Landscape Architecture in Alaska

Alaskan landscape architects began initial licensing efforts in 1976.  Beginning at that point, the chapter attepmpted four efforts, three with limited results, the fourth being successful.  This case study reviews the first few cases briefly and provides an expanded discussion of the successful effort.

Any attempt at legislation is difficult in Alaska, complicated by a state government that is located remote from the population center.  While 85% of Alaskans live on the road system in the central portion of the state, the government seat is located in southeastern Alaska, in Juneau, requiring air travel for one-on-one contact.  Most efforts rely greatly on teleconferencing and a single point of contact in the state capitol for success.  Also, common to most locations, use of lobbyists is an important part of any legislative effort.

The first effort, ranging over 1976 and 1977, was a grassroots effort by a relatively small number of people with key people including Ken Pendleton, ASLA, Bruce Sharky, FASLA, and Bailey Breedlove, FASLA.  There was no significant “body of work” at that point in time and relatively weak connection to allied professions.  While a sponsor was found for the legislation, the bill died in committee after allied professions testified strongly against the bill.  The effort relied heavily on the presence of a landscape architect in Juneau who was very effective at moving the bill initially, but could not overcome the resistance of architects and surveyors.

The second serious effort took place in 1994.  The chapter had hosted a visit by ASLA National staff, and had developed a better understanding of the legislative process and the reasoning and arguments for licensure.  Also, a landscape architect, Suzanne Little, had been elected into the state Senate, allowing easy introduction of the legislation.

While introduction of the bill was easy, Senator Little was in the minority and had difficulty in moving the bill forward.  The bill was introduced at a time of fiduciary constraint and the fiscal note attached to the bill (a note that estimates increased cost to government) became an impediment to moving the bill forward and required licensing fees greater than the profession could bear.  The bill was introduced in the second year of a two-year legislative session, meaning that it would need to start over the following year.  Also, it became clear that opposition remained.

Senator Little lost her seat in the subsequent election and although a bill sponsor was found in a third effort in 1995, the opposition by sister professions remained and a re-thinking of the approach was needed.  The chapter priced the cost of obtaining a lobbyist and found that it would take a minimum of $8,000 per year to have part-time services directed towards our efforts.  The opposition that remained and the price of the lobbyist put the effort on hold for a short period of time while the chapter raised money and sought to address the concerns of allied professions.

Coalition Building

Recognizing that resolution of the interdisciplinary “gray areas” was important to movement of any bill, the chapter petitioned to the Alaska Professional Design Council (APDC) for membership.  APDC represents the organizations of licensed and unlicensed design professionals throughout the state of Alaska.  It is an issue-oriented group with a paid lobbyist who addresses issues of broad concern to all design professionals as determined by the APDC.  The chapter made a case for inclusion in APDC and was accepted.  Key to discussions was that inclusion in APDC would allow landscape architects to address the gray areas of licensure, expecting that the chapter was to seek licensure again.  The allied professions roundly accepted this approach of an “open forum” for debate of the issue of licensure.  Parallel to inclusion in the APDC was the agreement that licensure would fall under the AELS Board, as opposed to a separate board.

The APDC maintains a Legislative Liaison Committee (LLC) that directs the legislative interests of the member organizations (including architects, several engineering groups, land surveyors, and interior designers).  Two members of the chapter, Dwayne Adams, FASLA and Linda Cyra Korsgaard, ASLA became very active in the LLC and helped in the movement of issues such as mandatory mediation, tort reform, and Quality-Based Selection.  Demonstrating that those issues were important to landscape architects helped establish respectability and show that landscape architects have similar interests to other design professionals.  Also, this formed the basis of trust that was very important in gaining support for our key issue.

As landscape architects established a presence within APDC, they also began to assume leadership positions within the organization.  One landscape architect, Linda Cyra Korsgaard, ASLA became treasurer and another Dwayne Adams, FASLA became chair of the APDC/LLC.  Dwayne went on to actually serve as president of APDC later on.  With those positions, the landscape architects were in a position to help articulate the licensure issue with other professionals.  Within the LLC forum, the landscape architecture licensure issue became one of the key issues for APDC.  The use of the APDC/LLC forum also provided access to the APDC lobbyist.  With the licensure issue serving as one of the key policy issues, the lobbyist then actively campaigned for the licensure issue, finding a sponsor, forming strategy, and keeping the chair and LLC committee aware on a daily (and sometimes hour-by-hour basis) of problems and issues as they arose.

