed that he supports Version S, and that as a member of the FNSB Assembly, he's received calls from volunteer road service area commissioners who are frustrated by the current inability of two members to meet to discuss administrative functions such as those pertaining to road maintenance/repairs. He noted that the bill would provide an exemption for such members in such situations, and would conform the definition of "meeting" as it pertains to advisory boards to that pertaining to governmental bodies that have the authority to establish policies and make decisions for a public entity. In conclusion, he asked the committee to support HB 153 and move it forward. 1:29:12 PM RONALD ILLINGWORTH, District Chair, Twenty-three Mile Slough Road Service Area, Rural Services Division, Fairbanks North Star Borough (FNSB), indicated that he would be speaking in support of HB 153. Current law, he remarked, results in service area board members having to choose between complying with the Administrative Procedure Act, ignoring it, or circumventing it, and this is not an acceptable practice, he opined. Currently, board members of road service areas are unable to conduct routine administrative or managerial duties without having to hold a public meeting and provide advance notice of it. He then offered an example involving an established contract. House Bill 153 would address this problem by providing an exemption for municipal service area boards when performing routine administrative or managerial duties. 1:33:54 PM KATHIE WASSERMAN, Executive Director, Alaska Municipal League (AML), said that the AML encourages all communities to abide by the Administrative Procedure Act, believes that they do, and has no intention of breaking existing laws. However, current law is onerous in that the definition of what constitutes a meeting is different for advisory groups than it is for governmental bodies, and this is particularly onerous on road service area boards because often they only have three members. Precluding two such board members from discussing road repair/maintenance issues can result in only one person making all the decisions. The AML doesn't want municipal service area board members attempting to circumvent current law, and so is seeking to have the law changed to address this issue. In conclusion, she relayed that the AML supports HB 153, and is hoping to assist the FNSB in its efforts. MS. BROKER, in response to questions, explained that the bill would apply only to authorized members, that the new language in proposed AS 44.62.310(h)(2)(B) was obtained from existing 44.62.310(h)(2)(A), that subparagraph (B) applies the same standard for a quorum as subparagraph (A), and that vacancies in membership are not addressed in the bill. MS. WASSERMAN, in response to a question, acknowledged that whenever there is a vacancy on a board there can be problems with getting business done, but pointed out that this is not an issue being addressed by the bill, which stipulates in proposed AS 44.62.310(h)(2) that a quorum is based on full membership, not on how many seats are filled or vacant, which can fluctuate. In response to another question, she said she doesn't believe that Anchorage has very many road service areas. REPRESENTATIVE GRUENBERG, in response to a question, relayed that his concern is that Section 2 of the bill doesn't apply only to service area boards but instead to many types of governmental bodies. He also questioned whether having to consider the entirety of an advisory board's membership for purposes of establishing a quorum would be a problem. MS. WASSERMAN said she is unaware of any such problems, particularly given that usually communities actively strive to fill any vacancies. REPRESENTATIVE GRUENBERG expressed satisfaction with [that answer]. CHAIR RAMRAS closed public testimony on HB 153. 1:40:48 PM REPRESENTATIVE DAHLSTROM moved to report the proposed CS for HB 153, Version 26-LS0653\S, Kane, 3/25/09, out of committee with individual recommendations and the accompanying zero fiscal note. There being no objection, CSHB 153(JUD) was reported from the House Judiciary Standing Committee.