House passes ethics bill

Lawmakers unanimously approve 38-page measure

Posted: Tuesday, April 03, 2007

In a cheerful show of unanimity, the Alaska House on Monday passed a comprehensive ethics reform measure that covers the actions of executive and legislative branches of government and lobbyists.

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"Mr. Speaker, this is a simple bill," began Rep. John Coghill, R-North Pole, in his summation of the bill, drawing laughter from the House.

Lawmakers in subcommittee and committee hearings have been deliberating over dozens of provisions since mid-February with input from Gov. Sarah Palin's administration and the public.

The final 38-page product, which passed the House 36-0, encompassed a total of 13 House bills, including Palin's original ethics proposal, and 35 amendments.

Ethics reform was a recurring theme in Palin's campaign for governor, and in an impromptu press conference on the sunny steps of the Capital on Monday, the governor said she was pleased with the result.

"I think what has passed thus far has been comprehensive. It has been what we have asked for. It has been what the public is expecting," she said of the bill, which now will have to go the Senate.

In House debate over the bill, it was issues that affected lawmakers' ability to make a living in the private sector that drew the most soul searching.

The bill prohibits lawmakers from being paid to represent clients in front of legislative or executive branch boards, commissions or agencies.

In debate over an amendment tightening up language in the provision, Rep. Ralph Samuels, R-Anchorage, said the rules are written to make sure lawmakers do not use their influence inappropriately.

"There's a fine line there. The bottom line is we are treated differently by everybody. And that's a reality," Samuels said.

The House added a provision to levy criminal penalties on lawmakers who trade votes for campaign contributions. Coghill originally opposed the addition which he said mixed criminal penalties into a bill that focused on civil matters. But, in the end, he signed on as a co-sponsor after another criminal provision, regarding pension forfeiture for lawmakers who commit a felony, was added to the bill in committee.

Rep. Les Gara, D-Anchorage praised the effort to forge a bipartisan final product.

"This is one of the best pieces of work I've seen come out of the Legislature because it came out as a policy document and not a political document. There's a piece of virtually everybody in this body in this bill," Gara said.

Rep. Bob Lynn, R-Anchorage, said the bill establishes a foundation of trust that lawmakers will need to reach a successful gas pipeline project. Lawmakers are currently working on the governor's proposed Alaska Gasline Inducement Act, better known as AGIA.

"You know we might even call (the ethics bill) AGIA 2," Lynn quipped. "That stands for Alaska Governmental Ethics Inducement Act."

Palin said she is interested to see what happens to the ethics reform legislation in the Senate. She was critical of the Senate earlier for passing what she called "watered down" legislation, and those two Senate bills await a hearing in the House.

Two more Senate ethics bills are still being heard in Senate committees.

Senate President Lyda Green, R-Wasilla, said they also will take up the House bill to make sure all provisions raised in both bodies are considered.

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