Senate panel takes up lobbying law change

Posted: Thursday, March 27, 2003

JUNEAU (AP) -- More than half of the professional lobbyists working to influence the Legislature could do so anonymously under a bill in the senate, said a state lobbying regulator.

Senate Bill 89 would allow someone to spend as much as 80 hours in a month lobbying legislators before having to register with the Alaska Public Offices Commission.

APOC chairwoman Andrea Jacobson told the Senate Judiciary Committee Wednesday that the bill to relax the state's lobbying laws goes too far. She said if signed into law the bill could exempt a majority of the state's professional lobbyists from registering.

The Legislature has been wrestling with a change in the state's lobbying laws at the request of the Alaska State Chamber of Commerce. Pamela LaBolle, president of the state chamber, said the current rules on how much time someone can spend attempting to influence lawmakers is too strict.

State law requires someone who spends more than four hours in a 30-day period on lobbying the Legislature to pay a $100 fee and register as a lobbyist. It also applies to people who lobby the administration.

LaBolle argued the law restricts the rights of business owners who interact with lawmakers and who want to support pro-business candidates.

Lobbyists are barred from working on campaigns or contributing to candidates outside of the district for which they live.

But committee Democrats criticized the measure as a veiled attempt to allow influential business owners to lobby the Legislature without sacrificing their ability to contribute to legislative candidates.

Larry Wood, who also serves on the Alaska Public Offices Commission, said the current law is too strict but the proposals before the Legislature go too far. He suggested that 16 hours of lobbying during a 30-day period is more appropriate.

Senate Minority Leader Johnny Ellis, D-Anchorage, said the current law allows the public to know who is attempting to influence government.

''The public has a massive distrust about what happens behind closed doors down here,'' said Sen. Hollis French, D-Anchorage. ''I think the system is working and I don't see any reason to change it.''

Sen. Ralph Seekins, R-Fairbanks, is the sponsor of the bill and the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. He said the measure is intended to allow small business owners to talk to legislators without registering as lobbyists. It is expected to come before the committee again next week.

A House bill to relax the state's lobbying laws was changed after it ran up against similar opposition. That measure, which was amended to close the professional lobbyist loophole, is still before the House Judiciary Committee.

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