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Alaska lawmakers OK Facebook access for government work

Posted: October 30, 2013 - 8:32pm

JUNEAU — State lawmakers on Wednesday adopted a policy that allows access to Facebook from legislative computers for government business.

The Legislative Council, which is composed of members of the Alaska House and Senate, approved allowing such access to legislators, legislative press offices, webmasters, and nonpartisan legislative agencies and staff of those agencies.

While the council failed to pass a motion that explicitly granted Facebook access on state-owned computers to legislative staff, chairman Mike Hawker said legislators still can designate staff to log on for them under existing rules.

Hawker, a state representative from Anchorage, opened the discussion, which lasted for well over an hour, saying he wanted to bring some finality to the matter.

The issue has proven to be a tricky topic for lawmakers, who have struggled to decide how to proceed after the council, in early 2011, approved a one-year trial for lawmakers, legislative press offices and webmasters. The issue has come up since, including at a council meeting near the end of the last legislative session, with no clear consensus on a path forward and additional requests for access to the social media site by the Office of the Alaska Ombudsman, the Legislative Ethics Committee and the Division of Legislative Audit.

Concerns that have been raised in the course of debating the issue have included use of instant messaging on Facebook to conduct state business and whether there were any legal issues with deleting a comment on a legislator’s page that the legislator found offensive or didn’t agree with.

Rep. Bill Stoltze, R-Chugiak, said the Legislature is a business environment and he offered “gentle opposition” to expanding a social activity to the workplace. Sen. Peter Micciche, R-Soldotna, said times change, and Facebook is an effective way for him to communicate with constituents, especially younger ones.

Some legislators are more active on Facebook than others, and press offices for the majority and minority parties in the House and Senate use social media to share details on meetings, member statements and news releases.

Hawker noted that no legislator would be required to set up a Facebook account and said regardless of how he voted, he had no intention of using Facebook for legislative purposes.

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