Legislature(2007 - 2008)BELTZ 211

03/20/2008 09:00 AM STATE AFFAIRS

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* first hearing in first committee of referral
+ teleconferenced
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
Failed To Move Out Of Committee
Heard & Held
Heard & Held
Moved SB 199 Out of Committee
Moved CSSB 213(STA) Out of Committee
+ Bills Previously Heard/Scheduled TELECONFERENCED
        SCR 12-AMEND UNIFORM RULES: ABSTAIN FROM VOTING                                                                     
         SB 203-LEGISLATIVE ETHICS: VOTING & CONFLICTS                                                                      
9:53:28 AM                                                                                                                    
CHAIR MCGUIRE announced the consideration of SCR 12 and SB 203.                                                                 
MICHELLE SYDEMAN,  Staff to Senator  Bill Wielechowski,  said SCR                                                               
12 will bring  Alaska in line with most  other states prohibiting                                                               
legislators who  have a substantial  financial stake  from voting                                                               
on  a bill.  She said  65 percent  of states  do this,  including                                                               
Colorado, Florida, Maine, Texas  and Washington. An additional 35                                                               
percent allow  legislators with substantial conflicts  to request                                                               
permission to abstain. Most of  these states permit abstention if                                                               
a majority  of legislators vote to  grant it. Alaska is  the only                                                               
state that requires unanimous consent  before a legislator with a                                                               
conflict  can abstain  from  a  vote. The  Center  for Ethics  in                                                               
Government  knows of  no other  states. The  House Clerk  and the                                                               
Senate Secretary do  not recall a single time  when permission to                                                               
abstain was  granted. Alaska is at  the far end of  the spectrum,                                                               
even  among  states  with small  citizen  legislatures.  Existing                                                               
statutes go to  lengths to insure that  conflicts are substantial                                                               
before a legislator  would be required to abstain.  Any benefit a                                                               
legislator might  receive from supporting  a particular  piece of                                                               
legislation would  have to  be greater than  the benefit  a large                                                               
group of Alaskans  would receive in order  to require abstention.                                                               
A legislator  who teaches  during the interim  could vote  on the                                                               
salary of teachers, because the gain is shared among many.                                                                      
9:56:47 AM                                                                                                                    
MS.  SYDEMAN said  SCR 12  would require  legislators to  declare                                                               
their conflict,  identify the  provision of  the ethics  act that                                                               
would be violated, and abstain  from voting. A request to abstain                                                               
due to anything  other than ethical concerns  would still require                                                               
unanimous  consent. There  will be  few instances  that a  member                                                               
will  be  able to  demonstrate  direct  and substantial  economic                                                               
benefit that  is greater  than that  received by  the substantial                                                               
class of persons to which that  legislator belongs as a member of                                                               
a profession, industry  or region. This is  the existing language                                                               
of  AS24.60.030. In  those  rare instances,  this  change in  the                                                               
uniform rules would provide assurance  that decisions are made in                                                               
the  public  interest. It  would  also  protect legislators  from                                                               
allegations that a vote was influenced by personal concerns.                                                                    
SENATOR BUNDE  said "a large  or substantial number"  is squishy.                                                               
He would like a better definition.                                                                                              
MS. SYDEMAN said  it is terminology used across  the country. She                                                               
couldn't find a state with a  good definition. She believes it is                                                               
left to the  discretion of the ethics committees. It  is also the                                                               
existing language in Alaska's statutes right now.                                                                               
9:58:38 AM                                                                                                                    
SENATOR  BUNDE  said that  Ms.  Sydeman  mentioned that  teachers                                                               
would be  a substantial group,  and he asked about  fishers, crab                                                               
fishers, hair crab fisher, and how to determine substantial.                                                                    
MS. SYDEMAN said she has  this discussion with many people across                                                               
the country  and she hasn't  gotten a clear answer.  The decision                                                               
must be made on a case-by-case basis.                                                                                           
SENATOR  BUNDE  said  he  applauds the  goal  but  questions  the                                                               
mechanism for getting there.                                                                                                    
9:59:36 AM                                                                                                                    
SENATOR STEVENS said there are  conflicts of interest when voting                                                               
on the  floor. There are  also conflicts elsewhere.  For example,                                                               
he retired from the university and  was asked him to come back to                                                               
