House passes ethics panel bill without changes

Posted: Thursday, April 08, 2010

JUNEAU - Same bill, different outcome.

The Alaska House passed a bill dealing with an executive branch ethics panel without changes by a nearly 3-to-1 margin Wednesday. It failed Monday in a 19-18 vote, but the vote was held for reconsideration.

The bill now goes to the Senate.

The bill would limit a governor's selection of members to the Personnel Board to names forwarded to him by the chief justice of the Alaska Supreme Court. The chief justice must nominate at least three people, but the governor can request more nominees indefinitely. It bars members from holding some political party and lobbyist roles. It also expands the board from three to five members.

It's intended to address possible conflicts of interest on the board, which arbitrates executive branch ethics complaints.

Reps. Max Gruenberg, D-Anchorage, and David Guttenberg, D-Fairbanks, flipped their votes at the last minute on Monday - stopping the bill - to try to bully through an amendment on reconsideration to further limit the governor's role in selecting board members. They weren't able to get enough votes to resurrect the failed amendment.

Minority Leader Beth Kertulla, D-Juneau, said putting restrictions on a governor's right to request unlimited nominees is important "for all of us who've lived through something similar."

It was a reference to former -Gov. Sarah Palin snubbing her last year. Palin refused to appoint Kertulla to fill an empty Senate seat after Democrats broke from tradition of nominating three candidates, sending only Kertulla's name to Palin for the open seat. Kertulla had been critical of the governor after Palin was chosen as Republican John McCain's running mate in the 2008 presidential election.

Juneau's Senate district went without representation for about half the legislative session as Palin cycled through additional nominees before naming Dennis Egan to the seat on the last day of the legislative session.

The failed amendment on the Personnel Board bill would have limited a governor to the chief justice's first set of at least three nominees and a second set of up to three nominees.

Bill sponsor Bob Lynn, R-Anchorage, said such a restriction leads to questionable legal territory regarding separation of powers.

"This is not a perfect bill, but is significant improvement over the status quo," Lynn said. "I'm going to vote a conservative and progressive 'yes' on this bill."

Rep. Mike Doogan, D-Anchorage, had initially proposed the failed amendment and broke from his party voting against the overall bill.

The Personnel Board primarily deals with lower-level state employees where the conflict of interest issue the bill addresses is irrelevant, Doogan said.

The executive branch's elected officials, the governor and lieutenant governor, don't fit, and a better solution may be to lump all elected officials under one ethics panel, he said.



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