Kohring leads lawmakers in absences

Posted: Friday, February 01, 2002

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- Since the Legislature convened Jan. 14, Vic Kohring has spent more time outside the capital than in it. But Kohring says he plans to collect $1,740 in per-diem pay for his time away from Juneau.

''The money is for covering the costs of living in Juneau, and those costs go on whether I am here or not,'' Kohring told the Anchorage Daily News.

Kohring, R-Wasilla, was gone for 10 days starting Jan. 17. He spent three days in his Wasilla district and seven days visiting his wife and stepdaughter at his new house in Portland, Ore. he said.

Though he was away from Juneau he will collect 10 days worth of per diem pay, money given to legislators for living expenses while the Legislature is in session. Kohring, a conservative who rails against government waste and wants major cuts in state spending, acknowledged some unease with the issue of collecting pay for time not spent in Juneau.

''I've thought about giving it back,'' he said of the $1,740. ''But really, it's for covering my costs, whether I am here not.''

Kohring missed several House floor sessions, but he said he missed no meetings of the Transportation Committee, which he chairs.

Kohring sleeps in his office three to four nights a week and cooks many meals there. He stays elsewhere the other nights. He declined to say where but says his costs are lower than most other legislators'.

Kohring said he went to Portland to visit his wife and work on the home he purchased there this fall after his wedding. Kohring and his wife, Tatiana, were wed in Portland in November.

The legislative leadership and 40-member House granted Kohring his leave on the opening day of the session, Jan. 14.

''Vic had legitimate personal business to attend to. He's got a new situation,'' said House Speaker Brian Porter, referring to Kohring's wife and Oregon house. ''If his absence starts to interfere with business, we will have to intervene.''

House rules set no parameters for leaves of absence, saying only that approval of other House members is required. If there is no objection -- and there were none for Kohring's 10-day break -- the leave is approved.

Kohring said he took the leave early in the session before his role as chairman of the House Transportation Committee would demand more time in Juneau. He also said that while in Portland, he checked in with his office to get phone messages and e-mail.

The daily stipend of $174 that legislators get during the session is to cover living costs and meals, said Karla Schofield, deputy director of the Legislative Affairs Agency. But legislators are not required to be in Juneau to collect the money, she said.

''They are entitled to it during the session wherever they may be,'' she said.

Kohring is not alone in leaving town.

Less than three weeks into the session, 19 of 40 legislators have taken excused absences. Many legislators have put in multiple requests.

''There are just too many people going,'' said Majority Leader Jeannette James, who considers all requests for leaves. ''It's been routine. Now, if there is not a valid reason, we are going to talk. . . . Unless you have an emergency of some kind, if you are going to be a legislator, you need to be in the Legislature.''

Kohring's Portland home is also raising questions about whether he can represent Wasilla. Kohring said he does not know whether he will run for re-election later this year. For now, he is focused on the job.

''As long as I am doing my job, helping my constituents, I don't see how it matters where my wife lives, here, there or Fort Lauderdale, Florida.''

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