Palin, French discuss ethics reform differences

Governor seeks law on lobbyists that 'isn't watered down'

Posted: Wednesday, March 07, 2007

One day after criticizing the Senate's ethics reform efforts, Gov. Sarah Palin said Tuesday she's been told more work will get done.

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Palin and Sen. Hollis French, D-Anchorage, met Tuesday to patch up differences stemming from two unanimously passed reform bills that omitted broader measures.

On Monday, Palin specifically questioned how the Senate turned down one of her amendments calling for a ban on gifts from lobbyists to executive branch employees.

"Thankfully I've been assured now that Senate leadership is enthusiastic also about passing an ethics reform that isn't watered down," she said Tuesday. "It's been 39 days though since the bill was introduced, so I took some issue with that. The proof will be at the end of the day.

French characterized the meeting as productive, adding that Palin made a peace offering with some Copper River salmon.

"I took the opportunity to reiterate we thought the best way was the pass several bills and that we were not through with passing bills," said French, who chairs the judiciary committee.

French added that additional reform bills, including the governor's amendments to Senate bills, will get committee hearings as early as next week.

The short rift between the two lawmakers represented the first featuring the Republican governor, who was elected last year on an ethics reform platform.

Neither has a reputation for being combative or confrontational, nor did they want the issue to linger.

French said it was important to set aside differences quickly because there is so much work to be done, so he asked for a meeting.

The Senate has been moving individual reform bills while the House has been using the governor's bill as its model for a single bill presented late January.

On Monday, the Senate passed two bills while the House's bill was approved by the State Affairs Committee and awaiting to be assigned to the Judiciary Committee.

While debating the bills, Sen. Gene Therriault, R-North Pole, tried unsuccessfully to add provisions, most of them at the request of the governor's office.

The measures were struck down along caucus lines.

Therriault leads the Senate minority, made up of five Republicans; Senate President Lyda Green, R-Wasilla, heads the majority, a coalition of nine Democrats and six Republicans.

When the amendments, most enhancing accountability for the executive branch, failed, Palin suggested some lawmakers placed politics ahead of policy.

"(The amendments) are not messing with the legislative branch; we are cleaning up our own house," she said. "Those were pretty simple amendments I thought should have been adopted."

Before the meeting with Palin, French defended the Senate's position on holding the amendments introduced Monday for further discussion.

"It would have been politically easy to vote for some of those amendments, but I don't think it would have been responsible to do so, he said.

"You've got to flesh them out," he said. "You've got to find out if there are traps. You've got to have a hearing process address those issues."

Additionally, members of the Senate didn't back down on their approach in moving ethics reform bills.

"Our method has led to success," French said during a weekly news conference held by the Senate majority. "Our method has led to bills moving through the system and passing."

Palin said lawmakers need to be mindful that there is still some heavy lifting ahead with other issues, including her Alaska Gasline Inducements Act, or AGIA.

"That's why there has been some frustration that it's taking longer than it should take," Palin said of the ethics reform pursuits.

"We need to take care of the simpler matters so that we can buckle down to grab hold of AGIA, progress and get us a gas line," she said.

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