By Dave Donaldson
Legislative leaders today began distributing draft legislation that, if enacted before the end of the day next Thursday, would extend the state’s coastal management program. The next step is a poll of all members to see if forty House and Senate members agree to call themselves into special session to deal with the issue.
Legislative attorneys have been working on the draft bill since Tuesday, when Senate President Gary Stevens and House Speaker Mike Chenault discussed options that might allow the program to continue.
The bill is basically the same as one that was approved by a Conference Committee – but failed in the House on the last day of the special session last month. However, two issues have been changed that members say caused the House to reject it.
First, members of the newly created Coastal Policy Board under the new bill could only be removed for cause, no longer at the pleasure of the governor. The draft bill then defines “for cause” as neglect of duty, incompetence, inability to serve, misconduct, poor attendance or lack of contribution to the board’s work.
The bill also resolves the conflict over deference given to local knowledge versus scientific evidence. It does away with both of them. Instead it says that coastal development issues must be decided on what’s called “aggregate evidence” – defined to include scientific data as well as human knowledge.
House Speaker Mike Chenault says they both matter.
Local knowledge is important and scientific data is important so why should they compete against each other, why not look at the whole thing and make a rational decision based on all input.
Chenault recognizes that there are members who have strong opinions on either side of the program. He says he’s open to hearing their suggestions – but he anticipates beginning polling members over the weekend to determine whether to call a special session.
The same procedure is being followed in the Senate.
Chenault says finding agreement between the House and Senate has not included getting a commitment from the governor or the administration. Although the Speaker says he has talked to the governor several times, he doesn’t know if the bill will be vetoed if the legislature passes it.
It’s the legislature’s job to propose legislation, and if it’s something that’s just egregious with the governor, then he has the veto power. And so that’ll be his choice whenever we get … when and if we get to that point.
One section of the bill has not been drafted – a description of how to bring the program back from its near-death experience. Chenault says that involves federal issues and staff is researching the points that will need to be considered.