The Legislative Ethics Committee decided Rep. Jay Ramras, R-Fairbanks, behaved improperly when he used his position as a lawmaker to advocate for cruise ship companies with which he does business.
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Ramras, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, sponsored House Bill 222, which would have financially benefited cruise ship companies. The bill would have provided a tax credit, which could reduce cruise ships' $50-per-head tax approved by voters last August.
Ramras has told the Empire that 60 percent of his Fairbanks businesses' room rentals and 40 percent of his income come from contracts with the cruise ship industry. He was negotiating new contracts with those companies while introducing legislation that would benefit them.
Ramras said he would respond to the committee's action by withdrawing House Bill 222, though he disagreed with the committee ruling.
"I thought I was in bounds, but the ethics committee concluded that I was out of bounds," he said.
The committee also recommended Ramras no longer take any action on matters in which he has a conflict of interest, except as he is required to by legislative rules.
On Tuesday, House Speaker John Harris, R-Valdez, issued a press release praising Ramras for withdrawing the bill.
"We are supportive of Rep. Ramras' decision to do what's right," Speaker Harris said. "Pulling the bill will leave no doubt that he is complying with the committee's request and taking the proper initiative to comply with the Legislative Ethics Act as well."
The ethics committee did not identify the companies involved, but Ramras said he does business with Princess Cruises, Royal Caribbean, Cruise West and a number of smaller companies.
Although the Select Committee on Legislative Ethics decided Ramras' action was improper in a closed session on June 11, committee Executive Director Joyce Anderson did not issue the decision until July 19, and did not make it public until Tuesday.
The committee's action came in the form of an advisory opinion, which was first requested by Ramras. Without that request, he said, the matter would not have been made public at all.
"If I had not, presumably nothing would have happened," he said. "I'm certain that nobody filed an ethics complaint or we would have heard about it."
Legislators typically use legislative rules to require each other to vote on matters in which they or their employers stand to gain, but the ethics committee said that was much different than Ramras' initiating such action himself.
"The rules never require that a legislator introduce or sponsor a bill," the committee's advisory opinion said.
Contact Pat Forgey at 523-2250 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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