Alaska Legislature

Alaska House agrees with Senate on rolling back Legislative ethics law

JUNEAU — The Alaska House voted 33-4 Monday to roll back conflict-of-interest rules it imposed on itself last year. The vote follows complaints from lawmakers who said an interpretation of last year’s legislation made it impossible to speak with constituents about particular issues.

Rep. Matt Claman, D-Anchorage, spoke on the House floor to say the rollback was in front of legislators “in large measure, I believe, because of an advisory opinion from the House Special Committee on Legislative Ethics that found that the passage of House Bill 44 last year created situations in which, where a legislator has a substantial financial interest in a particular matter, that that legislator can’t actually communicate — not only with their constituents, but with other members of the body, except in open committee meetings and on the floor.”

Senate Bill 89, proposed by Sen. John Coghill, R-North Pole, would fix that problem by rolling back most of the components of HB 44, including clauses that extended conflicts of interest to members of legislators’ immediate family. Under existing law, if they are financially conflicted, so is the lawmaker.

SB 89 eliminates a requirement that lawmakers declare a conflict if they or an immediate family member received more than $10,000 in income from someone affected by a particular piece of legislation.

While the Senate’s version of SB 89 would have allowed a lawmaker to take action without declaring a conflict if their spouse had a financial stake in the matter, the House version does not. Claman amended the bill in the House Judiciary Committee, which he chairs.

Several members of the Senate previously spoke about the need for the rollback because they were blocked from discussing legislation because of their spouse’s employment.

Rep. David Eastman, R-Wasilla, proposed a measure addressing one of the Legislature’s odd rules: Someone who has a declared conflict of interest can be required to vote on an issue on the house floor if a single lawmaker objects to the conflict. Eastman proposed that the name of the objecting lawmaker be noted in the official record.

His amendment failed 14-23.

The Alaska Senate has already voted on the rollback bill; SB 89 will return to the Senate, which may reject or confirm the changes made in the House.

If the Senate agrees with those changes, the legislation will go to Gov. Mike Dunleavy for his approval.