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Lawmakers question redistricting

Posted: February 19, 2012 - 9:27pm

JUNEAU — Alaska lawmakers this week will address ethics questions raised by redistricting as they seek clarification over whether they can use state resources to send mailings, such as newsletters, to residents outside their elected districts. 

This year’s elections will be the first since the state’s political boundaries were redrawn based on results of the 2010 U.S. Census, and existing guidelines based on a 2004 advisory opinion that allowed for blending campaign and constituent lists didn’t take redistricting into consideration, said Joyce Anderson, administrator of the Select Committee on Legislative Ethics.

Lawmakers are allowed to use state resources, such as computers and printers, to send mailings to residents in their current districts. 

But because the pending redistricting plan would change legislative boundaries, sending such mailings could, in some circumstances, be considered campaigning, and a violation of ethics rules.

This is an election year, and Anderson said several lawmakers have sought clarification of whether they could combine their constituent and campaign mailing lists. Anderson plans to bring up the issue during an ethics committee hearing scheduled for Thursday. 

She said she has advised the legislators who have raised the question not to combine campaign and constituent lists until a decision is rendered.

A lawsuit challenging portions of the new legislative map is pending before the Alaska Supreme Court.

Also this week at the Legislature, the Senate Resources Committee is expected to begin writing in earnest its version of an oil tax bill, with amendments set to be discussed Friday. 

The Senate Finance Committee is to delve into the public employee pension issue, a House panel is to take up a bill that would ban picketing at funerals and lawmakers face a Monday deadline for submitting individual legislation. Committees can still file legislation after the personal filing deadline.

U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski is also to address a joint session of the Legislature Thursday.

Senate Finance Committee members are considering a proposal that would pull perhaps $2 billion from savings and put it in a fund that would be used by the Alaska Retirement Management Board in calculating its assets. The idea is to address the unfunded pension liabilities within the public employees’ retirement system. The Juneau Empire reported last week that the board expressed concerns with the approach.

The House Judiciary Committee is scheduled to take up HB234, which would consider disorderly conduct picketing “with reckless disregard” within 150 feet of a cemetery, church or other facility, before, during and after a funeral. The bill is a direct response to the actions of the Kansas-based Westboro Baptist Church, which frequently pickets funerals of military members in the Lower 48.

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