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McGuire proposes changes in lobbying law

Posted: Tuesday, March 18, 2003

JUNEAU (AP) -- The state's definition of a lobbyist would require a calculator rather than a stopwatch under a revised bill heard in the House Judiciary Committee on Monday.

Rep. Lesil McGuire, an Anchorage Republican who chairs the committee, scrapped a bill that would have lengthened the time someone can spend lobbying before they must register in favor of a measure based on income.

House Bill 106, sponsored by the House Judiciary Committee, would exempt ''volunteer lobbyists'' from registering with the state and living under strict campaign contribution restrictions.

Under the bill, volunteer lobbyists would be those who derive no more than 25 percent of their income lobbying the Legislature or administration.

State regulations now require someone who spends more than four hours in a 30-day period attempting to influence policy-makers to register as a lobbyist and pay a $100 fee.

McGuire's original proposal would have changed that limit to 40 hours in a 30-day period. A similar bill in the Senate proposes an 80-hour limit.

The move prompted criticism from Democrats and government watchdog groups, along with the state agency that oversees lobbying activities, that state lobbying laws were being relaxed.

''This is a big improvement from as it was originally introduced,'' said Brooke Miles, director of the Alaska Public Offices Commission.

The previous version of the bill would have possibly removed the requirement that some of the state's top lobbyists register with APOC, Miles said.

The commission has not taken a position on the current amendment, Miles said. But it was opposed to both McGuire's previous bill and similar legislation in the Senate.

McGuire said she did not intend to shield lobbyists from disclosure rules and said she only wanted to allow private citizens more freedom to talk to legislators.

McGuire said current lobbying regulations restrict the First Amendment rights of Alaskans who want to talk to lawmakers about bills affecting them.

The Alaska State Chamber of Commerce is backing a change in state lobbying restrictions for the same reasons, an official said.

Business owners who came to Juneau during a recent state Chamber of Commerce fly-in raised concerns about the law, McGuire said.

Miles said the new bill would make it easier to investigate improper lobbying since APOC has subpoena powers necessary to secure someone's payroll information. The previous four-hour requirement was more subjective and difficult to investigate, she said.

Pam LaBolle, president of the state chamber, also said a change in the law would allow business people to participate in the political process.

Rep. Les Gara, D-Anchorage, said it would also allow those same people to give campaign contributions to a wider range of lawmakers. Lobbyists are prohibited by state law from giving contributions to candidates outside their legislative districts.

''That's what this bill is all about, it's about money. It's not about access,'' said Gara. ''They already have access.''

The House Judiciary Committee heard testimony on the measure but did not move it from committee. The committee is scheduled to meet again on Wednesday.

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The House bill is House Bill 106.

The Senate bill is Senate Bill 89.



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