House to act quickly on bill to ease lobbying law

Measure would lengthen the period before someone is required to register as a lobbyist

Posted: Tuesday, May 06, 2003

A bill to relax the state lobbying laws that passed the Senate over the weekend is poised to be on a fast track for a House vote.

House Speaker Pete Kott, an Eagle River Republican, assigned the measure to only one committee on Monday - the House Rules Committee, which schedules bills for a floor vote.

Floor debate could begin as early as today. House Republican leaders say the bill will receive a public hearing in the limited time left in the session.

House Rules Committee chair Norman Rokeberg, an Anchorage Republican, said he plans to hold a public hearing on the measure at a later time. But first, many House bills are waiting to be sent to the floor for a vote, he said. Rokeberg gave no timeline for hearing the measure. The Legislature is scheduled to adjourn May 21.

The lobbying bill would lengthen the time someone could attempt to influence government before they must pay a $100 fee and register as a lobbyist.

Once someone registers as a lobbyist, state law restricts them from giving campaign contributions to candidates outside their district and forbids them from working on campaigns.

Critics say the bill is an indirect attempt to expand the pool of people who could contribute to lawmakers. Supporters say the current lobbying rules are too restrictive and dissuade everyday people from communicating directly to lawmakers during the session.

Alaska Public Interest Research Group spokesman Steve Conn said the measure sends a poor signal to Alaskans at a time when the Legislature is considering the merits of a statewide sales tax.

As the Legislature considers a 3 percent sales tax, special interests will weigh in on what factions should be exempt from the tax, Conn said.

"It's like a flag being raised in Juneau, saying send me your money at the very worst time," Conn said. "It's the worst possible time to be lowering the confidence level of the public in this process."

Both the House and Senate took up similar lobbying measures at the urging of the Alaska State Chamber of Commerce. That group organizes frequent "fly-ins" of its members who meet with lawmakers during the session.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Ralph Seekins, a Fairbanks Republican, sponsored the bill approved on Saturday.

Currently, the Alaska Public Offices Commission requires someone to register as a lobbyist if they spend more than four hours in a 30-day period directly communicating with lawmakers.

Seekins' bill would extend that to 40 hours in a 30-day period before someone has to register. It defines that as time spent personally talking to lawmakers and does not include committee testimony.

People who make their living as lobbyists would have to register but those who receive no money or other compensation such as travel expenses would be exempt from the bill.

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