teach a  class. Legislative attorneys  said he can't work  at the                                                               
university because  he votes  on the  university budget.  What is                                                               
the connection with that conflict and a voting one?                                                                             
10:00:38 AM                                                                                                                   
MS. SYDEMAN said those are separate parts of state statutes.                                                                    
DAN WAYNE, Legal and Research  Services Division, said there is a                                                               
specific statute  keeping legislators  from taking  certain jobs.                                                               
The concern, he  believes, was about exerting influence  to get a                                                               
job -- being hired because of legislative status.                                                                               
SENATOR BUNDE said  he had the same  experience. The constitution                                                               
says  a person  cannot  have  two positions  of  profit with  the                                                               
state.  A  public school  teacher  can  be a  legislator  because                                                               
schools  are  "not  directly  a   facet  of  the  state"  as  the                                                               
university is. There  was a legislator from Juneau  who taught at                                                               
the university, and no one challenged it.                                                                                       
10:03:00 AM                                                                                                                   
SENATOR FRENCH said  he couldn't work as a prosecutor  in the off                                                               
season for the state but he could for a municipality.                                                                           
CHAIR MCGUIRE  said many lawmakers  have been talking  about this                                                               
and it  has been awkward.  It would be  helpful to see  how other                                                               
states  handle  it.  For  this  small  community  everyone  knows                                                               
everyone, and a large number of people may get conflicted out.                                                                  
SENATOR STEVENS  said legislators don't  want to take  a position                                                               
on an issue  where their constituents are split, and  it might be                                                               
convenient not to vote. Now, a  person has to vote. He questioned                                                               
how  the legislature  operates when  people can  weasel out  on a                                                               
vote. It might be difficult to  get anything done if there were a                                                               
narrow majority.                                                                                                                
SENATOR  FRENCH asked  if this  would change  the tally  of votes                                                               
required to pass a bill.                                                                                                        
MS. SYDEMAN said those requirements are in the constitution.                                                                    
SENATOR FRENCH asked  about a difficult issue, like  a phone war,                                                               
where members  would skip out  on the  vote by declaring  a false                                                               
conflict of interest. He asked what happens in that instance.                                                                   
10:06:42 AM                                                                                                                   
MS.  SYDEMAN  said that  is  an  important question.  The  ethics                                                               
committee could make a determination.  There could be a mechanism                                                               
for the  body to  determine if  a conflict is  real. It  could be                                                               
rulings  by a  presiding  officer  or a  vote  by  the body.  The                                                               
uniform  rules  once called  for  a  majority vote  to  determine                                                               
whether a  member did  have a substantial  conflict, and  then it                                                               
went to a two-thirds vote, and now it is unanimous consent.                                                                     
SENATOR  BUNDE said  if  SCR 12  becomes law,  "and  I declare  a                                                               
conflict, then whether  I had one or not and  was prohibited from                                                               
voting would be a matter of a majority vote in the body."                                                                       
MS. SYDEMAN said  that is not the intent of  this bill. It relies                                                               
on the  judgment of the  individual legislator, so that  no other                                                               
members have  to judge. "This  bill leaves that completely  up to                                                               
the  determination  of  individual legislators."  People  thought                                                               
there could  be political  maneuvering if one  member were  to be                                                               
judged by a majority. A member  with a conflict must go on record                                                               
and  make  the  determination.  If there  is  abuse,  the  ethics                                                               
committee is there.                                                                                                             
10:09:17 AM                                                                                                                   
SENATOR  BUNDE said  the bill  creates a  huge opportunity  for a                                                               
member not to vote  on tough issues. He has a  friend who lost an                                                               
election because  he stood up  and took  the tough vote,  "and he                                                               
could've  ducked  it." He  asked  how  the ethics  committee  can                                                               
consider  someone unethical  who  thinks there  is some  personal                                                               
financial impact. They may have to do a polygraph.                                                                              
SENATOR STEVENS said one option  is having the rules committee or                                                               
