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House approves bill to delay when members file disclosures

  • Author: Nathaniel Herz
  • Updated: September 28, 2016
  • Published March 18, 2015

JUNEAU -- The Republican-led Alaska House on Wednesday easily passed a bill that delays when legislators must file their annual financial disclosure reports until after the conclusion of the legislative session.

The measure passed over the objections of some Democrats who said it was valuing lawmakers' own convenience over transparency.

The bill now heads to the Senate, where a similar measure with bipartisan support has already received a hearing.

The House legislation was sponsored by Rep. Mike Hawker, R-Anchorage, who said he wanted to better align the reporting date with annual tax deadlines by moving it from March 15 to May 15 -- a month after taxes must be filed.

Hawker, an accountant who filed his own report Feb. 14, said he was originally acting on behalf of a constituent who serves on a state board who must also file the disclosures. But he told a reporter Wednesday that he included legislators' deadlines in his bill, too, because "all citizens should be treated equally."

The bill passed 31 to 8 with mostly Democratic opposition, though two Republicans also voted against it.

In favor were Republicans Mike Chenault, Jim Colver, Lynne Gattis, Hawker, Shelley Hughes, Craig Johnson, Wes Keller, Gabrielle LeDoux, Bob Lynne, Charisse Millett, Cathy Munoz, Mark Neuman, Kurt Olson, Lance Pruitt, Dan Saddler, Louise Stutes, Dave Talerico, Steve Thompson, Cathy Tilton and Tammy Wilson; Democrats Matt Claman, Bryce Edgmon, Neil Foster, Max Gruenberg, David Guttenberg, Bob Herron, Sam Kito, Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins, Ben Nageak and Adam Wool; and independent Dan Ortiz.

Opposed were Democrats Harriet Drummond, Les Gara, Scott Kawasaki, Geran Tarr, Chris Tuck and Andy Josephson, as well as Republicans Liz Vazquez and Lora Reinbold.

The debate came just a few days after this year's deadline for the disclosures, in which the state's part-time legislators detail their and their spouses' outside income, as well as business or property interests.

Journalists and other constituents often review the documents to identify potential conflicts of interest.

In the past, legislators who work for oil companies have voted to reduce oil taxes.

Earlier this month, Rep. Talerico, R-Healy, sponsored a bill that could benefit his former employer, an Interior coal mine. And last month, Sen. Anna MacKinnon, R-Eagle River, oversaw a hearing on a road project that would connect to property controlled by a company that's partially owned by her husband.

Rep. Gara, D-Anchorage, called the disclosures a "burden" in a speech on the House floor. But he added that filling out the forms is "what we signed up for."

"The public is entitled to know what potential conflicts we have, what business interests we own, during session when the bills are pending -- not after session, after it's too late," said Gara. His own report, filed Monday, included between $1,000 and $2,000 in income from "freelance fishing writing" and another $62,000 to $146,000 from stock sales, dividends and interest.

Hawker and other Republicans objected to Gara's argument, pointing out that all legislators have to fill out the disclosures when they run for office, and annually once they're elected.

"There is nothing to prevent somebody from, the day after filing their disclosure, going out and making big transactions in their stock portfolio," said Rep. Dan Saddler, R-Eagle River, whose disclosure report filed Sunday said he collected between $100,000 and $200,000 in inheritance. "So, perfect disclosure would be daily disclosure. I think this is a good compromise."

Another proponent of Hawker's bill, Rep. Charisse Millett, R-Anchorage, noted that lawmakers are required to declare any potential conflicts of interest before voting on legislation -- a point she emphasized by declaring a conflict on Hawker's measure, since she has to prepare the financial disclosures that were under discussion. (It would take a unanimous House to allow Millett to refrain from voting, and she ultimately did vote after one of her colleagues objected.)

In the Republican-controlled Senate, a similar bill from Sen. Cathy Giessel, R-Anchorage, co-sponsored by Sen. Berta Gardner, D-Anchorage, has already been heard by one committee. Its sections that affect legislators' deadlines are identical to those in Hawker's bill.

The Senate could choose to pass either measure; if Giessel's moves forward, any discrepancies with Hawker's bill would have to be resolved through negotiations with the House.