Legislature(2021 - 2022)BUTROVICH 205

03/18/2021 03:30 PM STATE AFFAIRS

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* first hearing in first committee of referral
+ teleconferenced
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
*+ SB 31 PROHIBITING BINDING CAUCUSES TELECONFERENCED
Heard & Held
-- Testimony <Invitation Only> --
+= SB 39 BALLOT CUSTODY/TAMPERING; VOTER REG; MAIL TELECONFERENCED
Scheduled but Not Heard
-- Testimony <Invitation Only> --
+= SB 40 VETERANS' BENEFITS SERVICES; DISCLOSURE TELECONFERENCED
Moved SB 40 Out of Committee
+ Bills Previously Heard/Scheduled TELECONFERENCED
**Streamed live on AKL.tv**
              SB  31-PROHIBITING BINDING CAUCUSES                                                                           
                                                                                                                                
3:48:13 PM                                                                                                                    
CHAIR SHOWER reconvened the meeting and announced the                                                                           
consideration of SENATE BILL NO. 31 "An Act relating to binding                                                                 
votes by or for a legislator under the Legislative Ethics Act."                                                                 
                                                                                                                                
Speaking as sponsor, he introduced SB 31 reading the sponsor                                                                    
statement into the record.                                                                                                      
                                                                                                                                
     SB  31  addresses  the  ethics  statute  and  bans  the                                                                    
     practice  commonly known  as a  "binding caucus."   The                                                                    
     tradition  of the  binding caucus  in the  Alaska State                                                                    
     Legislature has been used to  suppress the voice of the                                                                    
     people,  the   use  of  coercion  and   enticements  to                                                                    
     manipulate  the  actions  and votes  of  their  elected                                                                    
     Representative  or Senator.   The  caucuses are  formed                                                                    
     with  the  enticement  of perks  of  being  a  majority                                                                    
     member, including but not  limited to: influence within                                                                    
     the    organization,    chairmanships   of    important                                                                    
     committees,  better office  space, more  staff to  help                                                                    
     you be  effective.  All  of these are not  nefarious on                                                                    
     their face, but as applied  in the binding caucus, they                                                                    
     are exchanged  for the  participating Representative(s)                                                                    
     or Senator(s) vote on key issues such as the budget.                                                                       
                                                                                                                                
     AS 24.60.039(g)1 "Caucus" means  a group of legislators                                                                    
     that  share a  political  philosophy or  have a  common                                                                    
     goal or  who organize as a  group.  Ultimately it  is a                                                                    
     caucus of ideas.  Because it  does not state the use of                                                                    
     coercion or  enticements are not prohibited  should not                                                                    
     be  misconstrued  that  it is  permissible,  especially                                                                    
     since these  two activities are prohibited  for private                                                                    
     citizens under Alaska Criminal statutes.                                                                                   
                                                                                                                                
     Where the  nefarious intent creeps in  is the quid-pro-                                                                    
     quo  required to  join the  club. In  exchange for  the                                                                    
     "enticement" of  the associated perks, under  a binding                                                                    
     caucus, a legislator is expected  to blindly vote for a                                                                    
     budget  before it  exists  and has  never  seen that  a                                                                    
     small group  of "leadership"  members supports.  It has                                                                    
     also been used as an  arbitrary tool for supporting any                                                                    
     floor  vote   the  presiding   officer  decides   is  a                                                                    
     "procedural vote."                                                                                                         
                                                                                                                                
     Control  of   legislators  through  a   binding  caucus                                                                    
     consolidates power  into a  tiny group  of legislators,                                                                    
     those  in   leadership,  the  presiding   officer,  the                                                                    
     majority  leader,  the  rules chair,  the  finance  co-                                                                    
     chairs.    When  a  caucus member  capitulates  to  the                                                                    
     pressure,  their constituents  are compromised.  When a                                                                    
     caucus    member    is     "disciplined,"    it    also                                                                    
     disenfranchises that  elected official that  the voters                                                                    
     put into the majority party.                                                                                               
                                                                                                                                
