JUNEAU – On Friday, in a massive step for legislative ethics reform, the Alaska Legislature passed legislation focused on strengthening conflict of interest standards, per diem limits, and other good governance improvements.
“The people of Alaska have long demanded legislative reforms and more transparency in their government. Nearly 50,000 Alaskans signed a petition focused on those ideas and the legislature has responded to that call for change,” said Representative Jason Grenn (I-Anchorage) who sponsored the bill.
House Bill 44 was amended during the committee process to included parts from a current government accountability ballot initiative. House Bill 44 addresses legislative reform in several areas:
- Establishes a definition of a conflict of interest to include a legislator’s immediate family members and employer;
- Blocks legislators from receiving per diem after day 121 of the legislative session if the operating budget has not passed;
- Prohibits a lobbyist from buying a legislator alcoholic beverages and limits food purchases;
- Implements a stricter foreign travel policy for legislators;
- Requires a legislator to declare a conflict of interest in committee before acting on legislation;
- Prohibits foreign corporations and foreign citizens from making political expenditures on behalf of candidates in state elections.
“It’s our responsibility as elected leaders to create transparency to build trust with the public,” said Representative Grenn. “My goal as a new legislator was to find ways to show the public that our work is focused on benefiting Alaska, not ourselves. HB 44 helps achieve that.”
“These good governance reforms help heal a host of concerns the public has expressed with our legislature. I’m thrilled to see these reforms receive support from the legislature,” said Representative Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins (D-Sitka), cosponsor of HB 44 and chairman of the House State Affairs Committee.
Both Grenn and Kriess-Tomkins co-chair the Alaskans for Integrity ballot initiative. HB 44 mirrors parts of the Alaskans for Integrity ballot initiative. However, HB 44 nullifies 40 percent of the body of the initiative and fails to fully achieve the comprehensive reforms sought by Alaskans. Specifically, HB 44 differs from the Alaskans for Integrity ballot initiative in at least two major ways:
Foreign influence: While the initiative strictly prohibits foreign-influenced corporations from spending money in Alaska’s candidate elections, HB 44 eliminates this protection. In its place, HB 44 states that such spending will be limited “only to the extent that federal law [requires].” Federal law says nothing regarding foreign-influenced corporations. Therefore, HB 44’s language on foreign influence is circular and has no effect.
Foreign travel: While the initiative requires that legislative foreign travel “benefit the state,” HB 44 enacts a lower standard that requires the travel be for “a legislative purpose,” which is effectively the same standard as present.
“While the passage of these reforms is a huge improvement over the status quo, Rep. Grenn and I are compelled to note that the legislation is substantially weaker than the ballot initiative it seeks to replace. We prefer the full-strength, undiluted ballot initiative, and believe Alaskans do, too.” Said Kreiss-Tomkins.
House Bill 44 now heads to the Governor for his signature.