AKLEG Day 100: Legislature approves compromise on ethics law update

Something might be going on in there.The Alaska State Capitol building as photographed in 2010. (Photo by Kimberly Vardeman/Creative Commons)

The House rolled out its omnibus crime bill, a far more moderate approach than what was proposed by Gov. Michael J. Dunleavy, on Wednesday. Check out our summary of it over here.

Here’s what else happened day 100.

House, Senate approve compromise on ethics update

The House and Senate both approved the conference committee compromise on Senate Bill 89, which makes updates to the beefed-up ethics laws passed last year.

The change came amid complaints that last year’s ethics rules prevented legislators from doing basic things like talking to constituents and posting committee documents online on any issue they may have a conflict of interest. The law doesn’t specifically bar legislators from taking those actions on these issues as it simply required legislators to declare those conflicts, but legislators argued that it created problems outside of committees and floor sessions.

The Senate, which had been the source of much of the complaints, had pushed for a wholesale repeal of the law while the House had pushed for a more moderate change. The approved legislation strikes a balance between the two, removing the strict definition of what constitutes a conflict of interest.

The approved law would define a conflict of interest as any legislation that would likely have a significant financial impact—positive or negative—on the legislator, the legislator’s spouse or anyone either is working for or is negotiating for employment.

The compromise passed the Senate earlier in the week and was approved by the House on Wednesday on a 33-7 vote. Opponents to the legislation generally said it fell short of making meaningful changes to the Legislature’s ethics rules.

Rep. Gabrielle LeDoux, R-Anchorage, said attention needs to be put on the Legislature’s uniform rules.

“I have a real problem with tip-toeing into the ethics debate so that we can point out that we’ve done something about ethics when in reality without changing the uniform rules so that people with real conflicts of interest cannot vote, similar to how it is with the Board of Fish, we’ve still got a real problem here,” she said.

The legislation’s next stop is the governor’s desk.

Exploring anonymous allegations

The joint session to confirm the governor’s nominees may be over, but actions during that session are still having fallout.

Rep. Ivy Spohnholz, D-Anchorage, gave a special order speech during Wednesday’s House floor session addressing her decision to bring up anonymous allegations of sexual harassment against a nominee during the joint session. Though the appointee was defeated anyways, it left conservative supporters of that nominee fuming about due process and fairness.

“In the Legislature we have to make decisions based on the best available information we have at the time. I stand by the actions that I made at the time because I made them with the best available information at the time,” she said. “The Legislature doesn’t have a good track record of dealing with sexual harassment, and my concerns were about making sure the people who made the claims could maintain their confidentiality but also that we wouldn’t confirm somebody who, in my opinion, doesn’t have the character to deserve the responsibility to have the authority to make decisions over other peoples’ livelihoods.”

She acknowledged, however, that the concerns about due process and said she shared those concerns and would be exploring the possibility of calling executive sessions in committees to vet these issues behind closed doors.

“I think that we need to make sure that we don’t have a system where people can be accused of anything without the opportunity to address them. The problem is historically, the Legislature doesn’t have a mechanism to do that,” she said.

She said the Legislature’s recent development of a sexual harassment policy could be a good groundwork for work on a system to fairly deal with these claims outside of the public eye.

“It’s my intention to make a request to the Legislative Council that we create a working group that would work on a policy to would allow for executive sessions to be undertaken if a member of the public wants to bring forward a claim that would allow for both the person making the claim and the person the claim was about to be treated fairly and to have due process,” she said. “We don’t have that process currently, but we should develop one.”

House passes vet jobs bill

The House unanimously passed House Bill 71 that would allow veterans to apply relevant military experience when applying for state jobs. The bill was authored by Rep. Andi Story, D-Juneau, would take existing procedures and enshrine them in state law.

The AK Ledger has a full report on the bill’s passage.

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1 Comment on "AKLEG Day 100: Legislature approves compromise on ethics law update"

  1. Your discussion of the board of fisheries issues is lacking in a couple of important ways. The board of fish traditionally has had three representatives for comm fish, three reps from sport fish, and one subsistence rep.

    The seat Johnstone was tabbed to represent has traditionally been a sport fish rep from the Anchorage area, which is the largest sport fish user group in Alaska, and that was the seat he represented in past years while serving on the board.

    Cook Inlet supports the largest sport and personal use fisheries in Alaska. So it wasn’t just “conservative” people who are feeling disenfranchised by the Rep accusations, it is the sport fish public at large. The sport fish / comm fish issue is not a partisan or liberal / conservative issue, it is a resource allocation issue that involves multiple lines of supporters on both sides.

    The reductionism in your report shows a lack of understanding on the basics of the issue.

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