Legislature(2021 - 2022)BUTROVICH 205

02/02/2022 01:30 PM Senate JUDICIARY

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-- Public Testimony --
Heard & Held
-- Public Testimony --
Heard & Held
-- Public Testimony --
Heard & Held
-- Public Testimony --
Heard & Held
-- Testimony <Invitation Only> --
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Heard & Held
               SB 31-PROHIBITING BINDING CAUCUSES                                                                           
2:04:08 PM                                                                                                                    
CHAIR   HOLLAND  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."                                                                 
[The  committee substitute  (CS) for  SB 31(STA)  was before  the                                                               
committee. SB 31 was previously heard on May 10, 2021.]                                                                         
2:04:31 PM                                                                                                                    
SENATOR SHOWER  stated that  he introduced SB  31 because  he and                                                               
several legislators  suffered painful  experiences in  this body.                                                               
He explained  that the  Alaska legislature  has a  binding caucus                                                               
rule. Members  who wish to join  a caucus must agree  to vote for                                                               
all budgets  and procedural rulings  by the presiding  officer or                                                               
be punished.  He said procedural votes  can be used to  shut down                                                               
political opponents.  For example,  he said  he was  punished for                                                               
his debate  speech when  he chose  to represent  his constituents                                                               
instead of  the caucus  or leadership team.  He argued  that this                                                               
happened even though freedom of speech is a protected right.                                                                    
SENATOR SHOWER  related that  Alaska statutes  established felony                                                               
penalties for anyone  who causes an elected official  to vote for                                                               
something  or to  withhold their  vote. Surprisingly,  Alaska has                                                               
had a  binding caucus for decades,  which does not make  sense to                                                               
him  since  legislators  should  only  be  accountable  to  their                                                               
SENATOR SHOWER said he spoke  to legislators in every state about                                                               
his experience  with the  binding caucus,  except one  state that                                                               
responded  by  email.  He found  that  every  legislator  thought                                                               
binding  caucuses  were  unconstitutional  or  objectionable.  He                                                               
wondered if  Alaska's system was unethical,  immoral, or illegal.                                                               
He recalled that Mississippi or  Missouri's oath of office states                                                               
that "they will not vote for  or against" certain things. He said                                                               
he believes that the binding  caucus forces legislators to make a                                                               
choice,  even a  wrong choice,  if they  must vote  against their                                                               
constituents to fulfill  the binding caucus. He  introduced SB 31                                                               
so  legislators could  not be  coerced into  agreeing to  vote in                                                               
exchange  for something.  Instead, Alaska  will operate  as other                                                               
states do. It  would codify in statute that  binding caucuses are                                                               
prohibited,  and   legislators  cannot   be  forced   into  these                                                               
2:09:58 PM                                                                                                                    
SENATOR HUGHES  recalled from  a previous hearing  on SB  31 that                                                               
violations  would be  considered violations  against the  Ethic's                                                               
Act.  Since the  language states  "may not  commit or  bind," she                                                               
asked if this meant legislators  who joined a caucus were binding                                                               
other legislators.  She wondered whether there  could be multiple                                                               
Ethic's  Act  violations occurring,  and  if  so, what  penalties                                                               
would apply for legislators joining a caucus.                                                                                   
SENATOR SHOWER said  he initially thought the  bill should impose                                                               
a  felony since  penalties for  bribery or  coercion of  a public                                                               
official   in  Alaska   are   felonies.   He  characterized   the                                                               
repercussions  for   not  adhering  to  the   binding  caucus  as                                                               
stressful. Not  only did it  affect legislators, but  staff could                                                               
lose  their  positions  since   leadership  allots  personal  and                                                               
committee  staff.  Furthermore,  the legislature  cannot  bind  a                                                               
future  legislature, yet  binding caucuses  bind legislators.  He                                                               
offered  his view  that  a  bad person  could  abuse that  power.                                                               
Although he  is not  locked into  specific penalties,  he thought                                                               
