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"Educate Before You Advocate"

Licensure, Lobbying, and Landscape Architecture

“Educate Before you Advocate”: this was the main message of a recent webinar ASLA National presented on the 2019 Legislative Season. If we can work everyday with this approach, educating through our professional work, educating in our casual conversations with acquaintances about what Landscape Architects do and why, and educating our Alaska youth in high school and grade school, we will have a lot less advocating to do for our profession in the future.

Former Governor Bill Walker and Michele Elfers, PLA in Juneau after signing the Sunset Bill in 2017, which ensured landscape architecture as a licensed profession in Alaska.

The good news is licensure in Alaska is relatively stable. Landscape Architecture has been a licensed profession in Alaska since 1999, when a small group of professionals worked with the governor appointed board of Architects, Engineers and Land Surveyors (AELS) to pass legislation to license our profession. Since then we have worked under state statute and regulation allowing us, once licensed, to practice our profession and call ourselves Landscape Architects. The eleven member AELS board retained one temporary, non-voting seat for a Landscape Architect from 1999 to 2017, when a bill was passed that created a voting seat for an LA. This was an important step towards stabilizing our licensed status in the state and ensuring our profession has voting rights in board decisions.

A critical component of our success has been ASLA’s participation and support of the Alaska Professional Design Council (APDC). We pay membership fees each year out of our ASLA Alaska Chapter budget. We maintain two member seats on the board, along with nine engineering, architectural and interior design organizations. Next year, Mark Kimerer, ASLA is the president elect of APDC. APDC’s mission is to educate the public on issues of the design profession and lobby the legislature on these issues. The AELS board is an appointed board and therefore can make recommendations to the legislature but cannot lobby. APDC fills this important role by working with member organizations of design professions to ensure widespread support for issues such as sunset of the licensure statue, Quality Based Selection (QBS) or Design Procurement based on quality of services (not low bid), and support of capital funding for infrastructure in the state budget. APDC unanimously supported a voting seat for a Landscape Architect in the 2017 legislative session and members from all professions met with and lobbied for a change to the statute. Because Alaska’s APDC is a unique organization, many states look to Alaska as a model for successful collaboration among design professionals.

For 2019, significant changes and revisions to the statute and regulation on Landscape Architecture licensure and practice have been unanimously supported by AELS. APDC is now considering supporting and lobbying for these changes. Luanne Urfer, AELS Landscape Architect board member, describes the intent and need:

  1. To bring the statute and regulation language into compliance with the licensure application requirements (all disciplines must provide the same documents, experience, and other specific requirements);

  2. To clarify requirements of the application by including specifics not listed in the LA section such as the requirement for documenting experience not covered by the Council for Landscape Architecture Registration Boards (CLARB) recommendation records;

  3. To include missing professional practices and LA professions in the definition of the practice such as higher education personnel, application of specific educational standards, and other professional tasks

  4. To better define the professional practice of LA as represented by CLARB through their adopted Model Law;

  5. To better define the professional practice of LA within the State of Alaska as based on the education, practice, knowledge, skills and abilities identified by CLARB for examination on the Landscape Architecture Registration Examination (LARE).

All professionals should read through the proposed changes. The language taken from CLARB model law lists in detail many specific aspects of our practice that may now become part of state statute and regulation. These proposed changes along with changes to architecture and engineering statute and regulation can be found on the AELS Board site as part of the minutes packet, pages 160-183:

At the November meeting, the AELS Board unanimously approved these revisions. If a legislator is willing to sponsor a bill then APDC will consider supporting the bill and we may ask you to send a letter, and call or visit your legislators, to advocate for these changes and educate them on our profession. These are promising steps for the health and integrity of the Landscape Architecture profession in Alaska and the Alaska Chapter Board.

We should feel good about our profession’s status however we must remain vigilant and not take it for granted. Other states are struggling to hang on to licensure for Landscape Architecture, Architecture and/or Engineering. In Arizona, a bill introduced in 2018 proposes to deregulate the practice of Landscape Architecture, in Michigan a similar bill was proposed in 2017. In New Mexico, a proposed “Occupational Licensing Consumer Choice Act” would allow for anyone in any location to practice any profession as long as they disclose that they are not a registered professional. In Virginia, a recent report to the Governor recommended removing licensure of Landscape Architects along with other licensed occupations. Close to home, in Washington, a legislator sponsored a deregulation bill. ASLA tracks all legislation threatening our profession here:

The map below provides an idea to the number of current licensure bills in each state as well as to other key pieces of legislation. Credit: The American Society of Landscape Architects

It is a sobering account. Be wary, ignorance easily spreads and we all need to be advocates.

Our best tool for battle is education, and the easiest way is to make it a part of our daily practice and life. Run an activity in your child’s class on soils and erosion, help out at a career fair at the local high school, hire an intern, talk to your local legislators, and tell your neighbor about what you do and why.

And we will keep you posted in the next few months on the status of any bills affecting licensure and ask you to contact your legislators. We are a small state where one vote counts a lot (as we have seen this election). Our voice can help a legislator understand what Landscape Architects do and how we make Alaska a better, safer and healthier place to live.

Thank you and keep up the good work in our state!

Michele Elfers, ASLA Alaska Chapter Trustee and APDC Board Member

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