Washington container tax nixed for now

Posted: Thursday, May 10, 2007

Omnibus ethics bill clears Senate

By ANNE SUTTON

Associated Press Writer

JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) - The state Senate on Wednesday passed a sweeping ethics reform package following a debate that often touched on recent events in the news.

Lawmakers voted unanimously to pass the 43-page measure, which contains about two dozen provisions tightening the rules for the Legislature, the executive branch and lobbyists.

Sen. Hollis French, D-Anchorage, warned that the new rules were not likely to change anyone's behavior.

"It probably will not make an honest person dishonest. It probably will not make a dishonest person honest," French said. "But it matters to the public that we take some action. It matters to the public that we close these loopholes and stand up and say there's a problem, let's fix it."

As the Senate considered about half a dozen amendments, lawmakers often alluded to the recent bribery and extortion indictments of one current and two former lawmakers related to dealings with VECO Corp. over efforts last year to change the state's oil and gas tax and to approve a contract for a natural gas pipeline. Some senators Wednesday wondered if they weren't running scared because of the federal indictments.

Sen. Gary Stevens, R-Kodiak, objected to a proposal to prohibit lawmakers from accepting any work outside their expertise. He said he feared the language was too broad and could prohibit even "teaching elder hostel classes."

Sen. Fred Dyson, R-Eagle River, said lawmakers should not be reactionary "but we see in the indictments people paid for work that they didn't do much for or have experience in."

That amendment failed. But the Senate did make over a dozen changes to the House bill including adding a requirement that lobbyists report anytime they buy a lawmaker a meal or drinks worth more than $15.

The Senate also agreed to prohibit lobbying by anyone convicted of a felony when the crime involved a moral wrong.

The measure before the Senate was the House omnibus package first proposed by Gov. Sarah Palin. The two bodies appeared to be at an impasse over whose bills would serve as the main vehicle for the legislation.

Though the Senate bills should have taken precedence, French said the Senate decided to break protocol rather than hold up important legislation.

With the impasse broken, the bill moved quickly to the floor where it passed 20-0.

Sen. Gene Therriault, R-North Pole, asked for reconsideration, saying he wanted to make sure none of the amendments had any technical problems that needed to be fixed.

Once the bill has passed, the House will vote on whether to accept the Senate changes. If not, the differences will be worked out in a House and Senate conference committee.

The measure is House Bill 109.

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