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Peninsula lawmakers join ethics reform bandwagon

Local legislators support attempts to protect against wrongdoing

Posted: Sunday, January 07, 2007

Ethics reform and efforts to limit contributions to campaigns appear poised to become hot topics as lawmakers prepare for the 25th Legislature’s opening gavel Jan. 16.

As of Friday, there were 10 House or Senate bills aimed at freshening the air surrounding how lawmakers conduct business and pay for their legislative races.

Rep. Paul Seaton, R-Homer, is one of an eight-member bipartisan group of House legislators who have introduced House Bill 10; a bill they say will “draw a bright line between private business dealings and the responsibilities of elected officials.”

The eight also include Reps. Bob Lynn, R-Anchorage, Berta Gardner, D-Anchorage, Carl Gatto, R-Matanuska-Susitna, Les Gara, D-Anchorage, Lindsey Holmes, D-Anchorage, Gabrielle LeDoux, R-Kodiak, and Bob Buch, D-Anchorage.

In a press release Tuesday, the group said ethics was beyond party labels and laid out three objectives:

· Banning lawmakers from accepting outside payment for work associated with legislative, political or administrative actions while they are in office and for one year thereafter;

· Requiring greater detail in legislators’ financial disclosure by including a description of services performed and approximate numbers of hours spent for contract work;

· Clarifying existing statutes to match a recent ruling by the Select Committee on Legislative Ethics requiring lawmakers and legislative employees leaving service to also file a disclosure.

“It’s the measure we passed out of the State Affairs Committee last year,” he said Friday. “It tightens reporting requirements for people who are either consulting or doing legal work. It’s a very good improvement. I’m confident that ethics reform will be high on the priority list of the entire Legislature this year.

Rep. Kurt Olson, R-Soldotna, who is not a cosponsor of the House Bill 10, nevertheless said Friday that the measure appeared to have some good elements. But he also said four or five other bills have been pre-filed, all aiming at ethics reforms.

“They appear to be steps in the right direction,” he said. “I want to see what the others have. In its final form, it (an ethics reform bill) will probably have something from all of them.”

More important than simply having regulations and statutes on the books, he said, is having the ability to enforce them. That’s among the jobs of the Alaska Public Offices Commission.

“APOC (its budget) was gutted a few years ago,” he said. “There are no teeth (in ethics regulations) right now. It is crucial to put funding into APOC.”

Olson said he hoped to see at least one position added to APOC’s budget that would be devoted to ethics enforcement full time.

“Whatever we pass, we need to give it teeth,” he said.

Olson said there was a need for reform on several levels, but wonders whether law could compel ethics.

Besides House Bill 10, there are nine other House and Senate bills covering campaign finance, contributions, lobbying and consulting, as well as ethics reform bills aimed at lawmakers, legislative employees, executive branch officials, and one covering Board of Fisheries conflicts of interest, though that one, a Seaton bill, seeks to allow board members to disclose their participation in various fisheries but continue to vote on matters concerning those fisheries.

Sen. Gary Stevens, R-Kodiak, who represents Seward, Homer and parts of the lower Kenai Peninsula, has sponsored Senate Bill 13, a measure aimed at preventing lawmakers from holding consulting contracts.

It would amend state law by adding a provision saying a “legislator may not, directly or by authorizing another to act on the legislator’s behalf, provide consulting services to a person in the private sector or accept, or agree to accept, consulting fees from a person in the private sector.”

Hal Spence can be reached at harold.spence@peninsulaclarion.com.



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