     This practice is only accepted  in the State of Alaska.                                                                    
     The sponsor  contacted a Senator from  49 other states,                                                                    
     and all  but one stated they  do not use or  permit the                                                                    
     practice of a binding caucus in their state.                                                                               
                                                                                                                                
     Public pressure  has forced the Senate  to not organize                                                                    
     under the  binding caucus.   It's  time to  codify this                                                                    
     unethical  practice  of  forcing  legislators  to  vote                                                                    
     against   their   conscience,  and   ultimately   their                                                                    
     constituents.  If the 49  other states in the union can                                                                    
     do business  without a binding  caucus and  coercion to                                                                    
     pass legislation, Alaska can too.                                                                                          
                                                                                                                                
SENATOR REINBOLD thanked the sponsor for introducing the                                                                        
legislation.                                                                                                                    
                                                                                                                                
3:52:38 PM                                                                                                                    
SCOTT OGAN, Staff, Senator Mike Shower, Alaska State                                                                            
Legislature, Juneau, Alaska read the following sectional                                                                        
analysis for SB 31:                                                                                                             
                                                                                                                                
     Section  1;  Adds  the definition  of  a  "caucus"  and                                                                    
     "legislative  body"  to  the  guidelines  of  the  open                                                                    
     meetings Act under the legislatures ethics code.                                                                           
                                                                                                                                
     Section  2; Creates  the  ethics  violation of  binding                                                                    
     another legislator  to commit their vote  on any matter                                                                    
     that may  come before  the legislature.  Clarifies that                                                                    
     voting  for  selecting  an  officer   or  leader  of  a                                                                    
     legislative  body is  an  allowable  practice. It  also                                                                    
       clarifies that running an informal poll, aka as a                                                                        
     "chit sheet," is an allowable practice.                                                                                    
                                                                                                                                
SENATOR KAWASAKI asked if "binding" was a term of art.                                                                          
                                                                                                                                
MR. OGAN answered yes and it might need a definition in statute.                                                                
                                                                                                                                
SENATOR KAWASAKI  said he had  been in  the minority all  but one                                                               
term  when there  was a  bipartisan coalition.  He described  the                                                               
circumstance that the  minority caucus never talked  about how to                                                               
vote on any topic.                                                                                                              
                                                                                                                                
3:55:40 PM                                                                                                                    
CHAIR SHOWER described a discussion  in a previous legislature in                                                               
which  Senators  were  told  that  if they  wanted  to  join  the                                                               
majority caucus they were expected to  vote for the budget and to                                                               
follow the procedural  rulings. Failing to do so  would result in                                                               
the loss of all the perks  associated with being in the majority.                                                               
He  related  his experience  of  watching  colleagues sit  almost                                                               
frozen into inaction  when told the vote was  binding even though                                                               
it may  go against  their constituents.  He related  his personal                                                               
experience  and maintained  that  the last  leadership team  used                                                               
enticement and coercion.                                                                                                        
                                                                                                                                
SENATOR KAWASAKI asked  what it means to bind  another person and                                                               
if people who act as spokespersons  for their bosses are bound by                                                               
the same ethics rules as legislators.                                                                                           
                                                                                                                                
CHAIR SHOWER answered that this  bill addresses legislators only.                                                               
He asked Mr. Ogan to confirm that it had no bearing on staff.                                                                   
                                                                                                                                
4:00:04 PM                                                                                                                    
MR. OGAN  advised that SB  31 expressly mentions  legislators. He                                                               
related his experience as a  legislator in a semi binding caucus.                                                               
The focus  was to pass  a budget  and the understanding  was that                                                               
nobody would  get everything they  wanted. He also  described the                                                               
late  night  floor sessions  where  the  minority held  the  body                                                               
hostage trying to add things to the budget.                                                                                     
                                                                                                                                