legislative  council decide.  But that  would throw  sand in  the                                                               
wheels, and  some may  take advantage  of that.  The legislature,                                                               
now, is not as bad as some options being considered.                                                                            
SENATOR BUNDE  asked about another  member deciding  someone else                                                               
shouldn't vote.                                                                                                                 
MS. SYDEMAN said that is why the  bill leaves it up to the member                                                               
- we didn't want other members pointing fingers.                                                                                
10:12:27 AM                                                                                                                   
SENATOR  GREEN   asked,  "How  many   other  instances   has  the                                                               
legislature amended the uniform rules in statute?"                                                                              
MS. SYDEMAN said  this would not amend the  uniform rules through                                                               
statute; it is a concurrent  resolution. This particular rule has                                                               
been amended twice.                                                                                                             
SENATOR GREEN  asked if  it was  amended by  the adoption  of new                                                               
uniform rules or by direction in statute.                                                                                       
10:13:10 AM                                                                                                                   
MS. SYDEMAN said  she believes it was done in  a joint session of                                                               
the legislature, but she is not sure.                                                                                           
SENATOR GREEN said the uniform  rules and the adoption of Mason's                                                               
current  manual  were  really  big  issues  when  she  was  newly                                                               
elected.  She hasn't  heard that  conversation as  much recently,                                                               
but the  uniform rules are  considered powerful in order  to keep                                                               
the  legislature  in  charge  of  its  business.  The  court  has                                                               
recognized that. It  makes her nervous to amend  them without the                                                               
adoption of a whole new set of uniform rules.                                                                                   
CHAIR MCGUIRE  said she will set  the bill aside, but  it is good                                                               
for  bringing up  this discussion.  Members have  been struggling                                                               
with  how to  handle conflicts.  The  body may  want to  consider                                                               
looking at the  uniform rules. The Anchorage  assembly deals with                                                               
conflicts  of  interest through  its  own  internal rules,  which                                                               
seems to work well. The discussion needs to continue.                                                                           
SENATOR  GREEN  asked   if  for  an  example   of  someone  being                                                               
conflicted from a vote.                                                                                                         
SENATOR  BUNDE asked  if a  three-quarters vote  would be  better                                                               
than the unanimous consent as a middle ground.                                                                                  
CHAIR  MCGUIRE said  members get  cut off  when they  discuss why                                                               
they have a conflict. Maybe they should be in the public record.                                                                
SENATOR FRENCH said  this is a difficult and  fascinating issue -                                                               
ethically, politically,  and philosophically.  "We all  know that                                                               
something has  to happen."  He suggested  looking at  examples in                                                               
other states where  it works. Perhaps it only  happens every four                                                               
or five  years. Apparently  the other states  can get  their work                                                               
done with some  rule that prevents voting  in some circumstances.                                                               
It seems  like the  Alaska legislature works,  but it  also seems                                                               
like a dinosaur. "We  need to be open to the  idea that there are                                                               
methods out  there for  dealing with what  may be  a circumstance                                                               
which is far more rare than most of us perceive."                                                                               
10:18:50 AM                                                                                                                   
SENATOR STEVENS said  the public knows where  a politician stands                                                               
when elected. Citizens know what  they are getting and want their                                                               
elected representatives to vote.                                                                                                
MS.  SYDEMAN  said there  are  many  facets  to the  debate.  The                                                               
committee could establish a small task force.                                                                                   
SENATOR BUNDE  noted the disenfranchisement  of the  citizens who                                                               
elected someone who won't vote.                                                                                                 
CHAIR MCGUIRE set aside SCR 12 as well as SB 203.                                                                               
10:21:37 AM                                                                                                                   
MS. SYDEMAN said  she has a separate presentation for  SB 203. It                                                               
makes changes to the statute governing conflicts of interest.                                                                   
CHAIR MCGUIRE set SCR 12 and SB 203 aside.                                                                                      
The committee took a brief at-ease at 10:22:21 AM.                                                                            

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