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Chenault push to allow Texan on gas line board could hurt domestic violence council

Lisa Demer

An effort by House Speaker Mike Chenault to allow Outside residents to serve on a board governing a state natural gas pipeline could derail a simple bill extending the life of the state Council on Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault, advocates said.

Domestic violence advocates say they are worried Chenault's controversial amendment will hurt a popular bill that passed the Senate unanimously Feb. 26 with all 20 state senators signing on as sponsors or co-sponsors. After the measure arrived in the House, eight representatives added their names as cross-sponsors.

"This is like tossing a bomb on a moving train," Peggy Brown, executive director of the separate Alaska Network on Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault, said of Chenault's strategy.

Senate Bill 124, as written, aims to make one change in state law: the date the council would sunset, or expire, moving it from June 30, 2014, to June 30, 2022. Now Chenault's proposed addition to allow out-of-state residents on a gasline board throws the bill's future into question.

"I'm appalled and a lot of us are," said Brown, whose nonprofit network represents shelters, crisis hotlines and other programs that provide services funded through the council. "And here's the reason. When a board goes into sunset they have to absolutely start winding down and stop what they are doing."

The only connection between the domestic violence council and the pipeline board, she said, are two words: "public member." Bills are supposed to be about a single subject.

The original legislation would give the council another eight years to be assured of its role providing training, coordinating anti-violence efforts and overseeing funding for rape crisis centers, domestic violence shelters, and programs intended to prevent abuse including parts of Gov. Sean Parnell's "Choose Respect" campaign. The council runs with an eight-person staff and a proposed budget for the coming year topping $17 million, most of which goes directly to shelters, crisis centers and other services, says executive director Lauree Morton.

The Chenault addition is scheduled to be aired Thursday afternoon at a hearing in the House Rules Committee.

At issue is a provision in state law that says a person appointed to a state board or commission must be a registered Alaska voter.

Parnell in September appointed a Texan, former ExxonMobil executive Richard Rabinow, to serve on the Alaska Gasline Development Corp. board, but didn't mention he was from Houston even though the governor listed Alaska towns for his other gasline board appointments. The appointment requires legislative confirmation.

Parnell has contended appointments of non-Alaskans are justified since the state Constitution says only that board members must be U.S. citizens.

Rabinow, now a pipeline consultant, worked 34 years for ExxonMobil and was president of its pipeline company. He has said he would step down if the Legislature this year did not explicitly allow out-of-state residents on the AGDC board.

That's what Chenault says he is trying to do, by specifying in law that AGDC board members do not have to be an Alaska voter or resident.

The state-funded agency is a pet project of the House speaker's and a fallback to develop a natural gas pipeline should a bigger effort involving Alaska's major oil producers and pipeline company TransCanada Corp. collapse.

It's too late in the legislative session for an individual lawmaker to propose a bill. One bill that could have been amended, SB 138, the liquefied natural gas legislation that includes changes to AGDC, likely will still be moving through the Legislature on April 11 when the House and Senate are scheduled to meet in joint session to vote on the governor's appointments, Chenault noted in a memo Monday to all House members.

Senate Democrats have criticized the Rabinow appointment, as has the Alaska Democratic Party.

Efforts to reach Chenault on Wednesday about the concerns were unsuccessful.

But on Tuesday, he defended his proposal and lashed out at the Democratic Party, calling its critique "Chicago-style partisan bickering."

Chenault said Rabinow is an extraordinary board member with exceptional credentials and experience.

"What's really appalling, to me, is that the Alaska Democratic Party would try and disrupt this critical Board's ability to provide Alaskans with the best and brightest when we have to negotiate against three of the most complex, savvy and well-run energy companies in the entire world," Chenault said in a written statement.

Some senators of both parties say they may not support the council bill if it returns to the Senate with Chenault's amendment.

State Sen. Kevin Meyer, R-Anchorage and the prime sponsor of the bill extending the domestic violence council, said Wednesday evening he opposed the amendment and thought Chenault "hijacked" his bill because it was so popular. Chenault's proposal should have to stand on its own, he said.

"I think that is pretty much the sense of the Senate," he said. But he expects the council to survive. A joint House-Senate conference committee may ultimately settle the matter, he said.

Sen. Hollis French, D-Anchorage and the Senate minority leader, said Wednesday there are plenty of Alaskans with enough expertise for the policymaking Alaska pipeline board and if Rabinow has special credentials, the state can hire him as a consultant.

"This is what the public hates about politics, when one bill gets hijacked by someone else to achieve completely separate ends," French said. "It doesn't look like good, clean government."

Morton, the council head, said she is concerned that the amendment may delay a bill essential to her organization's survival. She plans to testify before the Rules Committee on Thursday when Chenault will attempt to add his proposal to the council bill.

Reach Lisa Demer at ldemer@adn.com or 257-4390.

 


By LISA DEMER
ldemer@adn.com