consequences  should  be   imposed,  and  he  was   open  to  the                                                               
committee's suggestions.                                                                                                        
2:12:27 PM                                                                                                                    
SENATOR  HUGHES  asked  for  the  current  penalties  related  to                                                               
violations of the  ethics statutes to help  determine the penalty                                                               
provisions in SB 31.                                                                                                            
2:12:57 PM                                                                                                                    
SENATOR  SHOWER  said  he  was  unsure.  He  noted  that  he  had                                                               
encountered  some  resistance  to  imposing  a  felony  or  other                                                               
criminal   penalty.   Others   thought  it   might   hamper   the                                                               
legislature's ability  to conduct  business. Further,  the courts                                                               
have  ruled that  the legislature  does  not need  to follow  the                                                               
statutes. He  emphasized the importance  of having  some penalty;                                                               
otherwise, he  thought people would  continue to  require binding                                                               
2:13:58 PM                                                                                                                    
SENATOR  HUGHES expressed  an  interest in  the  short answer  on                                                               
punishment for violating the Ethics Act.                                                                                        
2:14:18 PM                                                                                                                    
At ease                                                                                                                         
2:21:51 PM                                                                                                                    
CHAIR HOLLAND reconvened the meeting.                                                                                           
2:15:23 PM                                                                                                                    
SENATOR  KIEHL said  he was  torn  because he  was not  a fan  of                                                               
binding  caucuses and  did not  join one.  He indicated  he would                                                               
like a  deeper understanding of  the binding caucus.  He wondered                                                               
if it  meant that Senator X  could not speak to  the Senate State                                                               
Affairs Standing Committee chair and  say that if their amendment                                                               
passed, they  would vote for  it on the  floor, but if  not, they                                                               
would vote no. He asked whether that would be illegal.                                                                          
SENATOR  SHOWER  offered his  view  that  what he  described  was                                                               
already illegal.                                                                                                                
SENATOR KIEHL  related his  understanding that  that was  not the                                                               
case since  his scenario discussed  the policy implication  of an                                                               
amendment  regarding  where  a  member   stands  on  a  piece  of                                                               
2:16:27 PM                                                                                                                    
SENATOR SHOWER posited that this was splitting hairs.                                                                           
CHAIR HOLLAND agreed.                                                                                                           
SENATOR SHOWER  offered to  research it  further. He  agreed that                                                               
Senator  Kiehl's scenario  would not  apply. He  stated that  the                                                               
bill does  not limit  discussion between  members on  bills since                                                               
bills  do  not  fall  under binding  caucuses.  Instead,  binding                                                               
caucuses  are limited  to  budget  appropriations and  procedural                                                               
votes on the floor.                                                                                                             
2:17:24 PM                                                                                                                    
SENATOR KIEHL was unsure that the  language on page 1, lines 8-10                                                               
related to a  binding caucus. He turned to  violations. He agreed                                                               
that  a handshake  in advance  of  session about  voting for  the                                                               
budget or on a procedural motion  would be a violation under this                                                               
bill.   He  asked   about   consequences   afterwards  that   are                                                               
understood. He  related that in  other states,  the understanding                                                               
is implicit that  if a majority member votes  against the budget,                                                               
and there  wasn't a handshake,  repercussions would  still occur.                                                               
For  example, these  member's offices  will be  moved across  the                                                               
street, and some staff will get  pink slips. It just happens that                                                               
way. He  asked how SB  31 will  work if tradition  determines the                                                               
2:18:48 PM                                                                                                                    
