Legislature(2017 - 2018)GRUENBERG 120
03/28/2017 03:00 PM STATE AFFAIRS
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HB 44-LEGISLATIVE ETHICS: VOTING & CONFLICTS [Contains discussion of HCR 1.] 3:37:17 PM CHAIR KREISS-TOMKINS announced that the next order of business would be CS FOR SPONSOR SUBSTITUTE FOR HOUSE BILL NO. 44(JUD) "An Act requiring a legislator to abstain from taking or withholding official action or exerting official influence that could benefit or harm an immediate family member or certain employers; requiring a legislator to request to be excused from voting in an instance where the legislator may have a financial conflict of interest; and providing for an effective date." 3:38:06 PM RYAN JOHNSTON, Staff, Representative Jason Grenn, Alaska State Legislature, on behalf of Representative Grenn, prime sponsor, stated that initially CSSSHB 44(JUD) contained language making the proposed legislation contingent on the passage of HCR 1. He asserted that the proposed amendment eliminates that language because of the opinion of Legislative Legal and Research Services that CSSSHB 44(JUD) can now "stand on its own" and the contingency language is not needed. 3:39:14 PM The committee took a brief at-ease at 3:39 p.m. 3:39:29 PM REPRESENTATIVE LEDOUX moved to adopt Amendment 1 [labeled 30- LS0208\U.9, Wayne, 3/24/17], which read: Page 1, line 3, following "employers;": Insert "and" Page 1, lines 4 - 5: Delete "; and providing for an effective date" Page 3, lines 16 - 26: Delete all material. CHAIR KREISS-TOMKINS objected for the purpose of discussion. REPRESENTATIVE LEDOUX complimented Mr. Johnston on his explanation of Amendment 1. 3:40:54 PM CHAIR KREISS-TOMKINS withdrew his objection. He stated that there being no further objection, Amendment 1 was adopted. 3:41:42 PM REPRESENTATIVE LEDOUX moved to report CSSSHB 44(JUD), as amended, out of committee with individual recommendations and the accompanying zero fiscal note. There being no objection, CSSSHB 44(STA) was reported out of the House State Affairs Standing Committee. HCR 1-AMEND UNIFORM RULES: ABSTAIN FROM VOTING [Contains discussion of CSSSHB 44(JUD).] 3:42:26 PM CHAIR KREISS-TOMKINS announced that the next order of business would be HOUSE CONCURRENT RESOLUTION NO. 1, Proposing an amendment to the Uniform Rules of the Alaska State Legislature relating to voting and abstention from voting. 3:42:51 PM REPRESENTATIVE JASON GRENN, Alaska State Legislature, expressed his appreciation for the input from committee members in achieving the intended objectives of the proposed legislation. He stated that he is available for questions. REPRESENTATIVE WOOL asked if legislators will be instructed on what constitutes a conflict of interest. He suggested that an objection on the House floor would not allow the opportunity for discussion, and an immediate decision would be required of legislators. REPRESENTATIVE GRENN responded that any legislation requires awareness of the changes it effects. He said that since the proposed legislation would change a practice that has been in the Uniform Rules for decades, information would be disseminated to the legislators clearly explaining the changes. He asserted that any new process would require this, and Legislative Legal and Research Services has a capable and willing staff to provide that guidance. He stated that it is his responsibility as the sponsor of HCR 1 to provide information to legislators explaining the proposed procedural changes and answer questions. 3:47:03 PM REPRESENTATIVE LEDOUX offered that no legislator would be surprised by an objection, which would occur after he/she recused himself/herself from the vote. She asserted that if legislators reviewed the floor calendar in advance, they would know to discuss any possible conflicts of interest with the Select Committee on Legislative Ethics before a vote. 3:47:44 PM RYAN JOHNSTON, Staff, Representative Jason Grenn, Alaska State Legislature, on behalf of Representative Grenn, prime sponsor, stated that Jerry Anderson [Administrator, Select Committee on Legislative Ethics] is preemptively preparing for changes that would occur because of CSSSHB 44(JUD). He added that Mr. Anderson is making plans to use Interim as an educational period for legislators. REPRESENTATIVE WOOL commented that in his orientation on ethics training, the current procedure for declaring conflicts of interest was never addressed. He said he sees legislators declaring conflicts, but he does not know the criterion or the rules regarding the declarations, the objections, or the subsequent voting. 