The APDC/LLC maintained a “Fly-In” once a year that carried the LLC positions forward.  The engineers, architects, land surveyors, and landscape architects that participated in the Fly-In were given position papers that clearly enunciated the reasons for our positions.  Thus, when the 1995 and 1996 Fly-Ins took place, landscape architecture licensure was a key issue of APDC and the sister professionals at the Fly-Ins actively lobbied legislators for landscape architecture licensure.  With the allied professionals providing this introduction, it clearly removed the “self-interest” burden from the landscape architects and boosted in the credibility of the public health, safety, and welfare argument.  The ability to keep the issue focused on public need and away from self-interest was very important. 

As other professional organizations became supporters of landscape architecture licensure, the issues then moved away from the need issue and more towards the resolution of conflicts.  Again, APDC provided a forum for this.  The landscape architects on the APDC board had easy access to other organizations.  Discussions were conducted in a cool manner without emotions entering into the play.  Also, familiarity allowed controversies to be quickly addressed, without the “rumor-mill” becoming a significant player.

Legislative Campaign

There were a number of strategies that were important to success.  Most of these were keyed to the way that the legislature operated and the way committees worked.  The lobbyist had a clear understanding of the important players.  Since the bill’s greatest hurdle was going to be getting through the Senate Labor and Commerce Committee, the lobbyist and a landscape architect met with the chair of that committee and discussed the bill.  The chair, Senator Tim Kelley, was familiar with the bill from the last two attempts and was sympathetic.  He was instrumental in finding a strong legislator on the majority side to move the bill forward and orchestrated that effort.  He was also important in keeping the committee referrals to a minimal level, which saved a tremendous amount of time in moving the bill.   The sponsor Senator Jerry Mackie, and his staff, were then educated as to the all of the bill’s issues and how to address them and he served as an extraordinary advocate once educated.

Another key issue was shaping the chapter to respond with the appropriate level of effort to the need at any given time.  A group of three landscape architects, Dwayne Adams, FASLA, Linda Cyra Korsgaard, ASLA, and Elise Huggins, FASLA, were responsible for moving quickly and answering questions as they arose.  They had quick and easy access to the lobbyist and worked very closely to iron out language.  This small group became the key people that were at the fingertips of the bill’s sponsor, the State Division of Occupational Licensing, and the lobbyist, and at times had minute-by-minute updates with the key interests.

One thing that was found very early is that the committees were not interested in lengthy testimony by numerous people.  They were interested in hearing about key issues for which they had concerns.  To address this, the key people identified issues of concern prior to the committee meetings by having the lobbyist contact the members prior to the meeting.  Time before the committee was then spent addressing issues of concern head-on.  Also, the groundwork was laid and education was provided to the individual legislators before the meeting so that there was an understanding of the concerns that each might have.

The larger membership was involved by developing a phone tree organized by Ken Pendleton, ASLA to act tactically as the bill moved.  Just as the bill moved to a new committee, the phone tree ensured a deluge of messages that illustrated strong support.  This timely outpouring of support insured that if a legislator did not have a strong position on the bill, he or she was at least able to say for the record that they had received a number of letters and messages in support of the legislation.  Another important strategy was in aligning constituents to the individual legislators.  Where possible, landscape architects were matched to their legislators and made personal contact with them.  Still, this was quite difficult since there were only 35 ASLA members in Alaska and not many more landscape architects.  This again is where the use of the Alaska Professional Design Council (APDC) came in handy. 

APDC hosted roundtables just prior to elections to allow candidates to respond APDC positions.  These meetings were held on a regional basis and legislators had to respond directly to local constituents on issues brought forward by APDC.  Since licensure had been adopted as an issue by APDC, candidates were asked to take a position on landscape architecture licensure.  Since at that time licensure was not an issue that any legislators saw problems with (many not being sure), they generally went on the record as supporting it.  This then paved the way for the position they would later take.  If they did have concerns, they would preface their concerns by saying they “supported it,” but just wanted to make sure everything was addressed.

Interestingly enough, one of the key turning points occurred as a result of the APDC roundtable in Fairbanks.  Though no landscape architects were even at that roundtable meeting (there were only two landscape architects in the city), the allied professions took the role of stating that licensure was one of the agenda items they wanted moved forward.  The Senate Finance Committee Chair listened to the presentation and immediately moved the bill out of his committee and to the floor at the beginning of the next session (the second year of the bill’s progress), which cleared all remaining hurdles in the Senate.  This allowed the bill to quickly move into the House where it progressed rapidly.

