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Shipping rules tightened after state paid to move senator's piano and power tools

  • Author: Nathaniel Herz
  • Updated: March 28, 2017
  • Published March 28, 2017

JUNEAU — Alaska lawmakers set new limits Tuesday on their annual state-paid trips to and from Juneau — a move that comes after a senator billed the state more than $20,000 in two years to ship appliances, power tools and a piano to his rural village.

The Legislative Council — the bipartisan House-Senate committee that oversees the Legislature's own spending — unanimously approved lowering the cap on lawmakers' shipments of "household goods" to 3,000 pounds from 10,000 pounds.

It also expanded a prohibition on shipping certain kinds of items to include "articles that are not reasonable and necessary to have in order to conduct legislative business," and clarified that a ban on "building materials" also includes "heavy tools" and "heavy equipment."

Soldotna Republican Sen. Peter Micciche speaks at a meeting of the Legislative Council on Tuesday. (Nathaniel Herz / Alaska Dispatch News)

"This leaves much more room than I would ever need with a family of six, including a dog and cat," said Sen. Peter Micciche, R-Soldotna. "It discourages excessive garage sale-ing on this end — for bringing things back home that probably aren't needed and aren't a part of the legislative process."

The move came two months after it emerged that Democratic Sen. Donny Olson had shipped nearly 7,400 pounds of stuff in the past two years from Juneau to his village of Golovin, near Nome — and not from Golovin to Juneau.

The shipments included a washer and dryer, four air compressors, lawn chairs, a basketball backboard, four weight benches, three fans and three vacuums.

Olson, who travels to Juneau with his wife and four children, maintained he'd complied with the Legislature's moving and travel policy and had done nothing wrong.

Sen. Donny Olson, D-Golovin, in January. (Marc Lester / ADN archive 2017)

The Legislative Council already tightened the moving policy in December to allow shipment only of "small" appliances like toasters or electric mixers but not a washer or dryer. At Tuesday's meeting, the council tightened the policy further.

In addition to the 3,000-pound cap and the new limits on specific items, the council also removed a provision allowing lawmakers to ship snowmachines to Juneau — though nobody has actually brought a snowmachine in recent memory, said the Legislature's finance manager.

Olson's shipments in the past two years would have exceeded the newly established 3,000-pound cap by several hundred pounds. Asked about the Legislative Council's action Tuesday morning, Olson told a reporter to contact a spokeswoman for his Democratic minority.

In a prepared statement later, he said moving his big family from rural Alaska poses "unique challenges."

"It is the Legislative Council's prerogative to change and update the moving policy," the statement quoted Olson as saying. "I have complied with their regulations as written in the past, and will continue to do so in the future using the new guidelines."