3:49:05 PM REPRESENTATIVE BIRCH said that he did not support HCR 1 or CSSSHB 44(JUD). He mentioned that during a recent House floor discussion of union dues, one-third of the body declared objections. He asserted that the legislature would get "locked down in intractable and extensive debate on each and every concern" about the amount of money earned, its significance to a family's income, and the extent to which it affects a decision to vote a certain way. He opined that this would open a "Pandora's box." He agreed that a conflict of interest in an employment situation could create a problem, but legislators are extensively vetted by the public during their campaigns. He cited the declarations of conflicts on the House floor regarding the [state] income tax discussion. He mentioned that during yesterday's House floor discussion regarding the Board of Fisheries, it was decided that it is acceptable for a Board of Fisheries member to deliberate on an issue in which he/she has a direct financial benefit from someone with whom the board is deliberating. He reiterated that the proposed legislation and resolution would create problems, and the public is aware of the conflicts that legislators have. 3:52:21 PM REPRESENTATIVE LEDOUX stated that the State of Alaska requires municipality assembly members to recuse themselves from voting [on issues in which they have a conflict of interest]. She maintained that assembly members are subject to very substantial campaigns, just like legislators. She mentioned that assembly candidates file Alaska Public Offices Commission (APOC) financial disclosures citing every client with whom they have done business. She stated, "I just have a hard time understanding how we can impose these requirements on municipalities and say that somehow we're just different because we're the legislature." She mentioned that yesterday's debate [on the House floor] was about allowing Board of Fisheries members to participate in the discussion at hand, and not even about being allowed to vote on an issue. She stated that she fully supports CSSSHB 44(JUD) and HCR 1. 3:54:00 PM REPRESENTATIVE KNOPP stated that at the local level if there is a potential conflict of interest, the assembly president, with the advice of the staff attorney, makes the determination of allowing a vote; if other members of the assembly disagree with that ruling, they can make a motion to override it. He asked for clarification of the process under the proposed legislation and resolution: a legislator declares a conflict, and the House votes on the necessity of an abstention from voting by that legislator. He asked if that process would occur every time someone declared a conflict. REPRESENTATIVE GRENN responded that each legislator is required to vote on the budget regardless of a conflict of interest. Therefore, the declaration of financial conflicts suggested by Representative Birch would be ruled out of order and not be subject to the procedures under CSSSHB 44(JUD) and HCR 1. He agreed with Representative Wool that legislators don't understand the current rules concerning declarations of conflicts of interest; therefore, conflicts are declared unnecessarily. He said that CSSSHB 44(JUD) offers clearer guidelines as to actual conflicts of interest. He added that when a person does declare a conflict meeting the guidelines, under the proposed legislation and resolution, the declaration would not be debatable, and a vote would be taken to allow or disallow the abstention. REPRESENTATIVE KNOPP asked if the Speaker of the House would be the person to rule a declaration out of order. REPRESENTATIVE GRENN stated his belief that the chair of the House Rules Standing Committee would make that ruling. REPRESENTATIVE KNOPP suggested that in that case, the ruling on a declaration of a conflict of interest would be made by that person. He offered that other members of the body may object to that ruling. He stated that the process introduced by the proposed legislation and concurrent resolution is unclear to him. REPRESENTATIVE GRENN responded that a [declared] conflict that does not meet the conflict guidelines can be ruled out of order. He clarified that it is not a majority, but a two-thirds vote [to allow or disallow the abstention]. 3:59:14 PM REPRESENTATIVE KNOPP asked if there would be potential for the majority to "hold the minority hostage" by eliminating a legislator from voting. He offered that a majority vote allows for this possibility. REPRESENTATIVE GRENN maintained that one cannot take politics out of the proposed legislation and resolution, and the possibility offered by Representative Knopp does exist. He stated that the intent behind HCR 1 and CSSSHB 44(JUD) is for the 40 elected leaders to "do what's right" and to vote on the merit of a conflict of interest. He suggested that if a legislator does allow partisanship to affect his/her vote [on abstention], that vote would be public record and he/she could be exposed as "playing politics." He maintained that the proposed legislation and concurrent resolution would add transparency for the public. 