Ethics panel bill fails; House may revisit

Posted: Tuesday, April 06, 2010

JUNEAU - The Alaska House has defeated a bill which would have limited the governor's selection of members on an ethics panel responsible for arbitrating executive branch ethics complaints.

The bill making the Alaska Supreme Court's chief justice responsible for nominating appointees to the Alaska Personnel Board was defeated 19-18 Monday but is likely to be reconsidered Tuesday. Currently, the governor chooses appointees subject to confirmation by the Legislature; there's no nomination process.

This method came into question under former Gov. Sarah Palin. The state Personnel Board oversaw the investigation of many complaints and largely exonerated her, including one case she filed against herself in the Troopergate affair.

She was cleared in the firing of her public safety commissioner after he allegedly wouldn't fire a trooper who was Palin's former brother-in-law. A separate Legislative panel found she did abuse her office in that matter.

Sponsor and Rep. Bob Lynn, R-Anchorage, said the vote that split both parties was "a little incomprehensible." He said the bill addresses criticism that the board is a creation of the governor and isn't truly independent.

"To me, it's kind of a 'duh' bill," he said. "The question is, is this bill better than the status quo? I think it's much, much better than the status quo."

The bill also would have barred board members from holding certain political party or lobbyist roles, and would have expanded the board from three members to five.

The only member to speak on the floor in opposition was Rep. Bill Stoltze, R-Chugiak.

"I do not believe it's appropriate to bring this third branch of government into the process," Stoltze said.

Reps. Max Gruenberg, D-Anchorage, and David Guttenberg, D-Fairbanks, initially voted for the bill Monday, giving it the 21 votes needed to pass, but changed their votes before it was final.

Both spoke in favor of the bill on the floor Thursday when Democrat-backed amendments to further weaken the governor's role in the board appointments failed in mostly party-line votes.

Monday, they said that without changes like the ones proposed last week, the bill would let the governor seek new nominees indefinitely. One amendment would have blocked requests for new nominees, the second would have limited it to a single request.

"I saw the opportunity to negotiate a better bill. It was so close," Guttenberg said. "The bill has a huge open-ended problem. ... We have an opportunity to make this bill stronger."

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