4:03:43 PM                                                                                                                    
TERRENCE  SHANNIGAN, Staff,  Senator  Mike  Shower, Alaska  State                                                               
Legislature,   Juneau,  Alaska,   provided   a  law   enforcement                                                               
perspective on  SB 31. He said  there are multiple places  in the                                                               
Open  Meetings Act  and the  statutes governing  ethics, bribery,                                                               
and coercion that  talk about it being improper  to influence the                                                               
official actions  and duties of  public officials. He  said there                                                               
are  technical  ways  to  get around  the  requirements  but  the                                                               
sponsor's office was always able  to find ways that they continue                                                               
to apply.  He described the  transition from enticement  to bribe                                                               
to coercion when it comes to influencing the vote.                                                                              
                                                                                                                                
4:07:05 PM                                                                                                                    
CHAIR SHOWER  added that the  irony over  the last two  years was                                                               
that the members who were coerced  were the ones trying to reduce                                                               
the budget.  He said what SB  31 ultimately is about  is ensuring                                                               
that legislators are  free to vote for the benefit  of those they                                                               
represent and the statutes back that up.                                                                                        
                                                                                                                                
SENATOR REINBOLD  expressed support  for the  bill and  related a                                                               
personal experience  of being punished  for not going  along with                                                               
the binding caucus.                                                                                                             
                                                                                                                                
SENATOR  HOLLAND said  he  favored the  bill,  but would  suggest                                                               
rephrasing the language  on page 1, line 8 to  say, "A legislator                                                               
may  not  request or  require  a  commitment," or  "A  legislator                                                               
cannot promise their vote in a future situation."                                                                               
                                                                                                                                
CHAIR SHOWER said he may consider that.                                                                                         
                                                                                                                                
4:16:29 PM                                                                                                                    
SENATOR  KAWASAKI reiterated  that he  had never  been part  of a                                                               
binding  caucus and  invited  the members  to  join the  minority                                                               
caucus.                                                                                                                         
                                                                                                                                
CHAIR SHOWER  asked Mr.  Ogan to read  the coercion  statute into                                                               
the record.                                                                                                                     
                                                                                                                                
4:17:23 PM                                                                                                                    
MR. OGAN read AS 11.41.530(a)(4):                                                                                               
                                                                                                                                
     (a)  A person  commits  the crime  of  coercion if  the                                                                    
     person compels another to engage  in conduct from which                                                                    
     there  is a  legal  right to  abstain  or abstain  from                                                                    
     conduct in which  there is a legal right  to engage, by                                                                    
     means of  instilling in the  person who is  compelled a                                                                    
     fear  that, if  the demand  is not  complied with,  the                                                                    
     person who makes the demand or another may                                                                                 
          (4) take or withhold action as a public servant                                                                       
     or cause a public servant to take or withhold action;                                                                      
                                                                                                                                
He  clarified  that   SB  31  seeks  to   regulate  the  behavior                                                               
internally as an ethics issue, not a criminal issue.                                                                            
                                                                                                                                
SENATOR HOLLAND offered his understanding that the majority in                                                                  
the other body formed as a binding caucus.                                                                                      
                                                                                                                                
CHAIR SHOWER said he believed that was correct.                                                                                 
                                                                                                                                
CHAIR SHOWER restated that his experience with a binding caucus                                                                 
was overwhelmingly negative.                                                                                                    
                                                                                                                                
SENATOR REINBOLD added that the personal story she related                                                                      
happened on March 16, 2015 and she found it shocking.                                                                           
                                                                                                                                
4:22:02 PM                                                                                                                    
CHAIR SHOWER held SB 31 in committee.                                                                                           

Document Name Date/Time Subjects
SB 31 - Sectional Analysis.pdf SSTA 3/18/2021 3:30:00 PM
SB 31
SB 31 - Sponsor Statement.pdf SSTA 3/18/2021 3:30:00 PM
SB 31
Remote Participation Memo.pdf SSTA 3/18/2021 3:30:00 PM
Legal Memo