SENATOR  SHOWER acknowledged  that unintended  consequences could                                                               
happen. He  said one thing he  was attempting was to  prevent the                                                               
formation  of a  caucus. He  admitted it  isn't possible  to stop                                                               
humans from  bad behavior. For  example, murder is  outlawed, yet                                                               
people are  routinely murdered. However, he  spoke against having                                                               
an  organization   that  dictates  how  someone   must  vote.  He                                                               
explained   that   SB  31   would   ban   binding  caucuses   for                                                               
organizational purposes,  making it  more difficult for  a Senate                                                               
President or  Rules Chair  to punish  a senator  since leadership                                                               
would  need  to  garner  enough  votes to  expel  or  punish  the                                                               
senator.  Currently,   the  Senate   President  can   make  those                                                               
decisions, and legislators  who join a binding caucus  but do not                                                               
adhere  to  procedural votes  or  vote  for  the budget  have  no                                                               
2:21:59 PM                                                                                                                    
SENATOR  HUGHES stated  that during  the  at-ease, the  committee                                                               
agreed   to  have   an  attorney   answer  questions,   including                                                               
identifying  penalties for  violations  of the  Ethics  Act at  a                                                               
subsequent hearing.                                                                                                             
2:22:55 PM                                                                                                                    
SENATOR SHOWER  solicited questions from members.  He expressed a                                                               
willingness to work with members on the bill.                                                                                   
2:23:31 PM                                                                                                                    
CHAIR HOLLAND opened public testimony on SB 31.                                                                                 
2:23:59 PM                                                                                                                    
MIKE COONS,  representing self, Palmer, Alaska,  spoke in support                                                               
of SB 31  because a binding caucus disenfranchised  the voters in                                                               
his  district.  He  stated  that  Senators  Shower,  Hughes,  and                                                               
Reinbold's constituents  had their  voices suppressed due  to the                                                               
binding caucus. As  a result, tens of thousands of  voices in the                                                               
community were  not heard. He offered  his support for SB  31. It                                                               
reminded  him  of  the  reaction  when  a  bill  was  before  the                                                               
legislature  that  allowed  for  concealed  carry  weapons.  Some                                                               
people thought  it would create  the Wild  West, but it  has not.                                                               
Some arguments  for retaining a binding  caucus were cohesiveness                                                               
when passing the  budget or a procedural  vote because otherwise,                                                               
Alaska  would  be  like  the  Wild  West.  However,  that  hasn't                                                               
happened.  He said  the current  Senate does  not have  a binding                                                               
caucus, and while dissent and  disagreement occur, people are not                                                               
silenced by  a binding caucus.  The House majority has  a binding                                                               
caucus, and he  has heard some members fear they  will lose their                                                               
leadership  positions  if they  don't  abide  by the  caucus.  He                                                               
offered his  view that the  Senate was exemplary. He  stated that                                                               
SB 31  would create a clear  means for all members  to vote their                                                               
consciences  and   support  their  constituents   without  anyone                                                               
punishing them.  He offered his support  for establishing penalty                                                               
provisions, and  if the legislature  decided to  institute felony                                                               
penalties, violators could be indicted and prosecuted.                                                                          
2:27:51 PM                                                                                                                    
CHAIR HOLLAND closed public testimony on SB 31.                                                                                 
2:28:00 PM                                                                                                                    
CHAIR HOLLAND held SB 31 in committee.                                                                                          

Document Name Date/Time Subjects
SB 119 Sponsor's Statement.pdf SJUD 2/2/2022 1:30:00 PM
SB 119
SB 119 Sectional Final.pdf SJUD 2/2/2022 1:30:00 PM
SB 119
SB 31 - Sectional Analysis.pdf SJUD 2/2/2022 1:30:00 PM
SB 31
SB 31 - Sponsor Statement.pdf SJUD 2/2/2022 1:30:00 PM
SB 31
HB 3 Amendment (SJUD).pdf SJUD 2/2/2022 1:30:00 PM
HB 3
SB 129 SJUD Amendment O.3.pdf SJUD 2/2/2022 1:30:00 PM
SB 129
SB 129 SJUD Amendment O.4.pdf SJUD 2/2/2022 1:30:00 PM
SB 129
SB 129 SJUD Amendment O.2.pdf SJUD 2/2/2022 1:30:00 PM
SB 129
SJC - SB 119 Testimony, 2022-2-1.pdf SJUD 2/2/2022 1:30:00 PM
SB 119
HB 3 Public Testimony.pdf SJUD 2/2/2022 1:30:00 PM
HB 3
SB 119 SJUD Public Testimony through 2.12.22.pdf SJUD 2/2/2022 1:30:00 PM
SB 119