One effort that was very helpful was the use of interdisciplinary offices to support the bill.  Interdisciplinary offices that hired landscape architects exhibited strong support for licensure.  They generally saw that licensure would only improve the image of the firm and generally understood the value of landscape architectural services.  These leaders of key firms were often board members of the sister organizations and provided a strong voice both on their boards, before APDC, and before the legislature.  Again, the relationship with the allied professionals was an important ingredient.

Fundamental to selling the idea was the tailoring of the message to the audience.  The legislature exhibited two distinct leanings when it came to whether they considered supporting the bill.  These two issues were founded first on the public safety and health (we avoided the use of the word “welfare”) and secondly whether it was good for business.  In general, the minority Democratic legislators were concerned about health/safety issues while the majority Republican legislators were focused on business issues.

The public health and safety issue was relatively easy to demonstrate.  There had been a strong debate before the public concerning playground safety.  It had become an editorial issue in the local Anchorage media and members provided editorial input to the “letters to the editor” and in “community voices” pieces.  This helped keep the public safety issue up front and made the argument before the legislature relatively easy. 

The business issue was relatively easy to address as well.  Since much of Alaska is in federal ownership, significant amounts of work are provided by federal agencies.  Working with landscape architects in the public sector such as Steve Hennig, ASLA, and Nora Laughlin, ASLA, the chapter was able to document the amount of work that went to non-Alaskan firms, and the amount was significant.  The chapter made the argument that much of this resulted from the selection by federal agencies of persons that were licensed and that this presented an unfair advantage to these outside firms.  Further, these firms often had little understanding of heat transfer, freeze/thaw issues, or injuries relative to various sidewalk texture treatments.  Landscape architects then pointed to the special qualifications for arctic engineering that would be a part of licensure and would ensure that out-of-state landscape architects would have a fundamental understanding of arctic/sub-arctic issues.  Thus while providing for the business interests of Alaskans, it also insured that if outside firms practiced in the state, they would be required to have appropriate qualifications to do so.

The issue of grandfathering was addressed by simply not allowing anyone to be grandfathered.  While this was somewhat painful to some older, established practitioners, it laid moot the argument about whether some unqualified individuals might be allowed to practice through loopholes.  This was important to head off yet one more reason for anyone to deny licensure. 

While the relationship to the allied professions was good, there remained individuals that had concerns and compromises had to be made.  The most significant of these was for board representation on the Architect/Engineer/Land Surveyor Board (AELS Board).  This was an issue for two reasons.  First, adding one landscape architect would produce an even number of board members.  Second, expanding the board would increase the fiscal note (cost).  Since other professions such as petroleum engineers and chemical engineers (with more professionals in the state than landscape architects) have no representation, some were loathe to allowing 35-50 landscape architects to have representation.  Also, legislators found that if they had a concern, it was for any increase in the operating budget. 

This was addressed by agreeing to a non-paid, non-voting landscape architect who would provide input to the board during the formative time of landscape architecture licensing.  Given the relationship of landscape architects to the other professions, this has not proven to be problematic and the position is now funded through more recent legislation.  It is hoped that the position will at some point be a full voting position and legislators have indicated some interest in allowing such a thing after the passage of some time.

Conclusion

The key to the success of the Alaska effort for landscape architecture licensure lay in the relationship to the allied professions.  The working relationships that had been established over years, the understanding engendered in multi-disciplinary firms, and the active role played through the Alaska Professional Design Council were clearly critical to making the case for landscape architecture.  After 20 years of failure at licensure, a working relationship with others in the design community proved to provide a forum for business-like discussion while keeping lobbying costs very low.

During the 2005 sunset review, legislation initially included the addition of a voting landscape architect member to the joint licensing board.  After much discussion and resulting controversy, the larger issue of landscape architecture licensure became controversial.  In the compromise legislation, the status quo was maintained, with a non-voting landscape architect member allowed to participate in board activities.  The chapter is continuing to work towards adding that voting member to the board.

Updates on continuing activities, July 2009

For the more recent period, up to mid July 2009, the efforts to gain permanent status and voting rights for the Landscape Architect seat on the AELS Board have continued in earnest.

In the legislative audit of 2004, a recommendation was made to consider changing the Landscape Architect seat on the board to a permanent voting position.  In response, and because the Board was already a 10-member board, a committee to study the overall composition of the Board, including all disciplines, was appointed and Architect Harley Hightower chaired the committee.  The committee investigated a number of alternatives including, but not limited to, splitting the board into two separate boards.  Other state board compositions were studied.  Complicating these efforts was the thought that more engineering disciplines needed to be represented on the Board.  A consensus was finally reached in the summer of 2007.

