Senate Finance Committee may review ethics bill today

Posted: Tuesday, May 08, 2007

The Legislature took another step toward sweeping ethics reform on Monday when the Senate Judiciary Committee approved an amended version of the House's bill.

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The bill will now be referred to the Senate Finance Committee, which could review the 42-page document as early as today.

The bill's movement comes a few days after Rep. Vic Kohring, R-Wasilla, and former Reps. Pete Kott of Eagle River and Bruce Weyhrauch of Juneau pleaded not guilty to felony bribery and extortion charges. On Monday, Bill Allen and Rick Smith - the top two officers of an Anchorage-based oil services corporation, VECO - pleaded guilty to charges they bribed lawmakers.

Sen. Hollis French, D-Anchorage, said he hopes what is happening in Alaska's federal courts doesn't taint the session-long efforts from lawmakers to close up loopholes in the state statutes.

"I can't control the day the FBI indicts folks or when folks run to court and plea," said French, the Senate Judiciary Committee chairman. "I know in my heart this was scheduled to move through committee."

The bill passed out of committee Monday was changed little from what House members sent to the Senate.

One significant change requires a lobbyist file detailed reports on meals provided to legislators, a legislative employee or an immediate family member of the legislator.

There are two exceptions: if the meal costs less than $10, or if the meals are provided as part of an event open to all legislators and legislative employees.

"It's a big comprehensive bill," French said. "I think it's a very good product."

Lawmakers are down to just days to approve the ethics reform bill - and many other heavy-hitting items such as the budget and a gas line bill - before the legislative session adjourns May 16.

The ethics reform bills have moved slowly since the Senate passed its versions in early March and the House in April.

The delays have not been lost on Gov. Sarah Palin.

"I'm perplexed as to why it has languished as long as it has," Palin said on Saturday. "I have offered to do whatever I can do to help, including offering to take my name off the bill and put whomever's name on the bill.

"I've offered to included every legislators name on that bill so there is no pride in authorship and there is no squabble as to who's bill it is. Just get it done," she said.

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