A flurry of emails announcing the passage of various pieces of legislation kept the Daily News’ inbox full while the Alaska Legislature worked to complete its session.
As in past years, a broad variety of legislation has been approved — the Legislature certainly tackles much more than state spending and revenue issues. Gaining an understanding of the Legislature’s actions will take some time.
One item of early note is House Bill 44, which changes some of the ethics, “good governance,” and conflict of interest rules that apply to legislators and lobbyists.
Sponsored by Anchorage independent Rep. Jason Grenn, and co-sponsored by a short list of legislators that includes Rep. Dan Ortiz, I-Ketchikan, and Rep. Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins, D-Sitka, HB 44 rightly strengthens and clarifies several rules.
For example, HB 44 defines conflict of interest to include a legislator’s immediate family members and employer — and would require legislators to declare conflicts of interest before acting on legislation in committee.
It also prohibits lobbyists from buying alcoholic beverages for a legislator, and limits food purchases.
HB 44 contains a stricter policy for foreign travel by legislators. It bars foreign citizens and corporations from spending money on behalf of candidates in Alaska elections.
The legislation also bars the payment of per diem to legislators after the 121st day of a legislative session if the Legislature hasn’t passed an operating budget.
HB 44, which initially was passed by votes of 24-15 in the House and 13-6 in the Senate, now awaits the signature of Gov.?Bill Walker.
The governor should sign the bill, although the legislation doesn’t go as far as Grenn or Kreiss-Tomkins would like. As chairs of the Alaskans for Integrity ballot initiative, they believe that some parts HB 44 got watered down in the legislative committee process.
“While the passage of these reforms is a huge improvement over the status quo, Rep. Grenn and I are compelled to note that the legislation is substantially weaker than the ballot initiative it seeks to replace,” Kreiss-Tomkins said in a prepared statement. “We prefer the full-strength, undiluted ballot initiative, and believe Alaskans do, too.”
For now, we’ll take the huge improvement over the status quo.
Alaska’s Legislature continues to be a place where obvious conflicts of interest can be ignored, lobbyists can pick up a tab, and legislators can collect per diem whether or not the work gets done.
HB 44 helps to address some of these situations, and as such, is worthy of the governor’s signature.
— Ketchikan Daily News, May 15, 2018