A report to the entire AELS Board was made at the board meeting in August 2007.  The committee recommended adding a permanent Landscape Architecture seat to the board composition while not making other changes in overall composition.  Board members gave testimony.  Then, by vote in the same meeting, the committee’s recommendation was approved without dissent.  This is currently the Board’s position and the basis for recommending to the legislature that the Landscape Architect seat be given permanent status and voting power.

In order to obtain favorable legislation, efforts were made during 2007 and 2008 for the legislative sessions of 2008 and 2009.  Terry Schoenthal, ASLA Past Chapter President, and John Walsh, ASLA’s Chapter lobbyist, made extensive presentations to the Alaska Professional Design Council (APDC).  Engineer Ted Trueblood and Surveyor Paul Wipple helped.  These efforts finally culminated in the APDC’s support for permanency and voting.  With all of this support, bills were then drafted and submitted to the legislative sessions for both years.  However, both bills failed due to remaining resistance from other professions.  It was feared that companion measures in the same bills would be jeopardized.  Thus the Landscape Architecture measures were removed.  Further efforts for the permanent LA seat and voting rights are to be made during the balance of 2009 and 2010.

To date, other Landscape Architectural organizations have helped the cause.  When Peter Briggs, ASLA was President of ASLA’s Alaska Chapter, he sent a letter of support. Excellent advice has been provided by the National Office’s Governmental Affairs Specialist, Julia Lent.  In addition, two Presidents of the Council of Landscape Architecture Registration Boards (CLARB) submitted letters of support.  Jim Figurski, for 2008 and Dennis Wilkinson, for 2009 sent letters.  CLARB is the national organization that works directly with the Alaska AELS Board by qualifying candidates for landscape architecture registrations.

2009 Sunset Legislation Correction

Complicating matters, in the 2009 legislative session, another subject needed to be addressed under urgent circumstances.  It was discovered that the temporary Landscape Architect seat on the Board was not included in the legislation for the 2017 sunset extension date with the other professions.  This was an administrative oversight and would have meant that the landscape architecture seat on the board would cease to exist as of June 30, 2009.  An erroneous bill had been submitted and approved.  After intensive lobbying efforts on the part of Terry Schoenthal, ASLA and John Walsh, PE at the APDC and the legislature, and with help from Burdett Lent, ASLA this was corrected in a revised bill and resubmitted (SB 114).  The corrected bill was passed just before the close of the session enabling the temporary seat to continue with the rest of the board seats.   

In summary, the status of the existing temporary / non-voting Landscape Architect seat on the Board is now secure - at least until the next sunset review in 2017.  Granted that this is a somewhat hollow victory, but at least there is still a landscape architect seat on the Board. That is the current status of the landscape architect on the AELS Board.

In addition to the landscape architect seat, the member for that seat requires appointment by the Governor.  On the morning of July 10, 2009 (that is today as of this writing), in a call from Governor Palin’s staff, Burdett Lent, ASLA was informed that he had been reappointed to the AELS Board.  This reappointment expires at the end of Lent’s second 4-year term; June 30, 2013.

Landscape Architects in Alaska will continue to have an authorized temporary seat and professional representation, although limited, on the AELS Board for the near future.  Efforts are continuing to achieve full permanent status with voting rights for that seat.

The significant efforts of those who have sought to make the LA seat a full voting member of the AELS Board failed most recently as a result of a single, powerful legislator within the state legislature.  This individual has chosen not to disclose his reasoning, other than licensure merely limits entry into the profession and runs counter to a “free market”.  In past years, the number of legislators opposed to giving the Landscape Architect seat a vote has been greater and more vocal.  We are confident that the approach of maintaining solid relationships with allied professions and developing relationships with sitting legislators will ultimately bring us to our goal of a full voting position. 

Per state statute 12-3-2010. HB 110, enacting licensure for all landscape architects, has an effective date of August 20, 1998.  It stipulated that all LA's had to be registered within 60 days of scoring of the first LARE Exam to be given in the State.  Since the first exam was not until 2000, the first landscape architects to actually be registered were in 2000.     There were no Landscape Architect licenses or registrations earlier than 2000.

By Wm. Dwayne Adams, Jr., FASLA and updated by Burdett Lent, ASLA, AELS Board Member

(Last Updated 2011)

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