I am a casual reader, reading articles that catch my eye. I stumbled across Pat Forgey's May 13 article, "Connections and conflicts: Lawmakers disclose conflicts of Interest, but vote anyway." In the fourth paragraph, in reference to Rep. Kevin Meyer's declaration of a conflict of interest and request for recusal, Forgey states:
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"What happened next was predictable. It happens regularly in the Alaska Legislature - and in no other legislature in the country. Other representatives objected to Meyer's being excused, and House Speaker John Harris, R-Valdez, told Meyer he wouldn't be excused from the discussion and the vote."
My concern over this excerpt is not the lack of investigation as to whether or not Meyer had an actual conflict of interest, which can be quite easily answered by looking up said definition in statute and in Mason's rules, but in the phrase "no other legislature in the country."
The line struck me immediately. It seemed like a convenient statement that lacked the intangible ring of truth required to accept the "fact" unchallenged. With 10 seconds of research I found the statement to be false; Utah has a similar situation. Within five minutes of my search, I found the applicable statutes, session rules and constitutional excerpts pertaining to legislative voting when a conflict of interest is declared, for every state in the union.
It did not take long to see that not only is Alaska not alone in its policy, but about half of the states have provisions in which members may be required to vote after they have declared a conflict of interest. Idaho requires a two-thirds vote to allow a member to be excused from voting. Montana does not allow members to be excused from voting at all, they simply declare their conflict, then vote. Most of the states have the member make a brief statement as to why they should be excused, then "the question is to be considered without debate," meaning the body votes as to whether or not to excuse the member from voting.
Here is the link where all this information can be found: http://www.ncsl.org/programs/ethics/voting_recusal_provisions.htm.
That this misstatement of fact not only was put in by the reporter but was not caught by the editor's fact checking is all the more troubling, especially when so little effort was required to find the statement to be erroneous.
Editor's note: The May 13 story quotes the ethics expert hired by the Legislature earlier this year. He said Alaska is unusual in its statutes and how they're implemented, giving legislators great latitude in conflicts of interest that does not exist in other states.