Legislators rush to rein in pardons

House of Representatives passes bill seen as repudiation of former Gov. Murkowski

Posted: Wednesday, January 31, 2007

The Alaska House of Representatives passed its first bill Tuesday, putting new restrictions on a governor's powers to issue pardons.

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The bill, seen as a repudiation of former Gov. Frank Murkowski, won support from across the political spectrum.

Shortly before leaving his single term as governor, Murkowski pardoned Whitewater Engineering, a Washington-based construction firm which had been convicted of criminally negligent homicide. State prosecutors said it knowingly violated workplace safety rules, resulting in the death of one of its employees near Cordova in 1999.

Whitewater, represented by Juneau attorney and former state Rep. Bruce Weyhrauch, sought and won executive clemency, commonly known as a pardon, from Murkowski.

The family of the victim found out only after the pardon was issued.

In the House, a bill which would require victim notification was co-sponsored by Majority Leader Ralph Samuels, R-Anchorage, and minority leader Beth Kerttula, D-Juneau.

Kerttula called the pardon "quite a shock to see in the last days of the Murkowski administration."

Kerttula and Samuels said the changes were simply common sense.

"It is only fair that the victim of a crime be notified of the intent to grant clemency and that the governor have all applicable information regarding the crime," he said.

"If the executive cannot pass the red face test by being able to make that phone call and tell a woman who has been raped or the family of a person who has been murdered, if they cannot make that phone call then the pardon should not be issued," Samuels said.

The bill now goes to the Senate, where Sen. President Lyda Green, R-Wasilla, is sponsor of a companion measure.

Should the bill reach Gov. Sarah Palin, which looks likely, it's got her support, said Charles Fedullo, her spokesman.

The Alaska Constitution gives the governor almost absolute power to issue pardons, but allows the Legislature to establish the process by which that's done.

Former Gov. Tony Knowles required victim notification and review by state parole officials, but that process was not required by law. Palin supports making it part of state law, Fedullo said.

"He (Murkowski) didn't go about it the right way," Fedullo said. "We don't want to see that in the future."

The Whitewater pardon wiped away $250,000 in unpaid criminal fines associated with the conviction, according to the Anchorage Daily News.

• Pat Forgey can be reached at patrick.forgey@juneauempire.com.

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