4:01:21 PM CHAIR KREISS-TOMKINS suggested that a two-thirds threshold, as required under HCR 1, would equally empower both the majority and the minority. 4:02:03 PM REPRESENTATIVE TUCK stated that he likes that [CSSS 44(JUD)] excludes the operating budget from the conflict of interest rules. He offered that requiring all legislators to vote on the operating budget makes the process "cleaner and smoother." He noted the committee had amended page 2, line 6, of HCR 1, [on 3/2/17], to state that a person cannot abstain from voting unless there is [consent of] more than two-thirds vote. He emphasized that under the proposed resolution, the higher threshold of two-thirds vote is not what is required to force a legislator to vote but what is required to prevent a legislator from voting. He referred to CSSSHB 44(JUD), page 3, lines 7-10, which defines "substantial benefit or harm" as "financial interest of a substantial class of persons to which the person belongs as a member of a profession, occupation, industry, or region." He used himself as an example for explanation: as an electrician, he would not have to be concerned about the class of electricians benefiting from proposed legislation, but about himself benefiting above all other electricians. He maintained that the proposed legislation sets the threshold for conflicts of interest much higher than it is currently; therefore, there would be fewer declared conflicts. He stated that changing the threshold of what is required to force a legislator to abstain from voting from fifty percent to two-thirds percent also "sets the bar higher." He added that, in addition, there would be no deliberation; a conflict would be declared and there would be an immediate vote. 4:05:05 PM REPRESENTATIVE WOOL said that he shares Representative Birch's concerns; he "doesn't want to go down a rabbit hole of objections and votes." He confirmed that the proposed legislation would not apply to the operating budget or its amendments. He offered that many potential financial conflicts would not meet the $10,000 threshold and determining conflicts may be complicated. He asserted that not all legislators are familiar with every bill that comes up for a vote on the House floor. He asked about a situation in which a legislator does not declare a conflict, but another legislator believes that legislator should. He asked, "Is that to be dealt with later in an ethics issue, and that could take months ... and by that time the vote's already counted?" He referred to Representative Tuck's example of a legislator who is a member of a profession declaring a conflict [if the financial benefit or harm for that legislator is greater than that of a substantial class of persons of that profession]. He reminded the committee that an amendment was adopted to change the language [in Section 3, subsection (j), paragraph (2), of CSSSHB 44(JUD)] that Representative Tuck cited. He stated that education would be needed and offered his hope is that legislators would know when it is appropriate to declare a conflict. He conceded that there will be some "growing pains," and he offered that other state legislatures have similar rules. 4:09:15 PM REPRESENTATIVE LEDOUX suggested that if a group of legislators had the two-thirds vote needed to disallow a vote, they would have enough votes to pass or vote down a bill and would not need to use forcing an abstention as a political tactic. REPRESENTATIVE GRENN, in response to Representative Wool, stated that if one legislator felt that another legislator neglected to declare a conflict of interest, then the first legislator could file a complaint with the Select Committee on Legislative Ethics; the process for dealing with this situation would be the same as it is currently. REPRESENTATIVE GRENN, in response to Representatives Birch and LeDoux, conceded that APOC filings and the campaign process afford the public a great deal of information about a candidate. He asserted that the proposed legislation would maintain that transparency for future legislation on topics that had not been considered by the public previously. He encouraged committee members to contact his office for any other questions or concerns. 4:12:17 PM REPRESENTATIVE LEDOUX moved to report HCR 1, as amended, out of committee with individual recommendations and the accompanying zero fiscal note. There being no objection, HCR 1(STA) was reported out of committee.