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Bill aims to curtail conflicts of interest

Posted: February 13, 2014 - 12:14am

Legislation introduced Wednesday would tighten state laws on lawmakers’ ability to vote when a conflict of interest has been pointed out.

The tandem of legislation, SB172 and SCR15, would require majority approval for a lawmaker to cast their vote if they’ve previously noted a significant conflict of interest relating to a particular issue.

“This is something that’s bothered me for years,” said Sen. Bill Wielechowski, the sponsor of both pieces of legislation. “When someone abstains, there’s an automatic objection. There’s no serious thought put into it or serious conversations had about it. Let’s get on the record.”

Currently, a single legislator can object to another member abstaining and force that member to vote on the issue, regardless of the size of financial stake involved.

“If you have a genuine conflict of interest and think you shouldn’t vote on an issue, then you shouldn’t have to vote,” Wielechowski said. “To allow an anonymous whisper objection to force you to vote is just fundamentally not right.”

The proposed law also closes a loophole to include contracts with companies worth at least $10,000, and also adds a provision to include a legislator’s immediate family members.

Wielechowski’s office contacted the National Conference of State Legislatures about the issue, and the non-partisan group’s response indicated Alaska has the most lax laws in the country related to conflict of issue laws, the senator said.

“People are amazed at the process we have, but that’s a process we can change,” Wielechowski said. “The way we resolve transparency issues is on-the-record votes.”

A democratic press release about the bill pointed to Sens. Kevin Meyer, R-Anchorage, and Peter Micciche, R-Soldotna, voting on the More Alaska Production Act last session as a specific example of when lawmakers should not be allowed to vote on an issue.

“Alaska is facing unprecedented multi-billion dollar budget deficits because two ConocoPhillips employees voted to give their private employer billions of dollars for nothing in return,” Kay Brown, the executive director of the Alaska Democratic Party, said in the release.

Meyer said in an interview Wednesday that part of being a half-time legislature means all lawmakers will have to vote on issues close to them personally, and that preventing them from doing so silences their respective districts.

“I disclose where I work, and I represent about 36,000 people,” Meyer said. “For me to not be able to vote on oil taxes is like telling a district the size of the city of Juneau, ‘you’re not going to have a voice on oil tax issues.’”

Still, Meyer said every year when he comes to Juneau for session he is removed from the ConocoPhillips payroll, and that the company has “no more influence on me than anyone else.”

The veteran lawmaker isn’t necessarily opposed to the proposed legislation — if a condition is met.

“I’m perfectly fine changing the rules on what we vote for and can’t vote for — as long as it’s applied for everyone equally,” Meyer said.

He added that there is already a mechanism in place that ensures lawmakers vote on behalf of their district’s wishes and not their own personal agenda.

“If they didn’t like how I voted, they wouldn’t re-elect me,” Meyer said of his district. “That’s the true test rather than trying to decide if somebody has a financial interest or conflict of interest.”

• Contact reporter Matt Woolbright at 586-1821 or at matthew.woolbright@juneauempire.com. Follow him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/reportermatt.

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Art Petersen
3705
Points
Art Petersen 02/13/14 - 12:03 pm
8
1
I'm sorry but

it was the two ConocoPhillips employee legislators that put SB21 over the top and gave their oil-industry employers $2,000,000,000 in just the first year, with the promise of billions to follow. And it's even worse: another legislator who voted for SB21 is the spouse of an oil-industry employee. It's just not possible for an employer not to appreciate being given billions of dollars and in some way (probably in the future) to show that appreciation generously. Voting yes on Measure 1, though, could reverse this outrage. And Senator Wielechowski's legislation could help prevent such flagrant future conflicts of interest.

Frank Heart
602
Points
Frank Heart 02/13/14 - 08:53 am
7
1
Our political process has

Our political process has become corrupted by corporate collusion. Many politicians who are in the pockets of corporate interests will vote on their behalf to soften regulations or lower taxes among other things.

A great example of corporate collusion just happened last week in North Carolina where a containment area filled with coal ash ruptured, dumping 80,000 pounds of toxic ash into the Dan River. The coal ash pond which ruptured was owned by Duke Energy. Carolina’s Governor Pat McCrory had worked at Duke Energy for 30 years.
Carolina’s Department of Environment and Natural Resources blocked environmental lawsuits three times last year by intervening on Duke Energy’s behalf. The lawsuits most likely would have prevented this tragic spill.

Corporate collusion is why we should not have an oil lobbyist as our Governor.

Lawmakers can do a lot of damage in just one session.
This is why SB172 and SCR15 is a good law.

Thank you Sen. Bill Wielechowski

Judy Hodel
4720
Points
Judy Hodel 02/13/14 - 01:24 pm
5
0
No Way

"Lawmakers can do a lot of damage in just one session.
This is why SB172 and SCR15 is a good law. "

Wish it were not so but-

For those reasons there is no way the bills will advance.

"Don't bite the hand that feeds you"

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