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Alaska Legislature

Rollback of ethics restrictions on Alaska legislators heads to Gov. Dunleavy’s desk

JUNEAU — The Alaska Legislature has completed its rollback of ethics restrictions lawmakers imposed on themselves last year, and the measure now heads to the governor for approval.

The rollback was approved in a 33-7 vote Wednesday in the House and a 16-3 vote Monday in the Senate.

The restrictions were intended to address legislators’ conflicts of interest, but lawmakers said they ended up preventing lawmakers from speaking to constituents on particular issues.

“My recommendation is that we vote no on this one. We’re always looking for the perfect, but we can definitely do better than what we’re doing right now, because we’re going backward,” Rep. Chris Tuck, D-Anchorage, said in opposition to the rollback.

Tuck was joined in opposition Wednesday by four other House Democrats and two Republicans, including Rep. David Eastman, R-Wasilla.

As approved last year, House Bill 44 said in part that lawmakers “may not ... take or withhold official action or exert official influence” if they or a member of their immediate family had a conflict of interest.

A legal interpretation of that law issued after passage determined that “official action” included private meetings with constituents. Senate Majority Leader Mia Costello, R-Anchorage, pointed out that interpretation means she cannot talk with constituents about aviation issues — she represents a district including Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport — because her husband is a professional pilot.

Rather than change the definition of “official action,” lawmakers approved a rewrite that eliminates the term and prevents conflicts of interest from arising in relation to most family members. Other elements of HB 44 remain in place.

Neither House Bill 44 nor its rollback addresses the procedure that allows lawmakers to vote on legislation even if they have a declared conflict of interest.

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