Alaska editorial: Legislators must fix Murkowski damage

Posted: Friday, February 16, 2007

This editorial appeared in the Anchorage Daily News:

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Frank Murkowski left behind his mark, but not the natural gas pipeline or higher oil production he had promised in his winning campaign for governor in 2002.

His mark, if you can call it that, comes from legislators looking to pass new laws intended to block future governors from repeating a couple of Murkowski's most notable and troublesome headline-grabbers.

That's a hard way to be remembered, but it's deserved.

Just three weeks into this year's legislative session, lawmakers already are close to passing a new law that would require governors to notify crime victims of a pardon application and give them time and a formal opportunity to comment on the request. The bill also would require mandatory review by the state parole board of all pardon requests, to ensure an independent look at each case.

There is no such law in Alaska, although the provisions seem so obvious. Perhaps there is no law because it never occurred to anyone that a governor would pardon someone of a serious crime the way Murkowski did - without even bothering to tell the victim's family.

But that's exactly what Murkowski did in his final days in office, pardoning a company convicted of criminally negligent homicide in the death of an employee. Legislators want to make sure it never happens again.

And after enduring three painful special sessions last year - five total during Murkowski's term - legislators have before them a bill that would double the notice a governor must give lawmakers before calling them back to work in a special session.

No more 15-day notice. The bill, by House Speaker John Harris, would require a governor to give lawmakers 30 days' notice that they need to park their private lives and get back to Juneau for a special session of legislative work.

Just in case some future governor goes special-session happy, legislators would like a little more warning.

Both measures are understandable. It's just too bad that they're needed.

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